Rod Dreher

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Randa Jarrar, Symbol Of Left-Wing Academic Privilege

Prof. Randa Jarrar, far left, celebrated Barbara Bush’s death, and the suffering of those who mourn her (YouTube screenshot)

You will have heard, most likely, of Randa Jarrar, a professor of English at Fresno State University. Her Twitter account is locked at the moment, but this is what brought her to infamy this week:

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Randa Jarrar is a terrible person, repulsive in every way. Damon Linker gives a bit more information about the Jarrar case:

For readers who don’t follow the online political outrage machine: Jarrar took to Twitter shortly after the death of former first lady Barbara Bush to denounce her and the Bush family in vicious and vulgar terms. “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist,” she said in one tweet. “I’m happy the witch is dead,” she said in another. Her tweets quickly went viral — the original ones as well as follow-ups in which she bragged about her six-figure salary and invulnerability as a tenured professor, taunted the president of her university (Joseph Castro), and posted a phone number that was ostensibly her own but turned out to be the number of a crisis hotline that was soon overwhelmed with calls from people irate about her provocations and clamoring for her to be fired. Within 24 hours, Castro had announced that Jarrar would be investigated, and indicated that she could well lose her job after all.

I saw the Jarrar tweets when they first appeared, and decided that I didn’t want to dignify them by posting them. I know, right? Shocking for me to resist the opportunity to indulge in Dreherbait. But I did, because what Jarrar said was so beyond the pale of decency. However, her case has become a test of free speech principles.

My basic stance is that as deplorable as she is — listen to her various rants for more — protecting free speech means enduring speech you despise. I think Jarrar ought to be condemned — but not lose her job. Those calling for her firing over her insults to the Bush family are wrong (and note well than many conservatives and libertarians have spoken out against firing her). If the university wanted to can her for that prank to the crisis hotline, that would seem just to me. But not for her vile speech.

On the other hand, what if she had taken to Twitter to post anti-Semitic or otherwise racist statements? What if Jarrar were a thin right-wing white male who took to Twitter to dance on Ted Kennedy’s grave? Keep in mind that she did not say these things in a classroom.

Damon Linker points out that the president and board of trustees of Fresno State have a responsibility to protect freedom of expression, but they also have the responsibility to protect the university’s reputation. While Fresno State doesn’t have to worry as much about suffering from legislators punishing it, California being a very left-wing state, this is a needless provocation. The fact that Jarrar taunted her employer, saying she couldn’t be fired because of tenure, makes her a poster child for obscene academic arrogance. There are countless men and women who hold advanced degrees yet cannot find stable work in the academy — and this arrogant troll uses her extreme privilege to spite everyone.

She is not a sympathetic character.

Linker points out something true and important:

Is there any employer in any industry in the United States that would not treat an outburst like Jarrar’s as a fireable offense? The answer, I think, is no. If anything, norms against employees engaging in offensive speech have become stricter in recent years, with many insisting that public statements that demonize any person or group be punished swiftly and severely, the better to send a stern message about the importance of treating bigotry and hatred of any kind as intolerable.

Those saying that Jarrar should keep her job therefore seem to be defending the view that professors should have employment protections, even outside of the classroom and their specialized areas of academic research, that pretty much no one else in the country enjoys.

My job here at TAC involves opinion writing. I have been paid for most of my career to state my opinion. Yet no employer of mine — no newspaper, no magazine — would keep me on if I tweeted something as vile as what Jarrar tweeted. It would be devastating to the institutional reputation of these newspapers and magazines. TAC would lose donors left and right, and would take a real hit in terms of its credibility. Any magazine or publication would. I would never abuse the privilege I have. With that privilege comes responsibility.

So, today, I am much less sympathetic to Randa Jarrar than I was when she first spouted off. I still lean towards not firing her. But boy, is she ever a poster child for left-wing academic privilege and arrogance. If the university president fires her for pranking the crisis hotline, I won’t be sorry.

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Jesuits Gonna Jesuit

Detail of controversial Jesuit university drag show photo, taken by Samira Shobeiri, and sanitized for your protection™

Seattle University president Stephen Sundborg, SJ, brings 21st century Ignatian cogitatin’ to a moral crisis enveloping his Jesuit-run campus. From The Spectator, the campus newspaper:

Seattle University hosted its 10th annual Drag Show earlier this month. The event was lauded as a celebration of inclusion and acceptance that provided a safe space and fun environment for students to explore their identities. The cover of the April 11 edition of the Spectator featured a photograph of a Seattle U student performing on stage at the drag show.

The photo featured a provocative crotch shot. That upset Father Sundborg, 75, muchly:

Sundborg told the Spectator he was “very, very embarrassed and ashamed” of the cover photo.

“I thought it was indecent,” Sundborg said. “I thought it offended all dignity and respect of sexuality and of persons of bodies. I think it was a mistake on the part of the editorial staff to put that on the cover. I was offended by it… Anybody who would see that who has a sense of propriety would find that offensive.”

“Persons of bodies.” Whut? More:

Sundborg said he was not alone, and that he encountered other faculty on campus who expressed a similar disdain for the photo, though he would not disclose who.

“I allow the drag show,” Sundborg continued. “Most Jesuit-Catholic universities would not. But then to go and show that pose—indecent pose—from a drag show on the cover is taking it too far. It doesn’t support me in my support of having the drag show on campus, which I allow to have, which I needn’t do, but I do. But then to take it and to push it to the cover of a magazine with an indecent pose from that, expose it out—these are not people then that have chosen to go to a drag show that are seeing that. These are not people who understand what that is. They’ve taken it too far.”

So Father Sundborg lets young men dress up like women and perform on stage for an audience, but he’s angry at the campus newspaper for showing a photo of what he, Father Sundborg, permitted on campus?! What a silly, silly man.

Another Jesuit on campus admitted to removing copies of the drag issue of the campus paper from distribution points, and throwing them away. Chris Paul, head of the communications department at Seattle Jesuit, said that’s not cool, man:

“When I saw the cover image, I didn’t understand the consternation. I felt like it was a really beautiful image and a great cover shot,” Paul said.

Paul continued, explaining that the university often supports the Spectator and other student-run media when it is more tame. But, once reporting becomes deeper and more critical, Paul said, the university changes its tune.

“We need to get told the truths that are uncomfortable, too,” Paul said. “That’s how we press forward. Taking a bunch of newspapers doesn’t help us do that.”

The truth that … what? Crotches exist? The Marshall McLuhan of his generation sets down the bong pipe to offer sage advice:

Instead of removing newspapers from stands, he suggested a better approach would have been to write an open letter to the Spectator in order to engage in a community-wide dialogue on issues pertaining to gender identity and censorship.

“We should challenge ourselves to dare forth,” Paul said. “If we’re going to ask [students] to be leaders for a just and humane world, they’re going to do things that are just and humane. Shutting down that speech when it is uncomfortable for us doesn’t help us get our students there. We’ve taught them skills to help them push buttons, and sometimes the buttons they push are gonna be ours.”

It is just and humane to stage Jesuit college drag shows and publish crotch shots of college boys masquerading as wimmen. Isn’t it obvious? To persons of bodies, I mean. Those that push persons of buttons. On the butt. Which they needn’t do, but they dare forth to do.

A 2010 graduate of Seattle University writes to the campus paper to denounce Father Sundborg. Excerpts:

My four years at Seattle University were powerful. I came out in September of my freshman year and didn’t waste any time making it known. After 17 years of hiding, fear, and anxiety, I burst out of the closet because it was my only option.
It was Seattle University—a Jesuit Catholic institution—that propelled me out of that dark and restrictive space. In combination with friends, professors, and OMA programs, it was a Jesuit on campus who encouraged me to live openly, honestly, and to be myself because I, too, was made in the image of God. That is precisely why the administration’s response to an editorial choice like this is so jarring and disappointing.
The photo itself is not egregious. It’s fierce. That bodysuit and heels combo is not an easy thing to pull off, nor is the pose itself. While my guess is the majority of the student body saw the image and didn’t bat an eye, it is clear that Fr. Sundborg and Fr. Leigh evaluated the photo from a cisgender, heterosexual-lens. Anything outside this antiquated scope may be deemed “embarrassing and indecent” if you’re operating under the context of gender as binary.

As a person of body, I was thinking the same thing. More:

This cisgender, heterosexual lens is not new for queer people. We’ve had to try and fit within the frame our entire lives. Spaces are not often designed for us. Movies and plays and books and television and music is not made for us. It is events like this drag show that allows students to escape the strict and rigid confines of heterosexual spaces and explore gender. A space on campus is completely queered if only for one short evening; queer bodies are celebrated; queer experience is celebrated. Celebrating students, Fr. Sundborg, is never embarrassing or indecent.

Poor Father Sundborg, who so recently and wokely asked, “Where are whites demanding that Colin Kaepernick deserves a job?” This elderly Jesuit is speaking truth to white power and letting the young folks have their annual drag show, and this is the thanks he gets from those punks at the student paper? Geez!

It costs $61,608 per year to be educated at this freak farm.

Below, members of the men’s rugby team doing their drag routine at the recent to-do. Seems to me that The Spectator‘s crotch-shot cover image told the truth about Father Sundborg’s post-Christian cabaret. If only the Holy Father knew! (Mmmmph!).

UPDATE: After this, let’s have a big round of applause for what Catholic University of America president John Garvey is doing at his school to retain its Catholic identity. I’m serious. This is a Goofus-and-Gallant comparison.

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Moralistic Therapeutic Marriage

Clare Chambers, a Cambridge University philosopher, thinks marriage is a bad idea, period. Excerpts:

When the state recognises marriage, it does three things: it defines, it endorses, and it regulates.

First, state-recognised marriage means that the state defines marriage and controls access to it. In a marriage regime, the state dictates who may marry. It determines whether marriage must be between a man and a woman, or whether same-sex marriage is allowed. It determines how many people can be married to each other. It determines whether and when divorce and remarriage are available. In a marriage regime, the state may also place religious or racial restrictions on marriage.

In making these regulations, the state determines the meaning of marriage. Is it an institution for loving couples or an instrument of religious and cultural kinship? Does it institutionalise traditional religious values, or can it encompass diversity? State recognition of marriage directly and inevitably engages the state in making complex and controversial statements about value and meaning, statements that promote some ways of life and family forms, and demote others.

Second, when the state recognises marriage, it provides public and official endorsement of the state of being married. A marriage regime includes a state-sanctioned marriage ceremony, with officials and celebrants. Obtaining a state-recognised marriage is not like obtaining a driving licence or completing a tax return: it involves a solemnified and lauded ritual in which the state is intimately involved. And so, when the state recognises marriage, it declares that marriages are special.

The third aspect of state-recognised marriage is regulation: the state provides a married couple with legal rights and duties. Unmarried people have legal rights and duties too. But state-recognised marriage involves giving married people a bundle of rights and duties concerning many areas of life. These may include financial support, parental responsibility, inheritance, taxation, migration and next-of-kinship: crucial areas of life that affect everyone, married or not.

Well, she’s not wrong about that. Marriage is not and never can be a “neutral” institution. So what’s Prof. Chambers’s problem? More:

Each of the three aspects of state recognition have been used in ways that instigate and perpetuate a variety of hierarchies, most consistently based on gender but also on race, religion, sexuality and class.

Access to marriage has generally been limited to couples consisting of one man and one woman. Some countries have restricted access to marriage to people from certain racial or religious groups. For example, many US states had anti-miscegenation laws preventing interracial marriage, until such laws were found to be unconstitutional in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v Virginia.

Access controls reflect sexist, heterosexist, racist and generally inegalitarian interpretations of the meaning of marriage, with the result that the honorific aspect of marriage is also applied unequally. Only some people are granted state sanctification for their relationship, and this unequal approval has been used to devastating effect, with unmarried couples and their children subject to stigma and discrimination.

And:

State-recognised marriage means treating married couples differently from unmarried couples in stable, permanent, monogamous sexual relationships. It means treating people in sexual relationships differently from those in non-sexual or caring relationships. It means treating those in couples differently from those who are single or polyamorous. It expresses the official view that sexual partnership is both the ultimate goal and the assumed norm. It expresses the assumption that central relationship practices – parenting, cohabitation, financial dependence, migration, care, next-of-kinship, inheritance, sex – are bundled together into one dominant relationship. And so it denies people rights that they need in relation to one practice unless they also engage in all the others and sanctify that arrangement via the state.

Blah blah blah egalitarianism blah blah blah. It’s like she hasn’t given a moment’s thought to the reasons why marriage is an important institution. Chambers says that marriage should be abolished as a legal institution, and that the state “should regulate relationship practices.” Read the whole thing.

The reader who sent me that link writes:

Reading this article made me immediately think of the Benedict Option, as the millennial author’s [Note: Chambers was born in 1976 — RD] views on marriage are the end product of the cultural ‘inputs’ you elaborate on in your book. This is such a shallow, but thoroughly postmodern-Western, view of marriage that it is heartbreaking to read. This millennial lecturer is hardly alone in reducing marriage to a proxy for government sanctioned love, childbearing, and commitment. All these things, as the author points out, can be had outside of marriage. This is where a strong Christian community might step in to explain that, while marriages certainly have these things, that is not all they are. But we don’t live in a strong Christian community; the author can’t find a deeper reason for marriage, and so she concludes that the whole thing is (of course) an oppressive power structure and needs to be done away with. While I find her argument riddled with gaping holes, that really isn’t the point. The sad thing about this article is that we were too long complicit in viewing marriage in the same way the author does–a thing two people who love each other do, in the eyes of the government, to have a family and pick up a tax break.

Twenty years ago, Christians had no problem resting on the idea that marriage is about two people committed to loving one another. They couldn’t have dreamed how quickly and completely that logic would lead them to paths they didn’t wish to go down. By positioning marriage as a legal issue, we gave up on a higher, truer definition of marriage and essentially yelled to the culture that marriage could and would be ultimately defined by the government. In forfeiting our Christian identity, it suddenly became of great importance to us what the government chose to apply the word “marriage” to; we bet big that they would side with us, and we lost big.

I’m tired and having a hard time communicating what I’m trying to say, but it seems like we’ve created some kind of moralistic therapeutic marriage: just like this millennial author, most of us bought into the idea that marriage is just about two people in love, who want to spend the rest of their lives together and have children. If you fall out of love, you can just ‘consciously uncouple’. There’s no imagery of a consubstantial union reflecting the glory of God or Christ’s love of the church. No intimation of the sacrifice needed to love (in the deeper, non-contemporary sense) someone through sickness and health, good times and bad, ’til death do us part. No real metaphysical connection at all, really. Not even a church to get married in (and I know many ‘Christians’ who were married before a government official, but never a priest or pastor, further illustrating how much we bought into the idea that marriage is a government, and not a God, thing). When moralistic therapeutic marriage was used to justify gay marriage, we were in a logical conundrum, because these people love each other, and they want to spend their lives together, and some even want children. Most people could do little more than utter “…but the Bible says…” in defense of traditional marriage. If a Christian marries an atheist, no problem! But if a man marries a man using the exact same reasoning…now it’s an affront to God.

With this shallow proxy-based definition of marriage, is it any wonder this millennial wonders (in what is admittedly a terribly presented argument) if we should do away with the whole thing? I guess what it comes down to is this: presumably, if we were Christians and cared about what marriage meant for Christians, we would’ve just said, “They can call that thing anything they want; as far as we’re concerned, that’s not marriage.” Instead (again relating to BenOp), we tried to keep our political power, play the legal game, failed to recognize that the culture has no inkling of what marriage is beyond a privileged relationship between two people who love each other, and lost.

Yes, even if we had corporally decided before Obergefell that marriage was what we said it was, and that we’d treat it as such in our churches and communities without concern for government sanctioning, we’d still be derided, laughed at, sued, and all the rest. It’s not about saving face. But at least there would’ve been an alternative vision out there with a little more depth than “…but the Bible says…”. At least some additional people would come to know why marriage is different. At least this author would’ve had to have written, “True, Christians maintain that marriage does uniquely manifest and reflect divine love and grace like no other relationship because of what they believe to be the objective nature of their God,” before going on to call it BS and making her same ill-thought-out argument all the same.

I believe there are practical, non-religious arguments in favor of the institution of marriage, but the reader has a point. If Christians accept that the definition of marriage is only about ratifying and formalizing emotional commitments, then they have conceded too much. Being better catechized by pop culture than the church, many of us have.

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Why Christians Vote Republican Despite It All

Some conservative Christians close their eyes to Trump’s mendacity solely out of self-protection (Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock)

A Christian friend asked me recently why there is so much anxiety, even some panic, on the Christian right about the situation for traditional Christians in US society. This Christian simply doesn’t see any evidence of persecution or oppression. Another person in the conversation — an atheist and a liberal — said that to him, it looks like conservative Christians are simply angry about losing power, nothing more.

Well, there’s a lot going on here. There are all kinds of traditional Christians. Some are no doubt concerned about losing power. Others are concerned about the decline of the faith among younger generations. Still others worry about the liberty of orthodox Christians to run our organizations according to our values. And yes, there are some who worry about the Apocalypse; those folks have been there at least since my childhood. There are various intersections of these concerns, depending on the Christian group, and even the individual Christian. I, for example, am only worried about Christians losing power and influence because I am worried about the decline of the faith, and the waning of religious liberty. Has there ever been a minority group that was easygoing about its loss of political and cultural power? Given human nature, how can one be?

This, from California (of course), is a sign to Christians. It is a bill that would, in effect, ban Christian books that conflicted with pro-LGBT orthodoxy. David French explains:

Assembly Bill 2943 would make it an “unlawful business practice” to engage in “a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that advertise, offer to engage in, or do engage in “sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”

The bill then defines “sexual orientations change efforts” as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” (Emphasis added.)

This is extraordinarily radical. Christian orthodoxy is simple — regardless of a person’s desires (their “orientation”), the standard of right conduct is crystal clear. Sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. When it comes to “gender expression,” there is no difference between “sex” and “gender,” and the Christian response to gender dysphoria is compassion and treatment, not indulgence and surgical mutilation.

Put another way, there is a fundamental difference between temptation and sin. California law would intrude directly on this teaching by prohibiting even the argument that regardless of sexual desire, a person’s sexual behavior should conform to Biblical standards.

Here is the full text of the bill. Supporters claim that it only bans so-called “reparative therapy” and other attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or “gender expression.” But Robert A.J. Gagnon reads the fine print:

The bill in question is California Assembly Bill 2943. It would treat as a criminal violation of the state’s consumer fraud act “the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that consists of “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.” Don’t be misled into thinking that this bill bans only professional counselors from trying to alter same-sex attractions. It goes well beyond that.

“Orientation change” can be as innocuous as stating at a paid conference that homosexual and transgender desire can be overcome (not necessarily eliminated) by the Spirit of Jesus. Or even complying with an attendee’s request for prayer that the Spirit of God empower the attendee not to succumb to the power of same-sex attractions.

That’s not all. More than “orientation change” is at issue, for the bill expressly states:

‘Sexual orientation change efforts’ means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Did you catch the part that says: “This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions,” not just orientation change? You cannot treat homosexual expression or transgenderism as the product of disordered desires.

To sell any materials or offer any counseling for a fee that present homosexual practice and transgender identity as wrong or a sin, including all commentaries on the Bible and theological or exegetical treatments that affirm the biblical position on these matters (perhaps even the Bible itself) is to incur criminal sanctions in the state of California.

The bill is wildly unconstitutional, it seems to me — yet it was easily passed out of House committee, and is headed for a vote in the full state Assembly. If it passes there, it’s over to the Senate. Both houses of the California legislature are held firmly by Democrats.

If the bill passes, I assume — maybe that’s risky — that it will eventually be struck down by courts. But who knows? And which bookseller or author wants to be the one to go to court?

Besides, the greater point here is that a bill like this appears at all, and has so little trouble getting through the system. It says a lot about the contempt California has for religious liberty, and indeed for any speech that offends LGBTs and their allies.

In 2016, Christians rallied in California to beat back a bill that would have made it impossible for the state’s Cal Grants program — which provides college tuition for bright students with financial needs — to be used at state colleges that in any way discriminate against LGBT students. This would have compelled Christian colleges that have codes governing the sex lives of their community members either to change their policies, or surrender Cal Grant-funded students. For many, even most, of those conservative Christian colleges, this would have meant either a severe violation of conscience, or closure.

After a huge lobbying effort, especially by Latino and African-American Christian leaders (black and Hispanic students are disproportionately served by Cal Grants), the sponsor withdrew the bill, but nobody thinks this was the end of it. A white Evangelical source involved in the negotiations told me that many of the state’s white suburban Evangelicals were useless in the resistance, even though they may have opposed the bill. They were terrified of being called bigots.

As David French points out in his piece, California is not the kooky, unrepeatable fringe of the left, but is more typically at the leading edge of where the rest of America is going. And this, says French, is the answer to Jonathan Chait’s query. Chait writes:

Looking around at what 16 months of President Trump has wrought, watching Fox & Friends, refreshing the news sites for the latest national-security debacle, would you decide, each morning, to remain in the Republican Party? And yet in varying ways, anti-Trump conservatives have all taken the impossibility of trans-partisan cooperation as a given.

Well, as readers know, I left the GOP in 2008, though I still identify as a conservative, so what Chait says here applies to me as well. French, in replying to Chait, speaks for me:

Chait’s premise implies that Republicans have gone extreme, yet more-sensible conservatives are strangely refusing to join a mainstream opposition. Yet that’s not how the world looks from the right side of the aisle. From there, it looks as if the Democratic party is responding to Trump by galloping away from the center, doubling down on the very policies and ideologies that led Evangelicals to vote en masse for Trump as a form of simple self-defense.

On Monday night at a dinner in Miami, I told a liberal journalist sitting next to me that I would love to vote for a Democrat as a way of bringing the Republican Party back to its senses, but that it is impossible for a conservative Christian like me to vote Democratic, because I am the Enemy to the Democratic Party.

It’s all about religious liberty. I am convinced — beyond convinced — that there is no religious liberty that the Democrats would not smash in an effort to advance whatever the LGBT activist leadership wants. It’s not that I believe that all Democrats are radically anti-Christian, or that all LGBT folks are. But those who just want to live and let live are not in charge of the Democratic Party’s direction.

About the proposed California law, Daniel Mattson, a same-sex-oriented Catholic who is chaste, converses with the writer Michael Brendan Dougherty:

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Do you think these fears are extreme? Well, let me tell you, Christians who pay attention are by now immune to the reassurances from the cultural left that their worst fears are overblown. We have been through the dialogue deception time and time again.

This is what’s blowing up on social media this morning — both among conservative Christians and radical trans-negative feminists: a questionnaire whose purpose seeks to erase gender binaries in the delivery of health care.  Here’s how it begins:

Gender neutral terms for anatomy and healthcare education/research for pregnant and birthing people

We’re calling on our community to help us improve academic syllabi and lectures in healthcare education and materials. In healthcare education settings the terms used for anatomy need to be broadly applied in the creation of a syllabus and in lectures for all genders. Our goal is to identify problematic medical terminology terms used in healthcare education and identify terms that are inclusive. We’re hoping to brainstorm a list of terms for medical terminology, anatomy, and medical procedures that are inclusive to people of all genders, as well as gender inclusive terms for general use in healthcare education and materials.

We are already very clear with students and residents that in the clinic setting patients and clients should be asked their preferred anatomy terms, and that their request should be honored in every circumstance.

In this survey, you’ll see the current standard medical and/or anatomical term. You’re invited to check other terms that you’ve heard or used, and to add other terms in response. Please check all that apply.

Take a look at the document. These healthcare radicals are trying to allow psychological states of mind to determine anatomical truth. If a man calls his penis a vagina, then the woke medical services provider must agree.

At first, my digging showed that it started with Melissa Smith-Tourville, the admissions director of the Midwives College of Utah, one of the biggest training programs for midwives. Spend some time on its website and you’ll see that it’s a very woke institution. Here’s the initial request from Smith-Tourville:

But Miriam Ben-Shalom, a radical feminist who is doing great work opposing the trans agenda, dug deeper:

That’s the Human Rights Campaign, the premier LGBT lobby. A Washington lobbyist once told me that “the gay rights lobby is to the Democrats what the NRA is to the Republicans.” His point? That you cannot cross them and stand in good stead within the party. If the HRC wants this radical remake of basic medical terminology, you can bet that it’s going to get it sooner or later.

The HRC is 100 percent behind the California bill.  One could certainly understand the HRC opposing conversion therapy, but as French and others point out, this bill is written very broadly. This does not bother the nation’s premier gay rights lobby, nor does it bother the Democrats (and at least one Republican) in the California Assembly who sailed it through two Assembly committees.

Extremism in the pursuit of LGBT rights and the punishment of dissenting Christians is no vice. , it appears. And that’s why many conservative Christians grit our teeth and vote Republican anyway.

UPDATE: It’s like this: better a party that doesn’t do much for you than a party that actively despises you.

UPDATE.2: Like I was saying:

Southern Baptist chaplain Jerry Scott Squires is fighting a U.S. Army investigator’s charge of unlawful discrimination for refusing to preside over a marriage retreat including same-sex couples.

But Squires followed federal law and Army and Southern Baptist Convention chaplaincy protocol when he rescheduled a Feb. 9 Strong Bonds marriage retreat in order to involve a non-SBC chaplain, thereby accommodating the attendance of a lesbian couple, First Liberty Institute said in an April 17 letter to the Army in Squires’ defense.

“Federal law and Army policy both make clear that chaplains must remain faithful to the tenets of their faith,” First Liberty attorney Michael Berry wrote in the letter. “The failure of a chaplain to do so exposes the chaplain to risk of losing their ecclesiastical endorsement, or worse, violates … federal law and policy…. Squires’ actions here are fully protected by federal law and regulation.”

Squires, who follows the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in protocol established by the North American Mission Board as an SBC-endorsed chaplain, told First Liberty he was shocked when an Army investigator concluded he should face disciplinary action, which is currently pending.

“I hope the Army sees that I was simply following Army regulations and the tenets of my church,” Squires, a decorated major with more than 25 years of military service, said in a First Liberty press release April 17.

It is not enough that the chaplain worked around this issue to make sure the lesbian couple was served. He has to be crushed. By the US Army, which he has served for 25 years. If only we had a Commander In Chief who stood up for the little guy…

Via Sohrab Ahmari:

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A Muslim Benedict Option

Yahya Rhodus, teaching at Al-Maqasid, a Muslim Ben Op community he founded

I’m just hearing about a small community in the rural Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania called Al-Maqasid. A Muslim reader (who is not part of it) says that some Muslim families moved out there to raise their kids around this education and spiritual formation start-up. They not only don’t want to lose their kids to liquid modernity, they also want to form their children to be able to serve in the world as faithful Muslims. I understand that they’ve been at it for five years, and that more and more Muslim families are moving out there.

Here’s a fundraising video they did:

Here’s a link to a brochure explaining what their vision is. I don’t know anything about the group other than what I’ve read here, but it seems interesting.

I’m really interested in knowing more about this group, and I hope to have the opportunity at some point in the next year to visit. It sounds pretty Ben Oppy to me. You know that Muslims in America have a much harder time doing something like this than traditional Christians do, in terms of outsiders regarding them with mistrust. I see opportunities for building solidarity, though it’s understandable that both sides approach the other with suspicion. That’s something that’s real, and not always based simply on misunderstanding. We have to work through it.

Still, I believe this is a risk worth taking, though both sides should go into it with eyes wide open. I say “both sides,” but I also would like to include Orthodox Jews, so, all three Abrahamic sides. I assume no one who would be interested in this initiative is interested in happy-clappy ecumenism that denies our meaningful differences. But I do believe that we can learn from each other’s experiences — the effective things we have tried, and the mistakes we have made — and defend each other’s religious liberties when they’re challenged.

I’ve said here before that I find it easier to converse with traditionalists within Christianity, and in non-Christian religions, than with liberal Christians. I’m not exactly sure what the difference is, but I think it has something to do with the basic orientation towards religion, and towards truth. For trads, generally speaking, religion is not simply part of life, it is the basis for our life. America is not only post-Christian, it is moving towards post-religious across the board. The receding of Christian hegemony may make life easier in some ways for Jews and Muslims, but I think in most ways it will make life harder, because the things that liberal culture resents traditionalist Christians for also apply to Jews and Muslims. Liberals may not sue Orthodox Jewish or Muslim bakers over wedding cakes, but the kind of society in which that sort of thing happens is a society that is hostile to traditional Judaism and traditional Islam, even if the hostility never ends up in court. Raising kids in that kind of culture is a great challenge to traditionalists of all three Abrahamic faiths.

Shouldn’t we talk about it, together, and get a sense of where we all are, and what common interests we share? I’ll be talking with some folks about putting together a conference at some point where we can establish some common ground, and discuss first steps. Advice welcome.

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Me In Fairfax County On Thursday 4/19

Hey, Northern Virginia readers, I’d love to see you at my talk on Thursday night in Fairfax.

I’ll be speaking at 7:30 at the Lorien Wood School in Vienna. There will be Q&A and book-signing there. Tickets are $10 per person. Seating is limited. The first 150 people who sign up will get a free paperback copy of The Benedict Option. The paperbacks have a Study Guide in the back, to guide group reading.

I hope you’ll come, not only because it will be nice to see you, but also because it’s important to meet other creative minorities in your area who care about the Benedict Option, and with whom you might collaborate.

Register in advance here. The Lorien Wood School — a Christian school for K-8 — looks like a fascinating place, by the way. Why not come out and see what it has to offer?

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A Smaller, Purer Catholic University?

Graduation Day at Catholic University of America (L. Kragt Bakker/Shutterstock)

In 1969, the future Pope Benedict XVI predicted that the Catholic Church would suffer a purification in the years ahead, that it would lose a lot of its power, and many of its people — but that from that would emerge a smaller church composed of true believers. From this, the renewal will come.

I think of this prophetic statement a lot. I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of Catholic universities, until a friend e-mailed this Chronicle of Higher Education piece inquiring into whether or not the Catholic University of America is hurting itself by emphasizing Catholic distinctives. The piece is behind a subscriber paywall, but I can quote bits and pieces here.

Here is the gist of the problem:

A cost-cutting proposal at Catholic University of America, where administrators are seeking to close a $3.5-million operational deficit through layoffs and buyouts of 35 faculty members, has divided the campus and provoked a broader discussion about whether the institution has overplayed its religiosity to the detriment of student recruitment.

It is self-evident that Catholic University, a 131-year old institution founded by American bishops and considered the national university of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, is inextricably linked to Catholicism. But at a time when many students of traditional college age have eschewed organized religion and come to question the church’s social teachings, Catholic University finds itself in an intensifying dialogue that pits the university’s core identity against market imperatives.

This is not a new debate for Catholic or for religiously affiliated institutions in general. Such colleges have long wrestled with how best to preserve their deepest values while still attracting students who want a vibrant social life and a collegiate experience that is more spiritual than it is strictly religious.

Yet, Catholic University, based in Washington, D.C., is at a particularly critical moment.

The visceral threat of faculty job losses has invited emotional exchanges about whether the bishops’ university — whose leaders have waded into today’s culture wars and tried to discourage college kids from having sex — has scared off some of the very prospective students that it needs most. Changes at the university, which in recent years has done away with co-ed dorms and promoted itself as a cultivator of “Catholic minds,” are now being scrutinized by campus critics as the unforced errors of an administration in need of a course correction.

CUA brought in consultants to help them figure out the situation:

In January, Catholic University professors huddled in Great Room B of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, the same building where, a decade earlier, Pope Benedict XVI told an audience of Roman Catholic educators that they had a “particular responsibility” to “evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith.”

On the stage that day in January 2018 were guests of less renown, but their message got the professors’ attention. After a year of research, Art & Science Group LLC had concluded that prospective students do not see Catholic University as a top choice, that they are confused about its pricing, and — even among practicing Catholics — they are unlikely to respond favorably to additional faith-based marketing.

Prospective students, the consultants said in a videotaped presentation, perceive religion as a more-integral part of the student experience at Catholic University than at its peers.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t help you,” said Eric Collum, a senior associate at Art & Science. “In fact, to the extent that they see you as being a religious place, it actually hurts you.”

“Students are open to having their experience enriched by Catholicism, but not necessarily defined by Catholicism,” Collum later added. “They want to go to college; they don’t want to go to church necessarily.” [Emphasis mine — RD]

And:

Abela and others chalk up most of the university’s challenges to demographic shifts. Roman Catholic high schools, the most reliable pipeline for Catholic University students, are graduating fewer and fewer people. [Emphasis mine — RD] This fall, more than half of private colleges, religious or not, missed enrollment targets, a Chronicle survey found.

In other words, factors beyond religiosity are no doubt in play.

“To lay it all at the feet of Catholic identity seems a narrow interpretation,” said Christopher P. Lydon, the university’s vice president for enrollment management and marketing.

In its analysis, Art & Science stressed the need for Catholic to emphasize its existing research opportunities for undergraduates, to guarantee on-campus housing, and to not skimp on “athletics and fun.” At the same time, Lydon says, the consultants found that “we had no more market share to gain through Catholic identity alone.”

“It’s not about the relegation of Catholic identity. It’s about the elevation of the academic student experience.”

I’ll stop there.

It would be a pity — actually, a tragedy — if CUA watered down its Catholic identity. There are scores of Catholic colleges where Catholics can get a Catholic-in-name-only education. It’s hard to see what the advantage accrue to CUA if it becomes one of the crowd.

On the other hand, holding on to its identity will probably cost it here in post-Christian America. Conservative Catholics — and conservative Christians in general — don’t like to think about this. We have told ourselves for a long time that standing firm in orthodoxy will rally those who are looking for institutions with confidence, as opposed to those led by uncertain trumpeters. But what if this is no longer true?

It shouldn’t surprise us. The studies of younger generations of Catholic Americans show that they are only nominally Catholic. For example, this takeaway from sociologist Christian Smith’s book about young Catholic Americans. Excerpt:

4.  Catholic schools and parishes appear to have little effect. Smith spends some time on parishes and Catholic primary and secondary schools.  On the surface, emerging adults who went to church and attended Catholic schools knew more about the faith and were more likely to practice it.  Yet, these differences seem to be more associated with the parents’ faith than the parish or school itself.  In other words, it is the parents and their religious commitment behind their children going to church, attending Catholic schools, and continuing to believe.  The most significant factor for these institutions that Smith found was that Catholic schools prevented young adults from totally abandoning their faith.

5.  Emerging adults need more than religious parents.  If schools and parishes are less significant than parental commitment, is it all up to the parents?  Supportive parents are one of the three most important factors affecting the faith of emerging adults, but Smith insists there are two more.  Emerging adults must also regularly engage in religious behaviors and practices, and emerging adults must internalize the beliefs and make them their own.   While parents are practically necessary, they are not sufficient on their own.  Emerging adults need to choose the faith and practice it themselves.

(You see why The Benedict Option emerged in large part out of my reading Christian Smith’s work.)

What does this have to do with CUA? There are many fewer serious young Catholics in the US because there are many fewer serious older Catholics in the US. Smith found that most “emerging adults” — a demographic that includes older teenagers — think of their Catholicism in connection with their family heritage, but that’s about it. Parish life and Catholic school life doesn’t really change that. From the perspective of CUA, the formation of Catholic students who want what CUA has to offer is in serious decline. Thus, its enrollment.

Let’s assume that CUA changed its stance and direction. It might be easy enough to do. Pope Francis has given the school the cover it needs to liberalize: they could call it fidelity to the Holy Father’s “paradigm shift”. What then? I suppose theoretically it could see a rise in applications from nominal Catholics who would be interested in the Washington experience, but can’t afford or can’t get into Georgetown. CUA would become less attractive to students going to college with serious Catholic commitments, but then again, there aren’t a lot of choices for them anyway, so the losses at first might be relatively small.

But over time? Being just one more fallen-away Catholic college among many would pressure CUA constantly to be reinventing itself — no doubt further distancing itself from magisterial Catholicism.

If, however, CUA’s leadership sticks to its current vision, it also seems clear that the university will shrink. This is the cost of being faithful in post-Christian America.

It comes down to a question of vision. Again, conservative Christians like me have long been quick to jeer at liberal churches for casting off dogmas and doctrines that conflict with being a politically correct liberal. We snort when they fail to turn around their institutional decline in terms of numbers.

But what if we are in the same boat? What if those institutions are pursuing a vision that is unpopular, but one its leaders believe to be true? Aren’t we doing the same thing? We can (and should!) point out that the difference is that ours is based in Scripture and Tradition, whereas theirs is built around conforming to the Zeitgeist. But from the point of view of living out ideals, even when it costs you, we are more or less in the same boat.

The common problem is that Americans broadly just aren’t that interested in serious approaches to religion. Leaders of American churches and religious schools and colleges are going to have to face the question of what cost they are willing to pay to be faithful.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput today publishes a beautiful, deep letter he received from a young Catholic man, a husband and father, urging the Catholic bishops to be uphold the truths they’ve been given to teach and to defend. The young man wrote, of the situation in the Catholic Church today:

This shift away from clarity is demoralizing for young faithful Catholics, particularly those with a heart for the New Evangelization and my friends raising children against an ever-stronger cultural tide. Peers of mine who are converts or reverts have specifically cited teachings like Humanae VitaeFamiliaris Consortio, and Veritatis Splendor as beacons that set the Church and her wisdom apart from the world and other faiths. Now they’re hearing from some in the highest levels of the Church that these liberating teachings are unrealistic ideals, and that “conscience” should be the arbiter of truth.

Young Catholics crave the beauty that guided and inspired previous generations for nearly two millennia. Many of my generation received their upbringing surrounded by bland, ugly, and often downright counter-mystical modern church architecture, hidden tabernacles, and banal modern liturgical music more suitable to failed off-Broadway theater. The disastrous effect that Beige Catholicism (as Bishop Robert Barron aptly describes it) has had on my generation can’t be overstated. In a world of soulless modern vulgarity, we’re frustrated by the iconoclasm of the past 60 years.

As young Father Joseph Ratzinger predicted nearly 50 years ago, the Catholic Church would decline precipitously, and lose much. But men and women like the unnamed letter-writer are the seeds of its future, and of its rebirth. This is also true for Protestants and Orthodox. Churches and church institutions can withstand the loss of those nominally committed to the mission, but they cannot withstand the loss of men and women like Archbishop Chaput’s correspondent.

If CUA should become a college where men like that do not want to send their children, what is its reason to exist? If Catholic colleges and universities are nothing more than lightly Catholicized versions of private secular institutions, what’s their point? In another couple of generations, the sentimentality that keeps young people seeking out Catholic schools because it seems like the family thing to do will have dissipated. What then?

UPDATE: A reader of this blog who is — let me put this delicately — in a position to know what’s going on at CUA, e-mails to say that this piece is a symbol of a fundamental conflict at CUA. On this person’s account, there is significant tension between a faction that wants the university to be less Catholic and more conventional, and a faction that wants to double down on Catholic identity. This reader identifies with the latter, which is why he finds the university an appealing place to work. He said that fortunately, the leadership of CUA is firmly committed to Catholicism.

The reader said not to be misled by consultants, who “exist primarily to compare you to other ‘peers’ so that you can behave like them.” The consultants in this case recommended that CUA use photos of the football team in its promotional materials, not students praying. The administration wisely ignored this advice. Said the e-mailer: “No student is going to come to CUA for football or for ‘fun’. But they might come for prayer.”

Bottom line: CUA does face some enrollment issues, but its leadership is strongly focused on Catholic mission and Catholic identity. This source is relatively young, and said this commitment makes CUA a great place to work for him. He said that whatever decline the US Catholic Church might be experiencing, there will always be faithful orthodox Catholics in the US looking for places to send their kids where the kids can get a reliable Catholic formation — and CUA intends to be one of them, and not part of the herd of assimilationist academies.

Great to hear.

UPDATE.2: Erin Manning comments:

Tuition, room, board, and fees at CUA are going to run you almost $61,000 a year. UD is up to a little over $57,000 a year for room, board and tuition (not counting the extra costs of the Rome semester). Most of the other “true Catholic colleges” are going to cost you between $35,000 and $60,000 a year in room, board, and tuition.

We were not blessed with a large family, but in some ways that hurts us more when it comes to financial aid.

I have no problem whatsoever with Catholic colleges and universities for those who can reasonably afford them. I urge caution for parents who would have to go into significant debt, or allow their children to do so, in order to go to these schools; the old “your education is an investment that will pay for itself!” mantra is disintegrating in the global economy (and especially if you study the humanities in a Catholic school), and you can only put off the day of reckoning by getting advanced degrees for so long. And I have no problem whatsoever warning parents who are on the poorer end of the economic spectrum that going deeply into debt (yourself and/or your child) while your child skips things like meals and health care to scrape up one more semester’s worth of Catholic Higher Ed. (while taking plenty of gap semesters/years to work crap jobs and live on a shoestring budget just to get that one more semester) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Some of you will get pressure from your local Catholic friends and/or family to make whatever “sacrifices” are necessary to send your kids to the good Catholic colleges (with dire warnings about how they will all become sexually profligate atheists if they set foot in a secular school), but what you probably don’t realize is that they most likely have resources you don’t (more income, more financial aid, grandparents who chip in, that sort of thing), and their idea of “sacrifice” is “my child doesn’t get as many expensive clothes as her classmates and has to put up with an Android phone,” not “my child ran out of money completely and has borrowed $20 from a classmate to purchase two weeks’ worth of food while she’s waiting for her last paycheck to get deposited.” (Which, by the way, was not something I actually ever told my parents about back in my day when that happened to me.)

Now, if a Catholic educational organization were to create and finance a community college type of entity where young Catholics could obtain an affordable associate’s degree that would meet the requirements to transfer into the local university system so they’d have two years of solid, Catholic-grounded humanities courses as well as some practical STEM classes before finishing up at State U., I’d be excited about that, and would probably support it wholeheartedly. The truth, though, is that for the most part Catholic high school and college education is for the relatively wealthy American Catholic families (and a handful of very poor kids who get full rides). CUA, like all the other Catholic universities, is competing for a niche market within a niche market; that is, for faithful Catholics who value higher Catholic education and expect orthodoxy AND who can afford around 60K per year per child (even if by “afford” we mean “cobble together enough aid to pay for what we can’t cover in cash). Truth is, there aren’t that many people who meet that description anymore, and the orthodox Catholic schools will be competing desperately for the same few slices of an already tiny pie, if they aren’t already.

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Goodbye, Barbara Bush

Mrs. Bush has died. Read these:

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She was my favorite First Lady. That Yankee lady had grit. Sadly, I doubt it will be long before her husband of 73 years joins her on the other side. Seems like something important in the American character will pass with them.

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How The Church Discusses Migration

This morning at the Faith Angle Forum, we’re talking about faith and immigration. The speakers are Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Dr. Mark Amstutz, a Wheaton College political scientist.

Sister Norma began by telling heart-rending stories about caring for migrants coming across the US-Mexico border. Their human plight, in her telling, was quite moving.

Dr. Amstutz, by contrast, gave an argument. His basic point was that the all states have to have defensible borders. Protecting human rights and achieving justice depends on a strong, benevolent state. In the immigration debate, he said, these things have to be taken into consideration. Whatever the state decides what to do on immigration has to be done in an orderly, legal way — because this order serves the common good.

In listening to this exchange, I’m struck by the role of emotivism in this discussion. Sister Norma is clearly a compassionate woman, and has a very big heart for these desperate people. On the other hand, to me it seems that she is trying to help migrants violate the law. That’s an uncharitable way to put it, and I keep trying to find a more charitable way to look at it, but the more she explains her position, the harder it is for me to see it in any other way. Her view seems to be that her role as a Christian is to get as many of these migrants into the US as possible — this, as a matter of compassion.

Again, by contrast, Prof. Amstutz is trying to take a more comprehensive view. He described his own view as a “communitarian” perspective — one that tries to balance the wishes of the migrants with the wishes of US citizens. Amstutz said “communitarian” perspective has been discarded by “religious elites”.

One of the journalists present said that after hearing Sister Norma’s account of life at the border, he wondered why he wasn’t there at the border helping her, and why all “decent” — his word — people aren’t doing the same. That struck me as a telling moment, one that showed what a disadvantage people like Prof. Amstutz are when talking about these kinds of issues. As a political scientist, he is trying to bring a philosophical framework to discussing and analyzing immigration. He’s well-spoken, don’t get me wrong, but it’s discouraging to observe how hard it is to have a clear, rational discussion about this issue (and not just immigration).

A journalist asked the two presenters how we determine how many migrants we are to allow into the country. Sister Norma responded by saying that she was speaking to a group of kindergarten students at a Catholic school, and asked them what they thought we should do about all the migrants at the border who are fleeing terrible conditions at home.

The children said, “Let them in,” the nun said. She added, “I don’t know that Jesus would leave anybody out.”

And that was it. This is not thinking. This is emoting — and it is emoting just as much as the kind of rhetoric that Trump and his ilk use when he discusses immigration. Sister Norma is a vastly more genial person than many of the anti-immigrant hotheads are. But it’s still substituting emotion and sloganeering for hard thought about difficult questions.

UPDATE: I had to leave the session at about the halfway point, to go to the airport. The discussion might have taken a different turn later.

UPDATE.2: I’m halfway through approving comments, and it is frustrating how so many readers believe that Sister Norma’s simply telling stories and asserting that Jesus would probably agree with her approach was sufficient. It might be rhetorically effective, but it’s not the same thing as making an argument. She completely ignored in her presentation any contrary ideas. Again, she struck me as a deeply good woman, but if you didn’t already agree with her, she gave you no reason to do so — and no basis on which to think about what immigration law should be. By contrast, Dr. Amstutz — also a Christian, and one who is not opposed to immigration — made a case. A reader points out that Dr. Amstutz once explained his approach in a First Things essay. Excerpt:

The norms of international law stipulate that people have a right to emigrate from their homeland but not a right to immigrate to any particular country. Right of entry can be granted only by the country of destination. Scholars of international relations have developed two approaches to guide these considerations: communitarianism and cosmopolitanism. The policies we favor follow from our loyalty to one of these two approaches. The communitarian favors a more restrictive approach; the cosmopolitan a more open one.

Both seek to promote human dignity. The communitarian sees strong nation-states as crucial. In The Law of Peoples, philosopher John Rawls argues that international peace and justice can only be advanced through well-governed societies. The foundation of a humane global order is the stability provided by nations that take care of their own people and respect the sovereignty of other nations. There are bound to be injustices in this system. Some countries will accord more respect for human rights than others. But without well-governed sovereign nations—strong national communities—the global system will decay into far worse disorder, and the rule of law will weaken within countries.

Recent history supports this view. To the extent that the post–World War II international community has become more humane and prosperous, the cause has been strong, constitutional states. Political ethicist Michael Ignatieff argues: “If we want human rights to be anchored in the world, we cannot want their enforcement to depend on international institutions and NGOs. We want them anchored in the actual practice of sovereign states.” Only national communities have the power consistently to protect rights and enforce laws. Therefore, to advance human dignity and prosperity in the world, we must nourish strong nation-states that are solicitous of the well-being of their citizens and respectful of the sovereignty of other states.

We have a moral duty to care for refugees, but the communitarian insight identifies a concurrent obligation to maintain our own ­societies as stable and well-governed. That means political communities must regulate their borders. Drawing on Rawls, political theorist Stephen Macedo argues, “An immigration policy cannot be considered morally acceptable in justice unless its distributive impact is defensible from the standpoint of disadvantaged Americans.” This does not mean we should not assist foreigners or promote generous immigration policies. Rather, it requires that we give priority to the needs of the most vulnerable in our political community, which today means unskilled American workers. They are the most likely to suffer economically as a result of a larger influx of low-wage immigrants.

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The Hard Road Through The Classroom

Jeremy S. Adams, an award-winning high school teacher, writes about Ten Things Teachers Did Not Have To Deal With Ten Years Ago. He writes:

Something is wrong—very, very wrong. Teachers across the country at all grade levels, in all subjects, teaching a wide variety of student populations, can sense it. There is a pulse of dysfunction, a steady palpitation of doom that the path we are on is not properly oriented.

There is a raw and amorphous anxiety creeping into the psyche of the corps of American teachers.

We may have trouble pinpointing the exact moment when something in our schools and broader culture went wildly astray, leaving in its wake teachers sapped of optimism and weighted with enervate comprehension. The following is a small sampling—this list could easily have been twice as long if my conversations with fellow teachers are any indication—of problems that teachers were not facing ten years ago.

Every failure of civil society—institutional rot, political cynicism and polarization, tattered family and other filial relations, depressed expectations of student behavior, a preening and non-apologetic narcissism, extravagant self-regard, anti-intellectualism in our minds and moral relativism in our hearts—manifests itself in our schools. The result is a weight of responsibility, an anvil of obligation, now pushing against the outer periphery of what schools can realistically achieve given their inherent limitations. It is no headline to announce that schools mirror the dysfunction of society writ large. With this in mind, I offer the following list of ten things teachers did not have to deal with just a decade ago.

His list includes:

#1: The Inability to Punish Students: This is a story in modern education that is big and is about to get much bigger. A hodge-podge of policies and euphemisms—restorative justice, social-emotional learning, banning punitive actions for defiant and vulgar students—has resulted in a toxic situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools. While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, as is often the case, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country. While suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline, there absolutely must be consequences to destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well behaved and want to learn.

#2: Cell Phone Addiction: The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom. The statistics are jarring by any account: teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cell phone addicts swipe, touch, or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day. The correlation between cell phone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance is beyond question.

#3: Online Bullying: When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself. Nowadays there is no escape and the effects are daunting. One in three children have been threatened online and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell any adults about it. It is not hyperbole or embellishment to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults. We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents. We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. I would like to know from teachers in this blog’s readership if any (or all) of this resonates. What else would you put on the list? What needs to happen to make things improve?

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Beyond Christian Vs. Muslim Politics

I’m at the Faith Angle Forum in Miami Beach. On Monday, the group of journalists assembled here heard from scholars Shadi Hamid and Altaf Husain, talking about Islam and American life, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, on the subject of Judaism and American life. I can’t remember where I heard this — I think Shadi said it — but it remains on my mind: American Muslims are socially conservative, in general, but have turned firmly to the Democratic Party because they don’t trust Republicans to look out for them.

I get that. It’s also true, though, that there are Christian conservatives who would be willing to vote Democratic, if only out of frustration and even disgust with the GOP today, if they could trust the Democrats to respect religious liberty (read: not to try to shut down our colleges and institutions because we’re insufficiently woke on LGBT rights).

I don’t see any way out of this impasse for either Muslims and Republicans, or conservative Christians and Democrats.

But here is some good news. At least I think so. We have to start thinking beyond politics, to cultural engagement.

Shadi Hamid and I have been e-mailing for a short while, talking about the prospect of finding common ground between traditional American Christians and traditional American Muslims. We planned to talk about it in person when we saw each other at this conference. On Monday night we had a good conversation about it. Shadi is not a conservative, but he’s a Muslim-American political scientist interested in the intersection of interests between Christians like me and Muslims.

We agreed that it would be worth trying to organize a conference at which traditional Christians and traditional Muslims could talk about issues of mutual interest. We agreed that it’s pointless to get together a group of right-minded liberal Muslims and liberal Christians to talk about blah blah blah. The thing we’d like to see is a serious exchange between trads on both sides, to talk about issues of mutual concern in ordinary life — and to explore ways we might support each other.

It’s like this. It’s not easy to be a Christian who dissents from mainstream American consumer life. I hear about Muslim families who want to raise kids to respect God and the traditional family, and to share their faith in community, then hey, if they want to live peaceably with me and my people, then I want to be a blessing to them. In all seriousness, I would rather have them live next door to me than unbelievers, or Christians who didn’t take the faith seriously. It’s not that I think all religious faiths are the same (I certainly don’t), but that I feel a natural sympathy for men and women who are trying to live in a countercultural way out of traditional religious conviction.

Altaf Husain told the gathering today that he and his wife homeschool their kids. Hey, we’ve done that! It’s been difficult, but great. What has the Muslim experience been like? I’d like to know. How can we work together to protect the liberty of parents to homeschool?

We really need to talk.

The clash between Islam and the mainstream in Europe is very different from what we’re dealing with in the US. Maybe if we engage with each other now, here in America, we can head off some of the seemingly irreconcilable problems that Europe now faces. Mostly though, I think we are far enough past 9/11 to where traditionalist Christians and traditionalist Muslims can meet for constructive dialogue. How can we help each other be faithful in a post-Christian, post-religious America? How can we stand together to defend religious liberty?

Are Modern Orthodox Jews interested in joining the conversation? I hope so.

Robbie George, what say you? Let’s put something together.

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View From Your Table

Miami Beach, Florida

Watermelon mojito, while I’m just a-prayin’ for my poor old pal Denny Burk, beat up by the winter that won’t quit:

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Decline Of The Black Church?

A reader writes:

I know its not necessarily the thing you focus on, but I was interested to see if you had any thoughts on how Christianity having a negative material social cost going forward, as you laid out today, was going to influence Black Christians. For some background, my fiancee and her family are very involved with their local AME church and she has been noticing that a divisive revolution of sorts among young Black Christians that she meets.

When I showed her that Aaron Renn article, she said she found her church completely neutral world, and that it was in a strong position for now because of how crucial the church was in her neighborhood as a social fixture even today, but that difficulties were bound to happen. The sort of happy-clappy Hillary Clinton type Methodism is actually a lot more controversial among Black Christians than outside observers may think. There is a real divide between those (like my fiancee’s family) who see orthodoxy in family life and on issues of gender important (stemming from personal experiences of how absent fatherhood and promiscuity acted as such destroyers of community) and those who, particularly in the younger generation, have sought to identify the social gospel and entirely tie it up in the politics of racial grievance.

As of now, she thinks that being a Black Christian holds none of the negative material social cost that I, as a white Catholic, might face as I move further into my career (which I really do worry about, being only a year out of college), but that extremely influential institutional forces in the lives of African Americans (such as social media, the Black Lives Matter movement, and HBCUs) are growingly pursuing under the guise of intersectionality an anti-Christian agenda that not even the social gospel young believers could be capable of accommodating towards.

Its a worrying trend, and one that I noticed during college does not seem to be afflicting recent immigrants from Africa there to study (who I should point out, among the Catholics, were some of the most successfully catechized and Biblically knowledgeable young Catholics I know, and were almost completely free of MTD; it will be interesting to see if this continues). I have to wonder if the deep linkages between many Black Churches and the Democratic Party is starting to have a corrosive effect as the Democratic Party has increasingly been taken over by the Silicon Valley and Speech Codes crowd that are pretty religiously illiterate.

Ross Douthat’s article on what the Post-Christian (White) Right would look like was a pretty stark picture that should worry conservatives of all stripes. We know what the Post-Christian (White) Left looks like, and its pretty scary as well. If you look at Black Lives Matter’s official mission statement website, I think you might get a look at what a Post-Christian (Black) Left would look like, and I have to say it veers pretty close to outright Maoism.

Do you think that the Negative World, from what you’ve observed, is reaching a tipping point where it might start peeling off Black Christians from their faith? And what do you think might be done to reverse this?

What a fascinating set of questions. I don’t know enough to say; I invite input from you readers who do. I recently had a conversation with a white professor from an Evangelical college who expressed deep concern about race relations within the church. In short, he said that he strongly supports racial reconciliation, but that he has observed among younger Christians — black and white alike — a fervent, uncritical embrace of black racial identity politics. This professor said it had gone so far in his institution that he believed the students engaged in it — again, whites as well as blacks — were working against fundamental Christian values.

This is a world I do not know. It has seemed to me from the outside that certain progressive churches are every bit as guilty of politicizing the faith as certain conservative churches, especially on identity politics. The thing that gets to me about both politicized conservative Christians and politicized liberal Christians is how little self-awareness they have of their own sinfulness, of their own lack of humility, of their own need for repentance.

I understand how that works from a human nature point of view: to embrace your own innocence, your own sense of victimhood (or identifying with the victim), is the way to power in this culture.

But that is not the Gospel. 

Thoughts?

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Pope Francis: A Catholic Luther?

Arrivederci? (neneo/Shutterstock)

Here’s a sobering essay from the Italian Catholic journalist Sandro Magister’s blog, though it is written by an Italian academic historian named Roberto Pertici. It begins like this:

At this point in the pontificate of Francis, I believe it can be reasonably maintained that this marks the twilight of that imposing historical reality which can be defined as “Roman Catholicism.”

This does not mean, properly understood, that the Catholic Church is coming to an end, but that what is fading is the way in which it has historically structured and represented itself in recent centuries.

It seems evident to me, in fact, that this is the plan being deliberately pursued by the “brain trust” that has clustered around Francis: a plan understood both as an extreme response to the crisis in relations between the Church and the modern world, and as a precondition for a renewed ecumenical course together with the other Christian confessions, especially the Protestant.

Read the whole thing. Pertici says that Catholicism is being reformed by Pope Francis and many others within the institution along essentially Lutheran lines. Owing to its brevity, the essay leaves a lot unexplored. Reading it as a non-expert, I wonder to what extent the “Lutheran” revisions described by Prof. Pertici are not better understood as the ultimate victory of Protestantism over Catholicism, in the specific sense that Protestantism ushered in modernity.

Thoughts?

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Christianity In Negative World

Reader SB writes:

Rod, and Jefferson Smith above – Catholics won’t give in to the LGBT agenda, but liberal fake catholics will (a tragedy, not a sneer!).

The question is not – how is a LGBT dance being held at a Catholic University? But why is there no accountability? That is, why is there no mechanism for outraged Catholics to have action taken?

Instead, we hear the usual calls for action, even (in the Providence College case) the local bishop Tobin calls for change from the university, but nothing substantive happens. Like Notre Dame Uni no allowing staff & student insurance for contraception.

So, who owns and controls these ‘Christian’ institutions? If they are Catholic, then who is enforcing them to uphold Catholic values? And if that mechanism is (clearly) broken, how can we fix that to get fast, Christian resolution to these disputes?

Lay people should be able to lay a complaint, have a quick investigation and decision (in line with church teaching) to uphold the faith ad prevent scandal.

The real problem is not people asking for or planning a gay dance, but that there appears to be no mechanism to prevent it and uphold the university’s supposed Christian values.

This is why I am unconvinced of your Benedict Option – withdrawing into devout intentional communities abandons the many ‘stray’ Christians attending these colleges and confused by gay dances promoted by the church… we should fight for valuable institutions, not surrender them meekly.

You say that, and in principle I agree, but tell me, where are the fights that you can hope to win? Do you really think that most Catholics are with you? There is no “accountability” because most of the stakeholders have already gone over to the progressive side. According to surveys, most Catholics are to the left of the American public on key issues. Even half of weekly massgoers (for example) believe that employers should be forced to provide contraception as part of their health care plan. More broadly, the news about the beliefs and practices of young Catholic adults is very grim from an orthodox Catholic point of view, as I pointed out in my answer last fall to Father Spadaro. Spend a little time online in the Pew research, and looking through Christian Smith’s research out of Notre Dame, and honesty will compel you to ask: with what Catholic army are you going to fight for these institutions?

I’m honestly not trying to be snarky. I wish you well if you choose to fight for them. I think the battle for most of them, though, is already lost, and that the orthodox Catholics remaining within them would do well simply to hold their own in hostile territory.

What’s more, how do you fight for institutions when you can’t even hold the chanceries in the Francis era? Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark is emerging as a leading pro-gay, pro-Francis voice in the US church. He just delivered a speech at Villanova in which he warned against the Benedict Option. From America magazine’s coverage:

“Even from ancient times, there have been individuals and movements who have tried to define and delimit what it means to be a Catholic Christian. Nevertheless, the universal church has always repudiated such attempts. It is only the Lord who ultimately judges who belongs or does not belong.”

This is preposterous, spectacularly so, and cannot withstand a moment’s reflection. What on earth does Cardinal Tobin think that church councils did? They had to decide what Christian doctrine was. Were the Arians Christians, or were they not? What is the Nicene Creed for? What was the Reformation, and Counter-Reformation, about? Why does the Catholic Church need a catechism if the Church denies any attempt to define Catholicism?

Of course that’s not what the Church does at all. Cardinal Tobin is being extremely dishonest — but he can get away with it because he’s counting on Catholics in his audience either a) not knowing the slightest thing about Church history and theology, which will lead them to take him at his word here, or b) understanding that he’s saying what he has to say to stigmatize orthodoxy within Catholicism, and open the door for all manner of heterodoxy.

It appears that the cardinal did not bring up the Ben Op by name, but condemned it all the same:

Cardinal Tobin seemingly condemned this approach to faith, characterizing it as an effort to form “small enclaves” of believers who will somehow “safeguard the treasure of the Christian tradition in its purest form from the corrosive intrusion of a corrupt society.” He said instead that engagement with the world is a Christian principle that dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus.

Reading his remarks from an electronic tablet, the cardinal said Catholics must not be afraid of engaging with the world.

“The church has no other option but to turn outward,” he said. “This turning outward extends to the human condition in its heights and depths.”

Readers of The Benedict Option know perfectly well that’s a mischaracterization of the book’s argument, and I’d bet money that Cardinal Tobin knows it, and knows what he’s doing here, just as he knows what he’s doing by wildly mischaracterizing Church history. If Catholics were to do what the Ben Op says they should do, and study their own history, and the teachings of their Church, it would become crystal clear to them that Cardinal Tobin and his ilk are deceiving them. Therefore, the Cardinal assures them that the past is not what they may think it is, that indeed in the past, the Church has always been wide open to anybody professing anything. And then they tell them that the Church shouldn’t look inward, only outward. That is, no examination of tradition and its teachings, in order to help Catholics know how to look outward, and how to engage the world as Catholics.

Look at this short passage from The Benedict Option. Does it sound to you like the book counsels turning away from sharing the Good News with the world?

Father Bryce Sibley, who directs Catholic campus ministry at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL), told me that the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), a growing national campus ministry that has a chapter in over one hundred universities, including ULL, has been key to building a strong intentional Catholic student communities among Millennials. “These young Catholics are orthodox. They want to confession, they want the sacraments, they want formation,” Father Sibley said. “We’re not just about pizza and having fun. As a result, in the past six years, we’ve had almost fifty people enter seminary or religious life.”

Unlike Catholic campus ministry when he was in college a generation ago, said Father Sibley, FOCUS concentrates intensely on discipleship through prayer, study, and worship—often in small groups—and preparing students for evangelization. “You talk to most Catholic campus ministers today, we’re really hopeful,” said Father Sibley. “These kids want the real faith, not a watered-down version. If you want to evangelize, things will change.”

Spadaro, Tobin, Cardinal Cupich, and that crowd know perfectly well that the Ben Op does not call for total withdrawal from the world. Rather, it calls for Catholics (and other Christians) to prioritize strengthening their catechesis and spiritual disciplines, so that when they go out into the world (as we must), we can faithfully stand for authentic Christianity. By bearing false witness against what I’m actually advocating in The Benedict Option, these churchmen want to discourage Catholics from reading it.

Actually, I don’t blame them. Catholics who read the book and are encouraged by it to go deeper into Catholic teaching and history, will not be as susceptible to the lines peddled by these churchmen.

On the question of LGBTs in the Church, Cardinal Tobin said:

He added that “the church is moving on the question of same-sex couples,” albeit not as quickly as some people would like. Dialogue, he said, is key.

Ah yes, dialogue. That’s the liberal Christian word for the process by which they slowly wear down the orthodox, until liberals get the upper hand, then it’s whammo! 

So, what do Catholics learn from Cardinal Tobin’s talk, as reported by America?

  1. Catholicism has never tried to define itself, to to limit who counts as a Catholic, and who doesn’t.
  2. Catholics should keep their focus outward, because focusing inward only leads to sectarianism and rigidity.
  3. LGBT Catholics and their allies should be patient, because prelates like him are using the “dialogue” tactic to neutralize and marginalize orthodox Catholics.

This is the new line in the Francis-era Catholic church. This man is a cardinal, chosen and elevated by Pope Francis. Reader SB, you say that “true Catholics” won’t give in to this kind of thing, but you ought to reflect on the fact that generations of terrible catechesis and lack of formation has prepared the majority of American Catholics to do precisely what you say they won’t do. Though not a Catholic, I agree with you about the need for orthodoxy within the Catholic Church and other Christian churches. My contention is that there are far fewer people like you and me than you prefer to see.

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Well, this is half right.

The position of reader SB, and the plight of the orthodox Catholic in a liberalizing Catholic Church, should be understood in light of Aaron Renn’s commentary in the current issue of the e-mail newsletter The Masculinist. Renn writes:

In Masc #13 I laid out the three cultural worlds Christianity has faced in America over the last few decades:

Positive World (Pre-1994). To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms is a social positive. Christianity is a status enhancer. In some cases failure to embrace those norms hurt you.

Neutral World (1994-2014). Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person is not a knock either. It’s more like a personal affectation or hobby. Traditional norms of behavior retain residual force.

Negative World (2014-). In this world, being a Christian is a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways as seen as undermining the social good. Traditional norms are expressly repudiated.

Today’s church is divided between a legacy positive world contingent (typically religious right types) and a neutral world contingent of mostly urban based cultural engagement types. Each as their own characteristic memetic styles.

I don’t know reader SB, but my guess is that he (she?) believes that we live in Positive World or Neutral World. Renn says that characteristic Neutral World churches are Hillsong and New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian, both of which have been quite successful in their context. Renn writes:

Both of them use a memetic strategy based on communicating that “we are just like you [neutral world]” and which delivers aesthetic and programmatic excellence in markets where that’s expected. It’s a memetic strategy, blending both new and other media, that has delivered results in the neutral world.

But Neutral World is swiftly passing into Negative World. Renn says that the Benedict Option is the only attempt he has yet seen in which mainstream figures anticipate this and try to figure out how to face it:

In the negative world, there’s an agonistic relationship between the church and the world, whether or not the church seeks it out. But unlike with positive worlder thinking, there’s no prospect in sight of dominating or even much influencing the direction of secular culture or potentially even thinking that’s not even something to aspire to. Christianity may get reduced to a relatively small minority.

This space requires the masculine virtues because being a cultural minority requires being comfortable with something of a low status or outlier memetic that is self-consciously different. But understanding that you are in that minority position opens up tremendous cultural space too. Historically Christianity, as a default national faith, had to ensure a relatively broad based, mainstream appeal. That’s no longer a requirement. What does that give the church the freedom to do?

Renn says that Christians should observe the memetic strategies of minority religions. He posts a photo of two Hasidic Jewish men, with their distinctive way of dressing, and says:

Despite being a tiny minority, Hasidic Jews have immense confidence in being highly visibly distinct from mainstream society. Their very appearance (memetics) conveys that while they don’t care what you do, they are doing something different and are not ashamed of it.

Muslims are another group that figured it out. You’ve probably seen pictures of people observing the Muslim prayer times in the streets of various Western cities. Islam, as a universalist religion, is more culturally aggressive than Judaism. The memetics of praying in the street make clear that they are not just broadcasting distinctiveness but symbolically occupying territory. Nevertheless it’s a self-confident, attractional memetic for a minority religion in Western countries. There’s a lot to learn from Muslim communities.

Christianity is fundamentally a religion of the Word. The gospel is Good News, not Good Aesthetics. So the logos aspect must be right. That’s a precondition to anything more.

Where memetics comes in is creating the ethos and pathos that attract people who are willing to sign up for a status lowering religion. I posit that this requires showing that the church has something you can’t get from the world, and which has the self-confidence to be different.

In the negative world the church has to be distinct, not assimilationist, in the manner (if not the exact way) of the early church. The early church had many distinctives from the surrounding culture: they refused to worship the culture’s gods, they avoided many of the practices approved of by the culture, and they established their own practices like refusing to abandon the sick. They had a community that was difficult to be part of, but which generated immense value as well (in addition to possessing metaphysical truth). They did this by and large without attacking anyone else (though they did have what was essentially an intragroup feud with Jews who did not buy into Jesus as the Messiah).

I’m going to give one idea for a possible negative world move for the church: a reinvigorated and unapologetic memetic around healthy traditional families.

You can read the whole thing by subscribing to The Masculinist (it’s free).

In an important sense, what one thinks of the Benedict Option depends on whether one has made the shift yet from Positive or Neutral World to Negative World.

If you live in Positive World, of course it looks crazy. But Positive Worlders are living in an impenetrable bubble. I think even Neutral Worlders would agree that the Positives are totally unrealistic.

If you live in Neutral World, the Ben Op looks alarmist and defeatist. Neutral Worlders think that winsomeness can conquer all. They believe that the church can ultimately accommodate itself to post-Christianity, and be tolerated, if not affirmatively embraced. Neutral Worlders have either surrendered traditional Christian morality about sexuality or soon will, because that is the price of maintaining their status in the public square.

Why is sex such a big deal? Why can’t Christians agree to disagree on this point? Both seculars and Neutral World Christians who wish to rid themselves of the tension between the Church and the World ask.

The answer, in short, is that the Sexual Revolution challenges Christianity at a fundamental level. There is the matter of Biblical authority, but there is also the matter of Christian anthropology (what is man for?) and ultimately, of metaphysics (does matter matter?). This post has already gone on for too long, so I won’t get into these questions again right here; I’ve talked about them at length in this space before. For a wholly secular take on the issue, read Philip Rieff’s introduction to his 1966 book The Triumph Of The Therapeutic. 

The more important questions are: Why is sex such a big deal to the gatekeepers of the public square? Why can’t they tolerate religious traditionalists, especially given that we have lost, and don’t threaten them in any meaningful way? After all, a prohibition on sex outside of male-female marriage is one of many basic teachings of orthodox Christianity. Nobody in the world is going after Christians, their livelihoods, and their reputations, for affirming any other teachings.

Neutral World Christians will find that if they surrender on this issue, it won’t be the last one. In fact, having surrendered here, they will find it easier to surrender when the next demand is made of them.

I find what Cardinal Tobin argues for — and, to a large extent, Pope Francis’s agenda — to amount to the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church betting all the chips it has left on Neutral World — that is, on the belief that the modern world is not hostile to Christianity, and that Christians can be just like everybody else. How else could one explain the absurd view that “the universal church has always repudiated … individuals and movements who have tried to define and delimit what it means to be a Catholic Christian”?

How is this not saying, “You can believe whatever you want to, and if you call it Catholic, that’s okay with us. Who is anybody to judge?”

If that’s the case, the Catholic Church will be absorbed fully into modern liberalism, which is by no means neutral about orthodox Christianity. The modern world is not particularly hostile to Christianity, as long as it doesn’t challenge the modern world’s cherished dogmas But a Christianity that doesn’t fundamentally challenge the modern world is something other than Christianity.

Christians who can read the signs of the times will get about preparing themselves for Christian life in Negative World, and building church and church-related institutions to survive, and even to thrive, in Negative World. That’s what the Benedict Option tries to do. It’s only “defeatist” to people who don’t understand how decisively the Western world has changed with regard to traditional Christianity.

I’ll leave you with a link to Issue 13 of The Masculinist, in which Renn (a conservative Presbyterian) goes more deeply into his ideas of Positive, Neutral, and Negative World. He’s writing about American Evangelicalism specifically, but these same ideas could be transferred over to American Catholicism without losing much.

I first created this positive/neutral/negative framework in 2014 when I saw For the Life of the World, a series of seven short films talking about Christianity and life. A friend of mine was heavily involved in making this. It played to enthusiastic crowds at Christian colleges and elsewhere, with at least half a million people having watched it.

When I saw it the first time, I said to myself walking out, “That was really well done, but it was the film for five years ago.” I went back and started taking notes, and rapidly sketched out my framework.

My initial thought  is that as soon as being known as a Christian would incur a material social penalty, which I anticipated happening soon, there would be a mass abandonment of the faith by the megachurch crowd, etc.

I was wrong about that. What happened instead is that the neutral world Evangelicals largely decided to follow the response of the traditional mainline denominations before them in embracing the world and focusing on the social gospel. In other words, they decided to sign on with the winning team.

The average neutral world Christian leader – and that’s a lot of the high profile ones other than the remaining religious righters, ones who have a more dominant role than ever thanks to the internet – talks obsessively about two topics today: refugees (immigrants) and racism. They combine that with angry, militant anti-Trump politics. These are not just expounded as internal to the church (e.g., helping the actual refugee family on your block), but explicitly in a social reform register (changing legacy culture and government policy).

I’m not going to argue that they are wrong are those points. But it’s notable how selective these folks were in picking topics to talk about. They seem to have landed on causes where they are 100% in agreement with the elite secular consensus. It’s amazing how loud and publicly chest thumping they are on these topics while never saying anything that would get them uninvited from a Manhattan cocktail hour.

More:

People are going to be forced to make choices, across a wide spectrum of domains. I’m afraid current trends indicate that Christian leaders are going to make the wrong ones. We already know from the past that social gospel style Christianity is a gateway to apostasy. That’s where the trend is heading here. I was speaking with one pastor who is a national council member of the Gospel Coalition. He’s a classic neutral worlder who strongly disapproves of Trump. But he notes that the Millennials in his congregation are in effect Biblically illiterate and have a definition of God’s justice that is taken from secular leftist politics. They did not, for example, see anything at all problematic about Hillary Clinton and her views. A generation or so from now when these people are the leaders, they won’t be people keeping unpopular positions to themselves. They won’t have any unpopular positions to hide. They will be completely assimilated to the world. Only their ethics will no longer be Hillary’s, but the new fashion du jour.

Rather than a mass blowout then, Evangelicalism would thus die from a slow bleed, much as the mainlines and the Church of England did before them. Indeed, today’s Evangelicals are retracing the steps of the mainlines. The parallels with the late 19th/early 20th centuries are there and should be studied. Back then, for example, virtually all of the sophisticated intellectual and cultural types – the cultural engagers of their day – sided with the world and became today’s liberal mainlines. Many of the ones who remained orthodox, like Gresham Machen, paid a huge price for doing so – largely inflicted by their erstwhile brethren who assimilated. As it turns out, intellectuals are very easy to co-opt with a few trinkets. It looks like it’s happening again. Almost every Evangelical institution I know is explicitly reformulating itself around secular social gospel principles, even if they wouldn’t use those words to describe it. There will be residual beliefs in place, but over time they could dissipate to nothing. (Remember, the liberal mainlines didn’t go from A to B overnight. It was a long process. For example, earlier this year I read a book by famed early 20th century liberal preacher Henry Emerson Fosdick that contained things so reactionary that even many “conservative” pastors today would be unwilling to write them). Practically speaking, folks like Ben Sasse might obtain great sinecures for themselves, but they will never effect any real, positive change in the world. And their attractiveness to others will dwindle over time and their Christianity will fade into the background and ultimately disappear.

Read the whole thing. 

 

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The Total Surveillance State

A friend who teaches international law put me onto this 8-minute documentary by the Wall Street Journal, taking a look at China’s surveillance state in restive Xinjiang province. I urge you to watch it. There is no reason, other than the will of the people, why this technology cannot be used in the US. Notice how the mobility and even the economic liberty of the people depends on whether or not their government-issued ID cards indicate that they are “safe” or not. Notice too how those deemed “unsafe” are sent away for political re-education.

Liberal readers are going to roll their eyes at this, but this is where Social Justice Warriors would take American society, in order to make the country a safe space. Take a look at law professor Josh Blackman’s account of student protesters at CUNY Law School protesting his lecture on free speech. This excerpt begins after Blackman, who prior to coming to campus had said that President Obama’s executive order on DREAMers was unconstitutional, told the protesters that he supported the DREAM Act:

There were audible gasps in the room. “This might surprise you. I think the DREAM Act is a good piece of legislation.” Someone yelled out “Gaslighting.” I continued: “Were I a member of Congress . . .” Someone interrupted me. I said, “Let me speak, please.” A number of students shouted out, “Nah.” I continued, “Were I a member of Congress, I would vote for the DREAM Act. My position is that the policy itself was not consistent with the rule of law. Which teaches a lesson.” Someone started snapping and booing. “The lesson is you can support something as a matter of policy.” Someone shouted, “What about human rights?” I continued, “but find that the law does not permit it. And then the answer is to change the law.”

A student shouted out “F*** the law.” This comment stunned me. I replied, “F*** the law? That’s a very odd thing. You are all in law school. And it is a bizarre thing to say f*** the law when you are in law school.” They all started to yell and shout over me.

F*** the law. From tomorrow’s lawyers and judges.

Watch that Wall Street Journal clip, then ask yourself: how would you practice your faith as an American if the government was hostile to it, and carried out total surveillance, as the Chinese do? If you were a Christian, would you say, “Well, they’ve made it too hard. Guess we can’t be Christian anymore”? Many will. But if you really believe, then you will have to find a way to hold on to the faith, and pass it on to your children, despite the totalitarian pressure.

This is why I talk about the Benedict Option. What China is going through may never come to us here — and we have to remain vigilant against that prospect, and fight for liberty. But we religious believers also have to prepare for the day that it might. Some Ben Op critics seem to believe that pointing out that a government that hates Christianity wouldn’t let us practice the faith anyway, therefore the Ben Op is pointless. Let’s leave aside the fact that the Ben Op is a way of being Christian in a post-Christian world in which religious liberty still basically exists — I mean, look, Christianity is not really persecuted now, but it’s unpopular, and people are falling away from the faith in large numbers. The greatest threat to the future of Christianity in America is not government persecution, not by a long shot, but by growing cultural hostility. However: looking beyond that, to a potential America where Christianity is actively persecuted, and done so in part by a total surveillance state, Christians then will have to figure out how to be a Christian in spite of that horrible fact. What do you think Christians in China are having to do today? What do you think Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang are having to do?

I urge my fellow orthodox Christians: use your imagination. It can happen here. The tools to put the total surveillance state into place already exist, and are at work in China. What is happening now, and will be happening in the years to come, is the manufacturing of popular consent. In China, it’s being forced on people. In America, I think it is about as likely that people will welcome it — especially those who are now young, and who have been conditioned by their childhoods and their college experiences to expect “safe spaces” everywhere. Look at those law students at CUNY: despising the law, and despising free speech, in the name of “safety”.

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No Place To Hide

Well, this is mighty confidence-building:

Chinese police say they used facial recognition to identify, then arrest a man attending a crowded concert in Nanchang, China’s third largest city. South China Morning Post reports that security cameras equipped with the software pinpointed the man out of the estimated 50,000 other people also in attendance at the concert.

Identified only by his last name, Ao, the 31-year-old was reportedly attending a show by Hong Kong superstar Jacky Cheung with his wife and friends last week. Law enforcement approached him soon after the concert started. Police said he was wanted in connection to an “economic crime.”

In China, face recognition is being used in train stations to find human traffickers, in airports as passengers board domestic and international flights, and, soon, perhaps even on street corners to deter jaywalking. While a purported boon to public safety, privacy experts have long rallied against face recognition in public places because simply being in the space means being matched against criminal databases and other watch lists.

Face matching is both instant and invisible, making its potential abuses particularly insidious. Journalists and protestors can be targeted by the same technology as easily as any fugitive, and China has been accused of using face recognition to surveil its Muslim ethnic minority. As it moves to empower its AI to watch most of its population of two billion people, China’s ultimate goal is to ensure no one’s just a face in the crowd.

Good thing we’ll never have to worry about that technology coming to America. Ahem.

Meanwhile:

The data we share with companies online has become a hot-button issue, but new technologies could soon be scanning us as we go about our day.

That’s the claim made by a neuroscientist, who believes that devices in the real world will start gathering unprecedented levels of information about us.

Our bodies give off various signals that can be scanned and analysed by advanced computer systems, revealing everything from our current mood to our overall health.

In a similar way to wearable gadgets already available, future devices could be set up throughout public spaces to harvest this valuable bio-data.

Because they are part of our surrounding environment there will be no way for us to opt out or ditch the technology and new regulations will be needed, she warns.

The claims were made during a presentation given by Dolby Labs’ chief scientist Poppy Crum, who has spent the past few years studying people’s reactions as they watch films, at the Ted 2018 conference in Vancouver.

Forthcoming book from me: The Benedict Option 2020: This Time, Let’s Head For The Hills.

 

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Yankee Bigot Scared Of Chick-Fil-A

Midtown distributor of Jesus cooties on chicken, according to New Yorker writer (DW Labs Inc./Shutterstock)

In terms of parochial, un-self-aware narrow-mindedness, it is hard to beat this piece from the New Yorker on how the a popular purveyor of delicious chicken and waffle fries is making Manhattan into an unsafe space. Here’s the headline:

“Creepy”. It’s a fast-food joint, you woke twerp!

Excerpts:

New York has taken to Chick-fil-A. One of the Manhattan locations estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds, and the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city. And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism. Its headquarters, in Atlanta, is adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet. Its stores close on Sundays. Its C.E.O., Dan Cathy, has been accused of bigotry for using the company’s charitable wing to fund anti-gay causes, including groups that oppose same-sex marriage. “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation,” he once said, “when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ ” The company has since reaffirmed its intention to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect,” but it has quietly continued to donate to anti-L.G.B.T. groups. When the first stand-alone New York location opened, in 2015, a throng of protesters appeared. When a location opened in a Queens mall, in 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a boycott. No such controversy greeted the opening of this newest outpost. Chick-fil-A’s success here is a marketing coup. Its expansion raises questions about what we expect from our fast food, and to what extent a corporation can join a community.

Where are the thinkpieces in the New Yorker interrogating Muslim and Hasidic Jewish-owned businesses, asking whether they should be allowed to “join” the New York community? They don’t exist. Evangelical Christians and the food prepared in restaurants they own are a unique threat to New Yorkers, it would seem. They probably make nugget breading from the blood of kidnapped theybies.

Here, the author attacks the famous Chick-fil-A cows:

It’s worth asking why Americans fell in love with an ad in which one farm animal begs us to kill another in its place. Most restaurants take pains to distance themselves from the brutalities of the slaughterhouse; Chick-fil-A invites us to go along with the Cows’ Schadenfreude. In the portraits at the Fulton Street restaurant, the Cows visit various New York landmarks. They’re in Central Park, where “eat mor chikin” has been mowed into the lawn. They’re glimpsing the Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo, where they’ve modified a stop sign: “stop eatin burgrz.” They’re on the subway, where the advertisements . . . you get the picture. The joke is that the Cows are out of place in New York—a winking acknowledgment that Chick-fil-A, too, does not quite belong here.

Its arrival in the city augurs worse than a load of manure on the F train.

Again, this is beyond parody. Read the whole thing — note that the author accuses Chick-fil-A of being infected with “suburban piety” —  and chortle. Finally, the cherry on top, is the piece’s description of the author:

Dan Piepenbring is a writer based in Brooklyn.

Of course he is! Of course.

All that is funny. But here’s what’s not funny.

Would the New Yorker have published a piece critical of a fast-food chain owned by pious Muslims, characterizing their appearance in New York City as an “infiltration,” and saying that because of its ownership, the restaurants do “not quite belong here”? Of course it wouldn’t. So why do they single out Evangelicals for this spiteful treatment? I think we know the answer, but I wish editors at the magazine would ask themselves this question.

And I wish they would ask themselves how they would respond if a magazine somewhere out in Jesusland published a piece stating that the local opening of a national chain stored owned by Orthodox Jews amounts to an “infiltration,” and that the Jewish-owned store “does not quite belong here.”

I love the New Yorker, and have subscribed to it for years (and it has loved me back). But this Piepenbring piece is not only an example of laughable cosmopolitan hickishness, it is rank anti-Christian bigotry.

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‘Fundamentalism’ & ‘Dialogue’

Two of the most dodgy words in contemporary religious discourse are “fundamentalism” and “dialogue”. They don’t mean what they seem to mean; in fact, they are often used as a way to gain power.

To explain what I mean, consider that Marquette University, a Jesuit university, is holding a “Pride Prom” this weekend. When some outside the university angrily questioned what a Catholic university is doing sponsoring an LGBT dance, a university spokesman responded:

Notice the rhetoric here. Stolarski is justifying a Catholic university holding a dance for LGBT people by claiming that the university is actually being faithful to Catholic teaching by so doing. It’s like something from the Ministry of Truth. But that’s Catholic higher education for you in a lot of places today. You’ll recall the recent incident at which an orthodox Catholic undergraduate at the Dominican-run Providence College was made into a pariah for publicly agreeing with what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage and sexuality.

How does a religious institution — a college, a church, and so forth — get to this point? It often starts with “dialogue”. Who could be against dialogue? Just talking about things, right?

The problem is that there’s dialogue, and then there’s dialogue. By this time, within churches, orthodox/conservative people should have learned that calls for “dialogue” are almost always a strategic move by heterodox/liberal people to establish a beachhead from which to dislodge and defeat orthodoxy.

It works like this:

Progressives propose a dialogue about the role of LGBTs in the church. That’s fine. It’s an important topic. But what is really being proposed is not a talk about “how can LGBTs live faithful to church teaching in this culture, and how can the rest of the church help them do so while integrating them more closely into the life of the church?” That would be an important talk to have, challenging to everybody, and faithful to church teaching. 

But again, that’s not what’s being proposed. The end game, from the progressive side, is to achieve the goal of having the progressive position normalized within the church or church organization — and ultimately to have it replace the orthodox belief. The game is over the first time the parties sit down together if the dialogue is framed in such a way that the orthodox belief is up for debate. To enter into dialogue with others in the church on those terms is to surrender in principle what cannot be surrendered.

The battle is mostly won at that point by progressives. It’s just a matter of time before their view becomes the new orthodoxy. Once they have power, they make their view the new orthodoxy, on the grounds that justice requires it. As Richard John Neuhaus once observed, wherever orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed.

If someone undertook to do a history of how orthodox Catholic teaching about homosexuality became heterodoxy at the ostensibly Catholic Marquette and Providence College, they would surely find that it began years, even decades earlier, with calls for “dialogue.” Eventually you end up hosting Pride Proms and demonizing those Catholics who disagree.

In the Orthodox Church, there are a couple of Orthodox grad students agitating for the acceptance and normalization of homosexuality within the Orthodox Church. Their website’s name is — surprise! — Orthodoxy in Dialogue. To be clear, dialogue is no bad thing in and of itself. But in this case, the “dialogue” sought is not one that helps LGBT Orthodox live faithfully by church teaching, and helping non-LGBT Orthodox help them to do so with charity. The only acceptable end result of this “dialogue” will be to marginalize the orthodox Orthodox within Orthodox institutions, and to stigmatize them. By pursuing “dialogue” framed this way, they co-opt the orthodox into their own displacement and diminishment.

Sometimes the progressives let their masks slip. This happened recently on Orthodoxy In Dialogue when the site published a cri de coeur (“I Will Not Be Silenced”) by a gay European man who labels himself “Orthodox Provocateur”. This week, OID’s editors confessed: “We Made A Mistake”. Excerpt:

On February 10 we published Nik Jovčić-Sas’ “Orthodox Provocateur: I Will Not Be Silenced” in good faith. Mr. Jovčić-Sas is a young Serbian Orthodox man living in the UK who devotes considerable time, effort, and resources to LGBTQ activism in some of the historically Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe. He often partners in this endeavour with Moldovan seminarian Ion Andronache, a husband and father of three small children.

In an editorial note at the end of his article we explained our decision to publish in this way:

With the publication of this article Orthodoxy in Dialogue recognizes the need for a complementary two-pronged approach to questions of sexual and gender diversity in human life: the theological effort to understand its place in the divine image and likeness, and the activist effort to ensure that all of God’s children enjoy the safety to thrive in private and public life.

Today we were dismayed to find the author’s Facebook page, Orthodox Provocateur, promoting the so-called “Orthodox Calendar.” This annual production combines homoerotic soft porn with Orthodox icons, clerical vestments, liturgical objects, the interior of churches, etc.

In no way does Orthodoxy in Dialogue wish to be associated, directly or indirectly, with the perpetuation of this sort of blasphemy. Our position is to explore possibilities for the sanctification of same-sex love, not to promote the carnality of same-sex desire or to conflate sexual desire in its fallenness with sacred images.

Accordingly we have removed the content from Mr. Jovčić-Sas’ article.

Go to that Facebook page, and you’ll see images that can only be described as demonic. It’s where this stuff inevitably goes if you give it space within the church. I saw it over and over when I was writing about the Catholic sex abuse scandal. Remember “St. Sebastian’s Angels”?  Because so many of the “arguments” in this “dialogue” are not arguments at all, but rather emotivist appeals, like this gay OID editor’s impassioned apologia for his transgender son. Excerpt:

Do I have all the theological answers? Ha, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. My own “transition” as the father of a transgender child is a never-ending journey of heart and soul in which I sometimes feel that I haven’t even taken the first step. Much less do I feel equipped to expatiate theologically or philosophically on why some persons simply must transition in order to go on living.

Let the full force of that sink in: In order to go on living.

But I do know this. Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, during His earthly life, reserved His condemnation for the following: the “moral” who judged others; the religiously self-righteous; those who thanked God for making them better than other people (you know what you can do with your “There, but for the grace of God…”); those who turned prayer and worship into a capitalist venture; and those who ignored the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the foreigner, the lonely, the convict, the sick. In short, everyone whom the religious establishment deems “non-normative” comes to us as He Himself in disguise.

Beloved Masters, Fathers, monastics, brothers, sisters, theologians, and religious thinkers in the Orthodox Church: Until you have met my son face to face, looked into his eyes as through a window into his heart and soul, witnessed his love for the least of Christ’s brethren, listened—truly listened—to the story of his life, his need to be loved and welcomed by you, his reasons for transitioning to save his own life, you have nothing of value, or legitimacy, or authenticity, to say to him.

That is extremely manipulative language — but in a culture where emotivism has replaced rationality, it’s highly effective. The problem here is that if emotivism is the standard (“Do I have all the theological answers? Ha, I wouldn’t even know where to begin”), the only barrier to accepting anything is disgust. There would have been a time when the idea that Marquette would have sponsored a dance for LGBT students would have struck many Catholics involved in the dialogue as shocking, even disgusting. It no longer does. There would have been a time when laying a gay rights rainbow flag over an altar in a Catholic Church would have shocked and disgusted Catholics. Maybe it still does, but it happens here and there (for example). The Orthodoxy In Dialogue people may have been genuinely shocked and disgusted by what Orthodox Provocateur posted — I cannot know their minds — but it is certainly the case that OID having promoted the words and thoughts of this freak hurts the credibility of OID with the kind of unsuspecting conservatives and moderates they hope to draw into “dialogue”.

Mark my words: if OID gains traction within Orthodox institutions, and among Orthodox elites, it is simply a matter of time before the blasphemy of Orthodox Provocateur becomes if not mainstreamed, then moved within the category of the tolerable. All the necessary emotivist cant will be deployed to justify it. “Dialogue” is a tactic to move the Overton window — the frame of tolerable discourse — to the progressive side. Eventually those who profess what the Orthodox Church teaches to be true will be demonized as heretics, as the Providence College undergraduate discovered.

Let me be clear: there is an important dialogue to be had within the Orthodox Church about LGBT issues. But if actual moral-theological orthodoxy is up for debate, the dialogue is a trap, period. Orthodoxy In Dialogue said last fall that it has taken an editorial position to publish frequently about homosexuality, arguing for its normalization and affirmation within the Orthodox Church. It says:

Orthodoxy in Dialogue promotes true dialogue, not an echo chamber.Dialogue presupposes that the voice of the Church and the mind of Christ can be truly discerned over time only when many voices have the freedom to express themselves without fear. Endless charges and counter-charges of heresy, apostasy, “liberalism,” “conservatism,” and equally endless calls for the excommunication of anyone and everyone who disagrees with us on any topic whatever—these serve no purpose but to tear to shreds the seamless garment of love that characterizes Christ’s true disciples, His Church and Body and Bride.

Thus we welcome articles that take positions opposite from the ones that we have already published. We have proactively solicited submissions from authors who we know disagree with our articles. Yet only one has graciously responded to our overtures; with him we are in the process of working on a joint project to be published in November or December. We invite others to follow suit.

I don’t know why others haven’t taken them up on the invitation, but I know why I wouldn’t: because to join this “dialogue” is to participate in a process that will ultimately attempt to legitimize heterodoxy, plain and simple. Theological truth on a subject that both Scripture and the Church fathers have spoken very clearly about will not be determined through some sort of Hegelian dialectic. Again, the right dialogue to have is on how all Orthodox Christians, gays and straight, can live out the Church’s authentic teaching, and help each other to live it out in charity. Anything else is a potential trap. If you don’t see how this process has worked to destabilize Mainline Protestant churches, and the Catholic Church, you’re blind.

I suppose that makes me a “fundamentalist.” Some Orthodox liberal recently denounced me as a former Evangelical, even though I have never been Evangelical. They have this mindset that any Orthodox convert who doesn’t believe in embracing the LGBT agenda within the Church simply has to be some sort of fundagelical yokel who can’t leave his hickish morality behind. The word “fundamentalist” has almost no stable meaning in common discourse, other than to designate religious people that one do not like. You’ll remember this week’s post in which we looked at sociologist George Yancey’s 2011 survey data, in which he polled philosophy professors to ask which category of person they would be unwilling to hire. Here’s what he found:

Who is a “fundamentalist”? I doubt many, if any, of these surveyed profs could tell you what a Christian fundamentalist is, historically speaking. It’s one of those scare words that people like to use to marginalize and delegitimize conservative Christians they don’t like (the movement conservative version of this is to designate wobbly right-wingers as “RINOs”).

In the discourse of the respectable, nobody likes fundamentalists. If you can label their position as “fundamentalist,” then you don’t have to take them seriously. Within American Orthodoxy, one often sees liberal Orthodox who wish to take the church in a more modernist direction denouncing as “fundamentalist” other Orthodox who oppose them. It’s a slur that is often tied to criticizing Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy — as if their theological orthodoxy on sexuality is somehow foreign to Orthodoxy, even though they affirm what the Orthodox Church teaches!

So, there’s an academic Orthodox conference coming up:

It will be interesting to read the papers this conference produces. In my limited experience in international Orthodoxy, it is true that there are some monks, bishops, and others, who have an extremely rigid interpretation of Orthodoxy, one that you might call fundamentalist, though again, I think the term has been so corrupted by political usage that it’s meaningless. The thing to watch out for is precisely that: the use of the term not to advance understanding, but rather to obscure it by labeling anti-modernist views within Orthodoxy as “fundamentalist”.

In an e-mail this morning, an Orthodox philosopher pointed to the Yancey findings and said:

These are facts worth bearing in mind when people sling around the term fundamentalist. It’s not just a derogatory term (like, say, stupid or backwards) — it’s a weapon that’s highly effective in stigmatizing people, especially in academic and professional settings.

There’s a very sophisticated game being played here. And quite a few honest, faithful Orthodox people are setting themselves up to be played. This fight has been late coming to the Orthodox Church, but it’s here, and those who wish for the Church to be faithful to what it knows to be true had better wise up to the tactics and the strategy of the progressives, and learn from the bitter experience of the small-o orthodox within Protestant churches and the Catholic Church. Some of us converts came into Orthodoxy not from Evangelicalism, but from more established churches that have been hollowed out to some degree by progressivism. We have seen this all before. We know how it ends.

Ask yourself: when has one of these “dialogues” ever resulted in church progressives abandoning their positions and agreeing with the orthodox? And ask yourself: where are the churches whose abandonment of orthodox teaching on sexuality has led to flourishing?

It has never happened. They don’t exist.

UPDATE: The declining Episcopal church is tightening the screws on conservative dissenters, who at one point in the antediluvian age were invited to “dialogue.” This stuff only goes one way. A reader writes:

You Orthodox are so ’Nineties when it comes to Dialogue.

We conservative Anglicans were dialogued out of the Episcopal Church. Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has moved on to indaba and “good disagreement.”

The end result is the same:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

Reader REM writes:

Let me perhaps help to give a what I understand to be a traditional (I hesitate to say fundamentalist because it is such a loaded term, even though that is how it will be characterized by many) outline of an Orthodox take on the Faith. It might make RD’s take on dialogue more comprehensible to some.

1. All knowledge of God comes through God’s revelation of Himself to us. We do not figure it out; it is given to us. (As Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory once said, no philosopher or theologian would have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity– a Cross for the human mind if there ever was one–on his own. All they do is reflect on the Mystery which has been divinely revealed.)

2. The Church is composed of those persons who embrace this revealed Truth AS Truth, and who attempt to incarnate that Truth in their own lives. As such, they voluntarily place themselves in obedience to that Truth.

3. None of those persons in the Church are perfect. They all fall short of the mark in one way or another. Therefore the Christian life is a constant struggle. When we fall, it is our obligation to get up again, repent, and set out upon the struggle again. The Church offers spiritual remedies for these maladies in its role as a spiritual hospital, in its pastoral work. As any good therapy, it is personalized for the particular person, but the goal is the same for all: spiritual health.

4. If we find ourselves in disagreement with the teaching of the Faith our default position should be that I must be wrong and the Church must be right, and then try to clear up the (our) confusion and eventually accept once again the Faith as delivered.

5. If we insist that we are right and the Church is wrong on the disagreement, it is our duty to follow our conscience. In doing so we leave the Church, and we will be answerable to God for our action at the Judgment. He will be the final judge. But as it is an article of the Faith that the Church is the Pillar and Bulwark of Truth, we are far more likely to be wrong than the entire Church throughout history.

From all this, it should be clear that a dialogue where one side expects the Church to change its long-held beliefs on the basis of the latest fashion is out of the question for a believing Orthodox Christian. Since obedience to the Faith is incumbent upon all the Church’s members, seeking to change the faith is an act of rebellion which puts one outside the bounds of the Church.

We understand that the Truth of the Faith concerning articles of belief and basic morality is eternal and unchanging, because God is eternal and unchanging. How that Faith is transmitted to people at any particular time and place will vary with circumstances. How that Faith will be lived by each person will be personal as well. But it will inevitably be lived out as spiritual warfare with our own passions, lusts and sinful desires. If that struggle is to be successful, it must be carried out without quarter, without compromise with our fallenness. How the clergy and the faithful help each other in those personal struggles is pastoral and personal, and is often surprisingly tolerant as long as we each embrace our struggle and work out our salvation in fear and trembling. It is only when a person throws in the towel and instead insists that the Church accept those passions, lusts and desires as good and beneficial that there can be no “dialogue.”

Sorry for the long post, and I know many will not understand or agree. But do at least try to see what our framework of thought is, and why we think as we do.

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Paul Ryan’s Career Suicide

Better days for Paul Ryan (Seth C. Fisher/Shutterstock)

The libertarian writer Will Wilkinson says what Paul Ryan stood for is what dooms his party. Excerpts:

Mr. Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future,” released in 2008, at the time of the catastrophic collapse of the American economy, set out a plan for the radical retrenchment of the American welfare state. It made a splash. Mr. Ryan became the party’s de facto wonk in chief and played a critical role giving the Tea Party’s otherwise inchoate politics of grievance a definitive shape. As he rose to the commanding heights of the Republican Party, first as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and then as speaker of the House in 2015, Mr. Ryan’s libertarian-leaning technocratic tactics for the piecemeal dismantling of the safety net became party orthodoxy. 

Mr. Ryan’s ideas have always resonated with the corporate Republican donor class. But they are indifferent, at best, to the challenges faced by the mass of ordinary Republican voters. For decades, American innovation and growth has been largely concentrating in a handful of big liberal cities. When the recovery finally came, it came to the Democratic metropolis. Most of the sparse Republican outlands never bounced back.

Jobs were scarce, opioid addiction was rife, and life felt insecure. Indeed, life expectancy for many rural whites fell. A few red states graced with booming metro areas, like Texas, flourished under Republican regimes of low taxes and light regulation. But in more rural Republican states, like Kansas under Mr. Ryan’s mentor and former boss, Gov. Sam Brownback, taxes had been cut to the bone, and the promised boom never materialized to make up for the loss and degradation of public services.

Meanwhile, many tens of millions of loyal Republicans in struggling regions came to rely on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance and disability benefits just to scrape by. By 2016, the last thing grass-roots Republicans wanted was yet another bloodless, ideologically rigid iteration of the stale Reagan formula. But thanks to the intellectual leadership of dogmatically small-government conservatives like Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, that’s mostly what they got. Except from Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump spotted opportunity in the injured dignity of the Republican base and the feckless irrelevance of the establishment’s agenda. He told Republicans shaken by the reality and risk of downward mobility that they were the only Americans who counted, and that they had been cheated and betrayed.

He promised never to cut their Social Security or Medicare, and expressed admiration for single-payer health care. He took their side against immigrant rapists, murderous jihadis, plundering trade deals, dangerous city people and disloyal, condescending elites of all parties and persuasions. He promised to use his billionaire superpowers to rig the economy to their advantage. It didn’t matter that he is a transparently corrupt, bigoted, sexually abusive, compulsive liar. He offered the dignity of recognition, promised to fight, and won.

Whole thing here.  There’s more to it, in Wilkinson’s view, especially in how Ryan dealt with Trump (described by Wilkinson as “a Democratic turnout machine”). But that’s the gist.

I suspect Wilkinson is right in the above passage, and I don’t pity at all the Republicans who would not abandon Reaganite orthodoxies, despite conditions having changed. One analysis I would like to see — and if somebody has written it, and it’s linkable, please post it to the comments — is the Trump phenomenon as a manifestation of the steep decline of trust in American institutions over the past ten to twenty years.

The Republican Party has been the first of the two major parties to suffer from this, but the Democratic Party does not exist outside of this dynamic. After all, it nominated the embodiment of the Democratic Party institution, and she was such a bad candidate that she lost to a buffoon like Donald Trump. At some point, there will emerge a Democrat — probably not out of the party itself — who will be a Trump-like figure, someone who will run against the stale pieties of his or her own party, and win the nomination.

Thinking out loud here … if you were a senior Democratic strategist, and you were taking stock of how the GOP self-immolated, and you were looking to head off similar dynamics within your own party — what would you do? That is, what steps would you take to prevent the Democratic establishment from losing control of its own party to a populist outsider? Which policies would you recommend to keep it from being locked into ideological orthodoxies like those that captured Paul Ryan and brought down the GOP establishment?

First thing I would do is to marginalize the Social Justice Warrior faction within the party and focus almost entirely on economics (jobs, health care, economic security, etc). This will be very hard to do, because all the passion in both parties is around identity politics. If it doesn’t happen, though, the party is going to end up tearing itself up over internal orthodoxies, while alienating a lot of ordinary people, or at least failing to excite them, thus making way for an outsider.

I could be wrong. What would you tell this hypothetical Democratic strategist? That is, what are the lessons for the Democrats from the failure of Paul Ryan and the political faction he represents within the GOP?

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