Rod Dreher

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Baylor Has Technical Difficulties

This just in:

From: BaylorNewsFlash <[email protected]>
Date: Friday, February 9, 2018 at 9:18 AM
To: Faculty/Staff <[email protected]>
Subject: Technical issues with Title IX training

Faculty and Staff,

Earlier this week you received notification that you were enrolled in Baylor’s annual faculty and staff Harassment, Discrimination & Sexual Violence, or Title IX, training.

Unfortunately, we have experienced technical complications with the course delivery, as the system was not correctly recording course completion. As a result, the course has been closed until this issue can be resolved with the external course vendor. You will receive notification from Baylor Compass when the course has been reassigned, along with a revised deadline of completion for this required training.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and hope to have the issue corrected soon.

No comment. Ahem.

I’m sure this has nothing to do with the scheduled Baylor Board of Regents meeting next week. 

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The Zombies Of Pentecost

Here’s a wild talk by the Orthodox Christian artist Jonathan Pageau , who talks about the theological meaning of zombies in pop culture. Excerpts:

At a social level we can feel and see all around us the growing polarization, the acceleration of what we can only call a strange breakdown, the decomposition of culture, the progressive dissipation of any center which can rally us as societies.

More:

And it is here on the edge that we find the zombies wandering aimlessly in a world that is losing its center. Unlike most of his monstrous brothers, the zombie is truly the harbinger of contemporary nihilism. The zombie has no magic, its arrival usually has no clear reason, but rather the zombie is couched in a biological accident, a disease, a plague. Simply an animated corpse, the zombie inhabits the indeterminate space of living death, roaming around in packs, the zombie shows us the mindless wandering of a mindless mob with an insatiable hunger for devouring others, for swallowing life. If the vampire is the monster of aristocracy, the zombie is the monster of the mass, of the accidental, of quantitative leveling. The zombie is the atheist insistence on the illusion of free will. It is an image of nihilism and of idiosyncrasy taken all the way to decomposition.

In almost every major city in North America they have these events, they call them zombie walks. People dress up as zombies and walk in thousands down the streets, dressed up and made up to look like corpses, shifting around with dead empty eyes and pretending to be the walking dead.

More:

The zombie both typifies the mob, while simultaneously the absolute individualism, the absolute isolation of contemporary life, for the zombies in a horde only interact with what they desire and never interact with each other. The trope of cannibalism is a very ancient one. We find it in so many ancient stories. But the tweak in Zombies of eating brains is a very powerful one, because it is truly an image of the nihilist. The zombie is a creature without meaning, without intelligence, it misses any forms personhood, and has this insatiable desire which mirrors what it lacks. It desires what it lack, identity, meaning, and this desire appears in that materialist reduction of identity and personhood to a clump of cells up there in your cranium, the zombie wants to eat your brains because it cannot eat the mind, it cannot inhabit the mind.

Strangely enough the desire to eat the living is the extreme perversion of our desire for communion and it is also the distilled image of all our passions, our attempt to fill the unquenchable yearning through our passions always transforms others into commodities which can get us what we think we need. The zombie is both an image of the social breakdown, the person as a meaningless statistic, the disappearance of common values except the overwhelming desire to consume, so also as it is an image of the breakdown of the person itself into an soulless desiring death machine.

There is a rather strict analogy between these different levels of the world. The social breakdown and polarization is to the state what the abandonment to the passions is for the person, and the zombie is both those fragmentations at the same time.

So to pull back a bit. As we look around, As the narrative fabric of the world begins to fill, in quantities that are barely possible to believe, with images of the monstrous — as we feel the world being torn apart by fragmentation and conflict, we are simultaneously as individuals being constantly assaulted by images, images with the purpose of awaking our desires. And we have come to the point where we have often even become accustomed to a constant exposure to the stranger and stranger fringe of desire whilst being enticed by the siren song to indulge, to give into the waves and the storm and to sink into the mire.

What does this have to do with the Feast of Pentecost, and the iconography of Pentecost (remember, Pageau is an artist)? You have to read the whole thing to find out. I find this to be an ingenious meditation, not what I would have expected from a Christian artist talking about the zombie apocalypse. Check it out; you’ll be surprised, and enlightened.

(And I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: I’m not going to publish any critical comments from people who don’t evidence having read Pageau’s talk first.)

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That Time Jesus Learned His Lesson

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How good of Jesus. If only St. Paul had been so humble, and realized that the slave girl he exorcised (see Acts 16) was not possessed by a demon, but, as Episcopal Bishop K.J. Schori hath taught, had a “gift of spiritual awareness.”

Here we observe the core difference between progressive Christianity and traditional Christianity. The former thinks religion is primarily about what man has to say to God; the latter thinks religion is primarily about what God has to say to man.

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Smearing Kyle Duncan

I can’t let this one pass. I don’t know Kyle Duncan, a Trump nominee for the federal bench, but several friends of mine do, and vouch for him. Those are my cards on the table. Today a woman named Laverne Thompson writes in The New York Times a piece contending that Duncan is unfit to be a judge. Her story is emotionally gripping, for sure. Excerpts:

If you want to understand how Kyle Duncan, President Trump’s nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, would serve in that role, consider how he behaved toward my late husband, John Thompson.

J.T., as we called him, spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them on death row, for a murder he did not commit. When it emerged that prosecutors in the office of Harry Connick, who was the former New Orleans district attorney, had destroyed evidence of his innocence to gain that conviction, he was granted a new trial, at which he was acquitted.

After his release, J.T. considered the long list of innocent men sent to prison by prosecutors in that same office who had withheld evidence. It was clear to him, as it is to any impartial observer, that the district attorney’s office for New Orleans has a track record of failing to turn over favorable evidence to defendants.

It is horrifying what happened to John Thompson. Thompson deserved recompense, no question about it — and eventually, the state Supreme Court agreed, and awarded him millions. So what does this have to do with Kyle Duncan? From the piece:

Mr. Duncan is best known for his work in Washington, D.C., as the former general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative organization that “defends religious liberty for all.” He played a leading role in opposing the provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. Mr. Duncan also defended North Carolina’s photo ID law that the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit wrote had targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.” He also defended Louisiana’s ban on gay marriage in several different courts before the Supreme Court prohibited state bans on gay marriage.

Ah, so he defended clients unpopular on the Left. Well, that settles it: he must be a BIGOT. And for the record, the Becket Fund is not a conservative organization. Take a look at their case file. They defend non-Christians too, e.g., Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, and Native Americans. They are about defending religious liberty, period. Laverne Thompson, or whoever wrote this op-ed for her, is smearing Duncan by association.

He worked for the Texas solicitor general’s office — does Mrs. Thompson realize that? And hewas appointed at times by the Louisiana state Attorney General to represent the state in litigation [including representing the state in John Thompson’s lawsuit against Orleans Parish, I ought to have made clear]. Does Laverne Thompson believe that a lawyer should not defend the client he has been hired to defend?

No … but that is beside the point, she says:

Mr. Duncan, I’m sure, represented his client — J.T. would always say that everyone deserves a lawyer. But the positions Mr. Duncan argued and won are not the positions of a man who can suddenly become a fair referee in the dozens of similar cases that would come before him as a judge. Mr. Duncan’s confirmation could serve as a declaration to prosecutors that winning at all costs remains, as it has been far too often in the past, the path to success.

This is profoundly unjust. She claims that Kyle Duncan can’t be fair because he successfully argued for clients disliked by Mrs. Thompson. And his argument in the Thompson case failed. [UPDATE: A reader points out that Duncan actually won this case. I apologize for the confusion. — RD]

How does that work, anyway? How is it that the positions a lawyer defends in court render him unfit to be a judge? There is no logic here at all. Mrs. Thompson (or her ghostwriter) is relying entirely on guilt by association.

What happened to Mrs. Thompson’s late husband was horrifying. I’m glad he won that case. But that has nothing at all to do with whether or not Kyle Duncan is fit to be a judge. All people — even people we consider bad — deserve the best defense in court they can muster. Lawyers who defend unpopular clients and positions, whether on the Left or the Right, must not be made to fear that their careers will be jeopardized by the popularity of those clients. This is a basic principle that all sides in our democracy should defend.

I hope that the Senate recognizes this left-wing smear for what it is, and approves Kyle Duncan’s nomination. To deny him this seat on the basis that Mrs. Thompson cites would be a terrible precedent to set.

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‘Porn Literacy’ Class For Teens

The New York Times reports from the new frontiers of the Sexual Revolution:

Drew was 8 years old when he was flipping through TV channels at home and landed on “Girls Gone Wild.” A few years later, he came across HBO’s late-night soft-core pornography. Then in ninth grade, he found online porn sites on his phone. The videos were good for getting off, he said, but also sources for ideas for future sex positions with future girlfriends. From porn, he learned that guys need to be buff and dominant in bed, doing things like flipping girls over on their stomach during sex. Girls moan a lot and are turned on by pretty much everything a confident guy does. One particular porn scene stuck with him: A woman was bored by a man who approached sex gently but became ecstatic with a far more aggressive guy.

But around 10th grade, it began bothering Drew, an honor-roll student who loves baseball and writing rap lyrics and still confides in his mom, that porn influenced how he thought about girls at school. Were their breasts, he wondered, like the ones in porn? Would girls look at him the way women do in porn when they had sex? Would they give him blow jobs and do the other stuff he saw?

Drew, who asked me to use one of his nicknames, was a junior when I first met him in late 2016, and he told me some of this one Thursday afternoon, as we sat in a small conference room with several other high school boys, eating chips and drinking soda and waiting for an after-school program to begin. Next to Drew was Q., who asked me to identify him by the first initial of his nickname. He was 15, a good student and a baseball fan, too, and pretty perplexed about how porn translated into real life. Q. hadn’t had sex — he liked older, out-of-reach girls, and the last time he had a girlfriend was in sixth grade, and they just fooled around a bit. So he wasn’t exactly in a good position to ask girls directly what they liked. But as he told me over several conversations, it wasn’t just porn but rough images on Snapchat, Facebook and other social media that confused him. Like the GIF he saw of a man pushing a woman against a wall with a girl commenting: “I want a guy like this.” And the one Drew mentioned of the “pain room” in “Fifty Shades of Grey” with a caption by a girl: “This is awesome!”

Watching porn also heightened Q.’s performance anxiety. “You are looking at an adult,” he told me. “The guys are built and dominant and have a big penis, and they last a long time.” And if you don’t do it like the guys in porn, Drew added, “you fear she’s not going to like you.”

Leaning back in his chair, Drew said some girls acted as if they wanted some thug rather than a smart, sensitive guy. But was it true desire? Was it posturing? Was it what girls thought they were supposed to want? Neither Q. nor Drew knew. A couple of seats away, a sophomore who had been quiet until then added that maybe the girls didn’t know either. “I think social media makes girls think they want something,” he said, noting he hadn’t seen porn more than a handful of times and disliked it. “But I think some of the girls are afraid.”

“It gets in your head,” Q. said. “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it.” He’d heard about the importance of consent in sex, but it felt pretty abstract, and it didn’t seem as if it would always be realistic in the heat of the moment. Out of nowhere was he supposed to say: Can I pull your hair? Or could he try something and see how a girl responded? He knew that there were certain things — “big things, like sex toys or anal” — that he would not try without asking.

“I would just do it,” said another boy, in jeans and a sweatshirt. When I asked what he meant, he said anal sex. He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.

“I would never do something that looked uncomfortable,” Drew said, jumping back into the conversation. “I might say, ‘I’ve seen this in porn — do you want to try it?’ ”

Drew — who, remember, started down this path at eight years old — and his friends are classmates in a Porn Literacy class for teenagers funded by the public health service in Boston. The idea is to teach teenagers — boys and girls both — that what they see in pornography is not real life. It turns out that hardcore porn is where lots of kids are getting their ideas about sex, and how men and women should relate. The point of the course is not to discourage kids from watching porn:

Instead it is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and takes the approach that teaching them to analyze its messages is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.

Imagine that you are a 14-year-old today. A friend might show you a short porn clip on his phone during the bus ride to school or after soccer practice. A pornographic GIF appears on Snapchat. Or you mistype the word “fishing” and end up with a bunch of links to “fisting” videos. Like most 14-year-olds, you haven’t had sex, but you’re curious, so maybe you start searching and land on one of the many porn sites that work much like YouTube — XVideos.com, Xnxx.com, BongaCams.com, all of them among the 100 most-frequented websites in the world, according to Alexa Top Sites. Or you find Pornhub, the most popular of the group, with 80 million visitors a day and more traffic than Pinterest, Tumblr or PayPal. The mainstream websites aren’t verifying your age, and your phone allows you to watch porn away from the scrutinizing eyes of adults. If you still have parental-control filters, you probably have ways around them.

Besides, there’s a decent chance your parents don’t think you are watching porn. Preliminary analysis of data from a 2016 Indiana University survey of more than 600 pairs of children and their parents reveals a parental naïveté gap: Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it. And depending on the sex act, parents underestimated what their kids saw by as much as 10 times.

What teenagers see on Pornhub depends partly on algorithms and the clips they’ve clicked on in the past. Along with stacks of videos on the opening page, there are several dozen categories (“teen,” “anal,” “blonde,” “girl on girl,” “ebony,” “milf”) that can take them to more than six million videos.

In case you don’t know, “milf” is a category in which the sexual focus is on young men having sex with a mom.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. It can be difficult, but you need to know about this. The horror in the piece is the realization you may have — well, I had it — that what these public health educators are doing makes a kind of sense. I have never watched porn — hard to believe, but it’s true — which was why a lot of what is described in the piece is so hard to read. It’s not titillating at all, but clinical in its descriptions. The idea of those kinds of filthy, defiling images entering into the imaginations of kids is enraging. What these educators are trying to do is to take away some of those images’ power.

What they’re doing is “good” in the sense that a public health educator teaching teenage junkies how to shoot heroin without killing themselves is good. The whole thing is evil to the core. We live in a degenerate culture that believes it has to teach its children that despite what they’ve seen on their smartphones, not all women like to be sodomized, choked during sex, or to have men ejaculating on their faces.

You can be against the classes, but that doesn’t make the fact that this is the poisoned lake in which our kids swim. This is a truthful, important exchange:

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Parents, you have to take away the car. And you have to be far, far more engaged with your kids, and their peer group. Read the Times story, and you’ll see the alternative.

You cannot avoid choosing. You might tell yourself that you can, but you cannot.

Let’s remember Alasdair MacIntyre’s lines:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

This is the genesis of The Benedict Option. I have no interest at all in defending a moral order that poisons the moral imaginations of its children with pornography, and that is so unwilling to stand against the tyranny of technology that it sacrifices its children’s minds and bodies to it. Y’all can go to Hell if you’re bound and determined to. We’re not doing that in my house, not if we can help it.

You bishops, priests, and pastors who are so worried that we Christians might not “engage” the world? What, exactly, do you offer to protect parents and children in your flock from this scourge? What are you leading them to do? Or do you prefer to rest in your banal pieties, and to allow those in your spiritual care to believe the same comforting lies?

This is a time for choosing. Choose to “engage” the Culture of Death by accommodating it, and you will die, spiritually. Resist it, and your soul might live. Help others resist to. Do not collaborate with it!

Live not by lies! said Solzhenitsyn:

Things have almost reached rock bottom. A universal spiritual death has already touched us all, and physical death will soon flare up and consume us both and our children—but as before we still smile in a cowardly way and mumble without tounges tied. But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength?

We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all opportunities for our descendants—but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm. We don’t even fear universal nuclear death, and we don’t fear a third world war. We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage.

We fear only to lag behind the herd and to take a step alone-and suddenly find ourselves without white bread, without heating gas and without a Moscow registration.

We have been indoctrinated in political courses, and in just the same way was fostered the idea to live comfortably, and all will be well for the rest of our lives. You can’t escape your environment and social conditions. Everyday life defines consciousness. What does it have to do with us? We can’t do anything about it?

But we can—everything. But we lie to ourselves for assurance. And it is not they who are to blame for everything—we ourselves, only we. One can object: But actually toy can think anything you like. Gags have been stuffed into our mouths. Nobody wants to listen to us and nobody asks us. How can we force them to listen? It is impossible to change their minds.

It would be natural to vote them out of office—but there are not elections in our country. In the West people know about strikes and protest demonstrations—but we are too oppressed, and it is a horrible prospect for us: How can one suddenly renounce a job and take to the streets? Yet the other fatal paths probed during the past century by our bitter Russian history are, nevertheless, not for us, and truly we don’t need them.

Now that the axes have done their work, when everything which was sown has sprouted anew, we can see that the young and presumptuous people who thought they would make out country just and happy through terror, bloody rebellion and civil war were themselves misled. No thanks, fathers of education! Now we know that infamous methods breed infamous results. Let our hands be clean!

The circle—is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen—and do not sever ourselves from the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.

… Our path is to talk away from the gangrenous boundary. If we did not paste together the dead bones and scales of ideology, if we did not sew together the rotting rags, we would be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.

That which should be naked would then really appear naked before the whole world.

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.

The lies Solzhenitsyn and other Soviet dissidents faced are not the same lies that we face, nor are the conditions under which we are called to resist. But they are still lies, and good men and women have the duty of resistance all the same.

The lie is that we have no choice but to surrender our children’s imagination to the smartphones, to technology, and to pornography. The lies are the things we tell ourselves to quiet our consciences while these pornographers are stealing our children’s hearts and minds. The lie is submission to what the political philosopher Augusto Del Noce identified as totalitarianism: the subordination of culture to politics. In our case, it is the banishing of all thought of resistance to technology and the values of achieving pleasure and a sense of well-being — resistance to this in the name of religion or a higher philosophy. The totalitarianism we live under today is not Soviet totalitarianism, but by Del Noce’s standard, it is totalitarianism all the same. What else would you call a culture that creates “Porn Literacy” courses for its children, to teach them how to more intelligently consume the pornography that the culture has decided that it cannot stop?
Vaclav Havel — an anti-communist dissident, but not a religious believer — once said:

No evil has ever been eliminated by suppressing its symptoms. We need to address the cause itself.

In the case of which I speak, it will not eliminate the evil to criticize the Porn Literacy class. We need to address the cause of such a class.

More Havel (he gave this speech in 1984, when Czechoslovakia was still under the communist yoke):

Or the question about socialism and capitalism! I have to admit that it gives me a sense of emerging from the depths of the last century. It seems to me that these thoroughly ideological and often semantically confused categories have long since been beside the point. The question is wholly other, deeper and equally relevant to all: whether we shall, by whatever means, succeed in reconstituting the natural world as the true terrain of politics, rehabilitating the personal experience of human beings as the initial measure of things, placing morality above politics and responsibility above our desires, in making human community meaningful, in returning content to human speech, in reconstituting, as the focus of all social action, the autonomous, integral, and dignified human “I,” responsible for ourselves because we are bound to something higher, and capable of sacrificing something, in extreme cases even everything, of his banal, prosperous private life—that “rule of everydayness,” as Jan Patočka used to say—for the sake of that which gives life meaning. It really is not all that important whether, by accident of domicile, we confront a Western manager or an Eastern bureaucrat in this very modest and yet globally crucial struggle against the momentum of impersonal power. If we can defend our humanity, then perhaps there is a hope of sorts—though even then it is by no means automatic—that we shall also find some more meaningful ways of balancing our natural claims to shared economic decision-making and to dignified social status, with the tried-and-true driving force of all work: human enterprise realized in genuine market relations. As long, however, as our humanity remains defenseless; we will not be saved by any technical or organizational trick designed to produce better economic functioning, just as no filter on a factory smokestack will prevent a general dehumanization. To what purpose a system functions is, after all, more important than how it does so. Might it not function quite smoothly, after all, in the service of total destruction?

I speak of this because, looking at the world from the perspective which fate allotted me, I cannot avoid the impression that many people in the West still understand little of what is actually at stake in our time.

In our case: as long as our humanity remains defenseless, putting anti-porn filters on teenagers’ smartphones will not save anybody. The crisis is much deeper than pornography. Pornography is an acute symptom of a much more profound crisis.

Havel continued, speaking to a French audience:

As all I have said suggests, it seems to me that all of us, East and West, face one fundamental task from which all else should follow. That task is one of resisting vigilantly, thoughtfully, and attentively, but at the same time with total dedication, at every step and everywhere, the irrational momentum of anonymous, impersonal, and inhuman power—the power of ideologies, systems, apparat, bureaucracy, artificial languages, and political slogans. We must resist its complex and wholly alienating pressure, whether it takes the form of consumption, advertising, repression, technology, or cliché—all of which are the blood brothers of fanaticism and the wellspring of totalitarian thought. We must draw our standards from our natural world, heedless of ridicule, and reaffirm its denied validity. We must honor with the humility of the wise the limits of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence. We must relate to the absolute horizon of our existence which, if we but will, we shall constantly rediscover and experience. We must make values and imperatives the starting point of all our acts, of all our personally attested, openly contemplated, and ideologically uncensored lived experience. We must trust the voice of our conscience more than that of all abstract speculations and not invent responsibilities other than the one to which the voice calls us. We must not be ashamed that we are capable of love, friendship, solidarity, sympathy, and tolerance, but just the opposite: we must set these fundamental dimensions of our humanity free from their “private” exile and accept them as the only genuine starting point of meaningful human community. We must be guided by our own reason and serve the truth under all circumstances as our own essential experience.

I know all that sounds very general, very indefinite, and very unrealistic, but I assure you that these apparently naive words stem from a very particular and not always easy experience with the world and that, if I may say so, I know what I am talking about.

The vanguard of impersonal power, which drags the world along its irrational path, lined with devastated nature and launching pads, is composed of the totalitarian regimes of our time. It is not possible to ignore them, to make excuses for them, to yield to them or to accept their way of playing the game, thereby becoming like them. I am convinced that we can face them best by studying them without prejudice, learning from them, and resisting them by being radically different, with a difference born of a continuous struggle against the evil which they may embody most clearly, but which dwells everywhere and so even within each of us. What is most dangerous to that evil are not the rockets aimed at this or that state but the fundamental negation of this evil in the very structure of contemporary humanity: a return of humans to themselves and to their responsibility for the world; a new understanding of human rights and their persistent reaffirmation, resistance against every manifestation of impersonal power that claims to be beyond good and evil, anywhere and everywhere, no matter how it disguises its tricks and machinations, even if it does so in the name of defense against totalitarian systems.

The best resistance to totalitarianism is simply to drive it out of our own souls, our own circumstances, our own land, to drive it out of contemporary humankind. The best help to all who suffer under totalitarian regimes is to confront the evil which a totalitarian system constitutes, from which it draws its strength and on which its “vanguard” is nourished.

Read the whole thing. 

Again: the ubiquity of pornography is an acute symptom of a general problem. We are fools if we think this is something that can be managed by porn literacy classes. We are not much better if we think that pornography is something that stands alone.

MacIntyre:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.

Think about it. Talk about it. Act on it. None of us can do this alone. But we can’t wait for somebody else to save us. We have to build the Benedict Option ourselves. Otherwise, this, from the NYT piece, is what we surrender our kids to:

Though none of the boys I spoke to at Start Strong told me they had ejaculated on a girl’s face, Gallop’s words reminded me of conversations I had with some older high-schoolers in various cities. One senior said that ejaculating on a woman’s face was in a majority of porn scenes he had watched, and that he had done it with a girlfriend. “I brought it up, or she would say, ‘Come on my face.’ It was an aspect I liked — and she did, too.”

Another noted that the act is “talked about a lot” among guys, but said that “a girl’s got to be down with it” before he’d ever consider doing it. “There is something that’s appealing for guys. The dominance and intimacy and that whole opportunity for eye contact. Guys are obsessed with their come displayed on a girl.”

If that’s not Weimar America, what is?

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The Title IX Transformation Of Baylor

This arrived today in the e-mail box from a reader who is an outraged Baylor University alumnus:

The Greeks have broken out of the wooden horse and are opening the gates:

Here is the set of recommendations that Baylor has agreed to adopt to reform its Title IX procedures: https://www.baylor.edu/thefacts/doc.php/301337.pdf

Page 107 recommends creating an “equity office” out of the recognition of intersectionality of all harassment and discrimination issues. Intersectionality is not up for debate within the governing structure of the university and the university apparently is supposed to establish a political commissary so that the DoE effectively has its own political officer at the right hand of the President to ensure compliance with correct political doctrine–see the organizational flow chart and how high the Ministry of Love is placed.

Page 150 Recommends training people (presumably faculty, staff, and students) using a multi-disciplinary approach to intersectionality to create the proper culture. In other words, tenured Christian faculty will be forced into political re-education from the nutjobs from the most disreputable and contemptible pseudo-disciplines in the academy.

Page 156 brags that 97% of faculty and staff have completed their political re-education on intersectionality.

There is so much here I do not know where to begin. In summary, this is an absolute hijacking of the moral and spiritual vision of the university. The administrators have ceded moral governance to the Federal Government in the person of the DoE and as far as I can tell, DoE has apparently turned the job over to Buzzfeed, delegating the task to SJWs from all the worst academic disciplines. What a complete and utter embarrassment.

The new Intersections training just recently went online. Check out the ominous email from President Livingstone:

Baylor Colleagues,

Baylor University continues to promote a campus culture where each individual is valued and respected. Every faculty and staff member plays an integral role as together we foster safety, integrity and dignity among our colleagues and our students. To support a healthy campus climate, all faculty and staff will continue to participate in online Title IX training on an annual basis. We very much appreciate the faculty and staff commitment to this effort that is so important to the university. We both look forward to this refresher of the valuable information provided in the online course.

Your participation is vital to Baylor and completion of the course is an expectation of all of us. All faculty and staff are required to annually complete the online Title IX training.  Completing the course will be an important factor included in both the faculty and staff performance review processes. Because the training is required of all faculty and staff and considered part of your duties, those who do not complete the online training will have the incompletion noted as an area of concern on their annual performance review.

The course outlines our responsibility under Title IX and other federal regulations in reporting and aiding those who experience harassment, discrimination and sexual violence.  It also provides you an opportunity to learn more about Baylor’s Title IX policy and procedures. Our Campus Climate survey from last spring indicated that we have room for improvements in these areas.

This course, titled “Intersections: Preventing Harassment, Discrimination & Sexual Violence”, is an updated version of the course delivered last year. In the next few days, you will be auto-enrolled in the course and receive notification by email from BaylorCompass that you have a task to complete before March 15, 2018. To login to BaylorCompass and complete this mandatory course before the March 15, 2018 deadline and for additional instructions, visit the Intersections section of the Human Resources website. If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact Chief Compliance Officer Doug Welch at [email address deleted].

Based on the number of incident reports received from Baylor faculty and staff in the past year, we have seen tangible benefits from this effort. Not only does it help to promote campus safety and assists students in need of valuable resources and support, but it also demonstrates the caring community that makes Baylor so special.  We are grateful for your continued commitment to our students and to the University’s mission.

With gratitude,

Linda A. Livingstone
Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
President

In other words, Big Sister is watching you.

More:

Now it is worth remembering why Baylor has a law firm making these recommendations. There were highly publicized incidents of students raping other students and the university administration hiding it. The media reports have predictably focused on the football players, but this was a campus-wide issue and the real damage to the university’s reputation came from the administrative handling of the situation. (In any institution this large, there will be wicked people who do wicked things. It only damages your honor when you do not properly deal with them and the Baylor administration by all accounts failed.) So the problem was mishandling of student rape.

What is the solution offered? Sell your soul to radical leftist feminism and LGBT activists, and implement the ideology of intersectionality as the new rule of life.

Look at some of these slides! [The alumnus provided screenshots; I’m not going to post them all — RD.] There is a slide that invokes GLAAD, a radical LGBT activist group to shape the moral culture of Baylor University–you know them, their motto is Pro Ecclesia Pro Texana.

Some of the precepts are common sense like having the decency not to use slurs or perhaps not to pry too deeply into medical issues–though we can imagine situations where this could be appropriate. But ‘support gender neutral bathrooms’? Allow someone to police your use of 3rd person pronouns? Don’t ever describe people by their sex? Recognizing/mentioning someone’s biological sex is a thoughtcrime? Get out!

Any other leftist boxes to check? Trigger warning, check. Oh, the useless notion of unconscious bias, the application of which has been thoroughly discredited is on there. Why? How did contentious political pseudoscience make it in here when the original problem was a failure to report rape?

Once you open the doors to the leftist activists, they can’t help themselves. It’s like a Bacchic frenzy, they are cramming as much of their ideology into the re-education curriculum as they can get away with. It need not have anything to do with the actual wording of Title IX, the actual caselaw, or the actual problem Baylor had. All that was just a Trojan Horse for the radicals to gain the coercive power to indoctrinate.

I also notice that an example of an unhealthy relationship situation makes use of a same-sex couple. This is a poor example because same-sex sexual activity is against Baylor’s student code of conduct.

Now we must give credit to Baylor, they have done a great job hiding this fact in recent years. You must start here Student Misconduct Defined https://www.baylor.edu/student_policies/index.php?id=32401 only to be redirected here for Sexual Conduct Policy https://www.baylor.edu/student_policies/index.php?id=32294 which says literally nothing, but directs you here: https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php?id=39247. This tells you almost nothing but at least tells you sex is only allowed in marriage–but these days, who knows that means? The Baylor website basically says they understand marriage according to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message but tough shit, we aren’t going to give you a link; you’re are on your own. I found it: http://www.baptiststart.com/print/1963_baptist_faith_message.html And it turns out that according to the Baptist Faith and Message, marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Whew! I’m tired already! Lots of link-chasing and more than a few logical inferences from different webpages are necessary to conclude that in fact, homosexual contact is prohibited by Baylor policy.

Baylor’s credibility as a Christian university hangs by a thread. It may already be gone, there are plenty of Christians who cannot take Baylor seriously. It is not that they do not wish to take Baylor’s Christian commitment seriously, they cannot take Baylor seriously as a Christian institution. Baylor did not come into this situation spotless, and enlisting GLAAD as an ally in casting the moral vision of the university might better be seen as near to the end of a process of degeneration rather than the beginning.

Most of the wounds to Baylor’s reputation (like this debacle) have been self-inflicted from a variety of internal sources. For example, Baylor deserves at least much of the recent shame for the failure to honorably deal with rapes. But failure there does not justify throwing Christian moral teaching out the window and completely selling out to the sexual revolution. Baylor is now conceding the moral domain of sexuality to the categories, concepts, grammar, and interpretation of radical leftism and this is incompatible with Christian moral order.

More:

I think the people who deny Baylor is a Christian university have judged too soon. There are thousands of wonderful and faithful Christians at Baylor who have not bowed down, but they are under siege. Baylor is still a Christian university, but it is hard to see because is is battling for its soul. The embattled faculty and staff cannot count on the administration to help, they have completely rolled over to the feds and political correctness. Remember, they are bringing in GLAAD to teach morality!

Just last Thursday, Baylor celebrated its Founders Day. What would the Founders say about all this? Would Rev Huckins support gender neutral bathrooms? Would Rufus Burleson refuse to describe someone by their sex? Would Judge Baylor, a man who fought the Creek Indians, be bullied by the department of education into this sort of humiliation? Whatever his faults, he at least had some fight in him. The Old Fite seems scarce among the Baylor leadership today. Why didn’t anyone say ‘no’ to the ideology in the recommendations? Dare the feds to take them to court? As my old coach would say, “they have a lot of quit in them.” The faculty and staff are understandably afraid. If anything is going to be done, it will need to come from alumni–especially donors. Baylor’s admins are selling the university’s soul for federal dollars. That good ‘ol Baylor line is apparently the bottom line.

President Livingstone should be summoned to publicly and explicitly clarify the university’s position on sexual identity and expression. Fortunately, it is in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message:

“God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood or adoption.Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is Gods unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church, and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel for sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.”

Sexual expression is limited to marriage between a man and a woman for procreation. Period

God, not the white-cis-hetero-patriarchy, has ordained the family by marriage between Man and Woman. Looking at the statement and the supporting biblical passages it cites, there can be no argument but that God determines male and female, not the individual subject. The point about procreation leaves no doubt but that we are talking about biological sex.

If Baylor cannot affirm basic biblical truth about God’s ordering of creation into male and female for procreation and that human sexual activity must be expressed in a marriage that reflects this ordering, it needs to shut its doors. The idea that Baylor has some Christian witness is a joke if it lets MTV, Buzzfeed, and Jezebel paralyze it into sudden uncertainty about the basic facts of creation. I am sure Burleson, Baylor, Huckins and others would rather see it die than continue on in such condition.

I have a number of friends at Baylor who were outraged by the way the previous administration handled the sexual assaults, and who have been worried for a while about what’s coming in response from the new administration. I suppose this is it. I’m eager to hear from readers at Baylor, or in Baylor circles. What do you think? How is this going down? Is this alumnus overreacting?

Man. Even Baylor University, deep in the heart of Baptist Texas, is mainstreaming gender ideology. See, this is why I keep talking about the Benedict Option. There are very few places to hide. Defend what can be defended, certainly, and fight for as long and as hard as you can. But don’t be self-deceived: the cultural left has captured, or is in the process of capturing, the institutions. We really are in a Dunkirk moment, we orthodox Christians. We can vote for Republican politicians until our fingers are bloody stumps, but none of that will compensate for the loss of formative institutions like Baylor to the cultural left.

UPDATE: A reader points out that after the football team rape scandal, there wasn’t much of a moral or spiritual reputation left to defend. From the Dallas Morning News:

This month, a seventh Title IX lawsuit was filed against Baylor.

A volleyball player referred to as Jane Doe says she was attending a party in February 2012 at an apartment where several football players lived. She said she became intoxicated and cannot recall portions of the night, but she remembers one football player picking her up and putting her in his vehicle. She was taken to another location where she says at least four football players raped her. Later, other people told her at least twice that as many as eight football players were involved.

Her mother later met with a Baylor assistant football coach at a Waco restaurant, providing names of players involved. And according to the filing, the players “admitted to ‘fooling around,’ calling it ‘just a little bit of playtime.'” They said the coach determined that the accusation was in a “gray area.”

Also from the suit, the victim says gang rapes “were considered a ‘bonding’ experience for team members,” and players shared video footage and pictures of rape victims – including one 21-second video of two women being gang-raped.

These are allegations in a lawsuit, not facts established at trial. And it is not the case that the catastrophic moral and criminal failure at Baylor justifies the school formally abandoning its moral and religious heritage. Still, this is what nemesis looks like.

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Wendell Berry & The Benedict Option

From his essay “The Agrarian Standard”:

We agrarians are involved in a hard, long, momentous contest, in which we are so far, and by a considerable margin, the losers. What we have undertaken to defend is the complex accomplishment of knowledge, cultural memory, skill, self-mastery, good sense, and fundamental decency — the high and indispensable art — for which we probably can find no better name than “good farming.” I mean farming as defined by agrarianism as opposed to farming as defined by industrialism: farming as the proper use and care of an immeasurable gift.

I believe that this contest between industrialism and agrarianism now defines the most fundamental human difference, for it divides not just two nearly opposite concepts of agriculture and land use, but also two nearly opposite ways of understanding ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our world.

The way of industrialism is the way of the machine. To the industrial mind, a machine is not merely an instrument for doing work or amusing ourselves or making war; it is an explanation of the world and of life. Because industrialism cannot understand living things except as machines, and can grant them no value that is not utilitarian, it conceives of farming and forestry as forms of mining; it cannot use the land without abusing it.

Industrialism prescribes an economy that is placeless and displacing. It does not distinguish one place from another. It applies its methods and technologies indiscriminately in the American East and the American West, in the United States and in India. It thus continues the economy of colonialism. The shift of colonial power from European monarchy to global corporation is perhaps the dominant theme of modern history. All along, it has been the same story of the gathering of an exploitive economic power into the hands of a few people who are alien to the places and the people they exploit. Such an economy is bound to destroy locally adapted agrarian economies everywhere it goes, simply because it is too ignorant not to do so. And it has succeeded precisely to the extent that it has been able to inculcate the same ignorance in workers and consumers.

To the corporate and political and academic servants of global industrialism, the small family farm and the small farming community are not known, not imaginable, and therefore unthinkable, except as damaging stereotypes. The people of “the cutting edge” in science, business, education, and politics have no patience with the local love, local loyalty, and local knowledge that make people truly native to their places and therefore good caretakers of their places. This is why one of the primary principles in industrialism has always been to get the worker away from home. From the beginning it has been destructive of home employment and home economies. The economic function of the household has been increasingly the consumption of purchased goods. Under industrialism, the farm too has become increasingly consumptive, and farms fail as the costs of consumption overpower the income from production.

I am going to France in a few days to give some Benedict Option talks, culminating in an address to the annual meeting of Journées Paysannes, a national confederation of French Catholic farming families. I will be talking about Wendell Berry and the Benedict Option, explaining how family farms are like monasteries in the Dark Ages. After I give the talk, I’ll post the text here. This excerpt above gives you an idea of where I am likely to go with the speech.

I don’t know if the agrarian conference is still open to the public. Follow the link for ticket information. If it is, and you’re within driving distance of Souvigny, the town in the Auvergne where it will be held, I’d love to see you there. Otherwise, I will be appearing in Paris several times next week, and one evening in Tours. Check out the French website for the Benedict Option for dates and places.

 

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LGBT Vigilantes Find New Bigot Nests

Basically, Mr. and Mr. Jesse Helms (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

The LGBT Eye of Sauron now turns inward in its relentless search for new forms of oppression to resist. From a Slate piece about gay-dad bigotry against other gay dads:

In other words, there’s still a social hierarchy in the gay fatherhood world, with coupled white parents at the top. Unsurprisingly, these men also tend to have lots of disposable income. (Surrogacy can cost upward of $75,000, though Carroll says it was uncouth to discuss these costs explicitly in the group.)

“Even adoption is stratified,” Carroll said. Potential adoptees, she noted, “must prove they have the physical space and income to provide a stable home.”

Just so you’re following the argument, understand that Carroll says it’s bigoted to require potential adoptive parents to be able to afford to raise children in a stable home. More:

While the myth of gay affluence has been proven to be just that—at least until the picture was recently complicated by an apparent “gay earnings bump”—economic stratification within the gay community hasn’t been as widely discussed. Part of this has to do with politics: In the fight for marriage equality, the gay community concerned itself with “selling sameness,” Suzanna Walters wrote in her landmark book, All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America. “The representations of lesbian and gay parents by the ‘enlightened’ media evinces a form of homophobia that is at once less dramatic and more insidious, focusing as it does on acceptance of gay parents as heterosexual clones,” she writes. Gay parents who didn’t fit a certain mold were sidelined to present a comforting image to straight society.

Um, what? The gay people who said that society should accept gay couples as adoptive parents and families because they are families like everybody else — they’re now the bigots who have otherized and excluded other gay parents.

As the reader who sent this item in said, we may well have reached peak Law of Merited Impossibility. Of course gay families are just like all other families, you hater, and when you agree, then by so doing will you reveal your true bigotry. 

For people who insist that #LoveWins, there sure is a lot of malice.

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The Cost Of Pope Francis’s Callousness

Where is the mercy for victims of Bishop Barros’s neglect? (MkeDotta/Shutterstock)

A heartfelt salute from me to the editors of Commonweal, the liberal Catholic magazine, for their sternly worded editorial calling out Pope Francis for his inexcusable behavior on the Chilean sex abuse case. Excerpt:

No issue threatens the church’s witness and credibility like its ongoing response to the sexual-abuse crisis, and it’s inexcusable that Francis responded the way he did. That all this comes so soon after letting the Commission on Protecting Minors lapse is further cause for alarm.

The letter that Francis received in 2015 directly contradicts his claim that no victims had come forward in Chile, and makes it difficult to believe that he was defending Barros out of ignorance. Francis’s election, with its promise to return a real measure of authority to local churches, gave new life to the reform agenda of Vatican II. But when it comes to the crisis that has devastated the church, it increasingly looks as though Francis is only offering more of the same—or worse. He might not be inclined to judge, but the church and the world are watching, and will not hesitate to do just that. Francis has demanded accountability from priests and bishops, and now must be held to account himself.

The “letter” in question is one dated March 3, 2015, and hand-delivered by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston to Francis. The letter was from Juan Carlos Cruz, who accused a priest named Juan Barros of watching while his (Barros’s) mentor, a Father Fernando Karadima, molested him and other boys. Karadima was at long last punished by his crimes by the Vatican, but a judge in Chile said the he found the victims’ allegations to be “truthful and reliable,” and said that the only reason Karadima couldn’t be punished under Chile’s criminal law was that the statute of limitations had expired.

Francis named Barros a bishop in January 2015 over the objections of the Chilean bishops’ conference. According to the timeline published by the Catholic Herald, on February 3, Cruz wrote a long letter to the Vatican’s ambassador in Chile telling him what Barros had allegedly witnessed. When Barros was installed in March, there were big protests against it by local Catholics.

On his recent trip to Chile, Francis reiterated his defense of Barros, and told the public that no victims had come forward.

“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said before celebrating Mass outside the northern Chilean city of Iquique. “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”

Cardinal O’Malley, who has been Francis’s chief advisor on sex abuse, rebuked the pope for his words. And now we probably know why: O’Malley himself delivered the letter personally to Francis. It is impossible to believe that Francis did not read the letter hand delivered by O’Malley.

What was in the letter? From the BBC’s latest: 

“When we were in a room with Karadima and Juan Barros, if he [Barros] wasn’t kissing Karadima, he watched as one of us, one of the younger ones, was touched by Karadima and forced to give him kisses,” [Cruz] writes [in his letter to Francis].

“Karadima would say to me: ‘Put your mouth next to mine and stick out your tongue.’ He’d stick out his and kiss us with his tongue. Juan Barros witnessed all of this on countless occasions, not just in my case but in the case of others as well.”

Addressing himself to Pope Francis, Mr Cruz says: “Holy Father, Juan Barros says he saw nothing and yet, there are dozens of us who can testify to the fact that not only was he present when Karadima abused us, but that he, too, kissed Karadima and they touched each other.”

He concludes the letter with this appeal: “Please Holy Father, don’t be like the others. There are so many of us who despite everything think that you can do something. I treasure my faith, it’s what sustains me, but it is slipping away from me.”

“Please Holy Father, don’t be like the others.” But he was like the others. He is like the others. This is the self-styled Pope of Mercy, but where in him is the mercy for men like Juan Carlos Cruz?

Michael Brendan Dougherty reveals the stakes:

Well, it’s now happened. The great scandal of the modern Catholic Church — its tolerance for clergy who abuse children, and its laxity when dealing with bishops who themselves tolerated or enabled priest-abusers — now touches directly on the pope himself.

 

More:

The facts as we know them leave us with a few interpretations. 1) Pope Francis simply never read the letter, ignoring this extraordinary intervention by the Vatican’s own commission on a matter of public controversy for his pontificate. 2) Francis read the letter but forgot about it, reverting to his original understanding of the case. 3) Francis read the letter, but stuck to his decision for Barros, committing unintentional or intentional deceptions about the state of his knowledge of the accusations. 4) He read the letter, but either doubted the accusations in it, or at least found them so unimpressive that he did not decide to follow up on them.

The first explanation would mean that Francis was culpably ignorant. The second that he may lack the mental or moral faculties to competently govern the Catholic Church. The third that he is too stubborn or vain to change course in the face of evidence. And the last that he has little trust or faith in the Commission on the Protection of Minors to pass on credible counsel to him. Perhaps more reporting or disclosure will change our understanding, but none of these are satisfactory.

No, they are not.

Look, you know that this stuff enrages me. I lost my Catholic faith over it. In an important sense, what Rome does or does not do about clerical sexual molestation of children is not my problem, at least not like it once was. But this latest round hits on a week in which I have learned of four friends — four — who were sexually molested as small children. None by clergy, but all by people they and their families trusted. The fallout has been emotionally, psychologically, and physically devastating for them. One of these victims told me, “You spend your whole life thinking that there’s something in you that’s dirty, that you can never be clean.”

“But it wasn’t your fault,” I said.

“I know,” said this person. “I have always known that in my head. But I don’t know that in my heart. I don’t know that in my body. All my life, every time I’ve walked into a room, I have felt that everybody was judging me, because I was a dirty person.”

This, from one of the gentlest friends I have. What brought the topic up was my talking about the mess with Pope Francis and the Chilean bishop. My friend said, “That’s how it always goes. Nobody believes the children. They don’t want to believe the children.”

“Because they don’t want to believe the children,” I said, my jaw clenching. “If they believe the children, that means they have to act on it.”

The stories I have heard over the past few days have shaken me up pretty hard. I read about things like this a lot when I was covering the Catholic scandal from 2001 until around 2007 or so. I knew well that these things happened. I did not know that the abominable crime of child sexual abuse would ever strike so close to my circle. Again, these abusers were not clergy — though in one case, when the victim told her priest what had been done to her, the priest responded that it was her fault. She was seven years old. 

When does it end? When does it ever end? Who can you trust? Damned if I know.

May God have mercy on all these people who knew what was happening and looked the other way, and especially on those who called the victims liars, because it is surely beyond my capacity to have any.

Is Randall Margraves, the father in the clip below, a Catholic? If so, ordain him and make him Pope:

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Trump & Cultural Collapse

Thanks to the reader who put me onto Paul Berman’s essay explaining Donald Trump’s rise as a manifestation of cultural collapse. Berman says that yes, economics explains part of Trump’s rise, as does white working class grievance. But neither of these are sufficient. He says that there has to be something else behind the radical abandonment of traditional American norms, as embodied in President Trump. Excerpts:

A Theory 3 ought to emphasize still another non-economic and non-industrial factor, apart from marriage, family structure, theology, bad doctors, evil pharmaceutical companies, and racist ideology. This is a broad cultural collapse. It is a collapse, at minimum, of civic knowledge—a collapse in the ability to identify political reality, a collapse in the ability to recall the nature of democracy and the American ideal. An intellectual collapse, ultimately. And the sign of this collapse is an inability to recognize that Donald Trump has the look of a foreign object within the American presidential tradition.

More:

But I have to acknowledge that what is obvious to me is invisible to others. Even some of the people who would have preferred someone else in the White House have come to look upon Trump the way that Mike Pence pretends to do, as a conservative American politician with a clever and unconventional style, and not as any sort of Mussolinian con man at all. And yet, to my eyes, this is the sign of the cultural collapse—this, the truly worrisome development, which will outlast Trump.

How exactly to define a cultural collapse? How to identify and investigate it? I put the question to Thomas B. Edsall and the scholars he has been quoting and summarizing. I ask them: isn’t there a matter of civic education and understanding to be discussed, together with the matters that are economic, sociological and political? Mightn’t the matter of civic understanding prove to be more fundamental than any of those other matters? A further question: If we are facing a collapse in the civic culture, shouldn’t we come up with policy goals to address the collapse? Shouldn’t liberals be promoting a wave of popular education on themes of American civilization and the nature of democracy? And a wave of elite education? I grant that civic education may sound like less than a revolutionary goal, but we students of the history of democracy know that, on the contrary, civic education is absolutely a revolutionary goal—maybe the deepest and most glorious revolutionary goal of all.

I think he’s onto something profound. Notice that Berman is talking about a collapse of republican cultural norms — that is to say, the norms necessary for self-government. He’s not claiming that until Trump, American politics at the national level was Periclean Athens. He’s saying that until Trump, a president with Trump’s public character was unthinkable. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, what happens when even the appearance of virtue is discarded?

There’s a connection, I’m sure, between what Berman sees and what C.R. Wiley sees when he examines why more and more young Americans are enamored of socialism. At bottom, he says, it’s all about fear. Excerpts:

The modern world is all about liberating people. Tradition, family, local communities, even nature–they’re all so oppressive. They foist expectations on us, things we didn’t choose, or they constrain us in some way. Freeing us from all of that is what Classical Liberalism was about.

Now that’s not entirely right. Classical liberals always knew that taking this too far has the paradoxical effect of setting the stage for tyranny. Traditions, families, churches, even nature itself, were all thought to be schools of virtue that would help people to exercise freedom responsibly.

Very few people see things this way today. Instead we have freedom unbounded and on steroids. “Ordered liberty” sounds like an oxymoron. We’re not supposed to submit to anything; we’re supposed to define reality itself–each and everyone one of us–for ourselves. That very few people seem to see that this leads to chaos is very telling. Either people lack imagination, experience, or an ability to reason things out. I suspect all three are the case.

The result is most people live among the ruins of their own culture. But they lack the good sense to see that this is a problem. And this is where the fear comes in. People have a sense of vulnerability that they just can’t shake. The reason, of course, is when you’ve knocked down traditions, and religion, and family, and local communities, you’re pretty much on your own. You may try to surround yourself with friends, or submerge yourself in social media, but basically you’re just holding the hands of people who are just as lonely and afraid as you are.

What people really long for today is a feeling of security without the inconvenience of commitment.

Read the whole thing. It’s short, and it’s worth it.

Could it be that a lot of Trump’s vote came from people who are living with this same kind of fear, and who find it easier to vote for an authoritarian leader to “fix” things rather than try to rebuild it themselves?

I respect Paul Berman’s writing, but his suggestion that liberals need to meet this crisis with “civic education” is risible. The left has torn down or otherwise delegitimized the mediating institutions that were supposed to educate us in responsible self-government! (The right’s hands aren’t clean either, given its ideological worship of the market.) You have to read Arthur Milikh’s sobering meditation on civility and “rebarbarization.” In it, he dwells on John Adams’s understanding that a self-governing nation of laws depended on the character of its people, and their ability to govern themselves. This, by the way, is why Adams famously wrote that our Constitution is only suited for a moral and religious people. Excerpt:

Adams portrays civilized man as being in a state of civil war with himself, divided between the natural impulses toward self-important anger on the one hand, and some degree of subordination or obedience to external authority on the other. Reason is naturally weak in the mind, out of which arises the need for external authorities — divine rule, supplemented by the law — to maintain the psychological balance necessary for citizens. Maintaining this balance is the art of statesmanship, an art today regrettably replaced by our view of government as an entity primarily charged with implementing a list of “policy solutions.”

Some evidence points to the possibility of rebarbarization today. Lawmakers should carefully consider how discrete laws, policies, or doctrines might foster barbaric tendencies in the human character, and should better recognize the fragility of the status quo. Our nation’s unity, commercial productivity, and dignity depend on the endurance of our civilized order. Contra the claims of cosmopolitans, liberation from the law will not reveal inner, self-directing decency. Our civility has been achieved only with great difficulty — citizens’ passions have been trained through prudent laws applied over the course of generations. Civility is not a stable, permanent state. A return to barbarism is always possible.

Maintaining civility in our time will entail, among other things, the protection and cultivation of religions suitable for republicanism. Serious people must rethink the popular, dogmatic opinion that religion is a relic of a bygone era. The Christian God, for Adams, helped to humble individuals who believed they were gods. Similarly, according to Adams, good governments moderate and tutor the violent passions of men who think they are gods. As Alexander Hamilton observed while studying Plutarch, religion “could alone have sufficient empire over the minds of a barbarous and warlike people to engage them to cultivate the arts of peace.” While religion helped bring about our civility, one wonders whether civility can be preserved should we lose it.

The idea that what ails us can be cured by civics class — honestly, the naivete of that it almost touching. That the left would be willing to teach American history and ideals as something more than a tale of white supremacist patriarchy is hard to believe. But it’s also easy to imagine the ideologically right-wing version of civics: “100 percent Americanism,” manifest destiny, and the lot.

It’s not about civics. It’s about character, which is to say, ultimately, about religion. The French agnostic writer Michel Houellebecq, following the 19th century positivist philosopher Auguste Comte, believes that a society has to have some kind of religion if it is going to survive. Comte, an atheist, invented an ersatz “religion of humanity” that went nowhere. But that doesn’t mean Comte was wrong in his original insight.

Anyway, Paul Berman and I can agree on this, at least, from The Benedict Option:

Though Donald Trump won the presidency in part with the strong support of Catholics and Evangelicals, the idea that the robustly vulgar, fiercely combative, and morally compromised as Trump will be an avatar for the restoration of Christian morality and social unity is beyond delusional. He is not a solution to America ’ s cultural decline, but a symptom of it.

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The Walker Percy Option

From the 2017 Walker Percy Weekend poster

Foaks, this morning I’m headed up to West Feliciana for a Walker Percy Weekend 2018 planning meeting. Tickets are on sale here for the event, which will be on June 1-3 — as ever, the first weekend in June. We’re still working on some cool programming stuff for the festival, so stay in touch.

I’ve been meaning to post on Charlie Clark’s Fare Forward piece, titled “The Walker Percy Option,” and I’m glad to have a peg now. Excerpts:

In his book The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher proposes that Christians ought “to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark.” I wish to offer a counterproposal. Dreher and I share a common interest in the work of Walker Percy, Dreher’s fellow Louisianan, and one of the great Catholic writers of the twentieth century. Percy’s novels and essays sketched a posture towards modernity that resembles Dreher’s own, but differs in certain key respects. While Dreher’s attention to the practices of literal Benedictines like the monks of Norcia can be valuable for modern readers (and would have been appreciated by Percy, himself a Benedictine oblate), I suggest that, in his quest for a new St. Benedict, Dreher would have been well advised to look somewhere very different. If St. Benedict offered a spiritual and cultural survival guide for the original Dark Ages, Percy has a plan for our own. But unlike St. Benedict, whose Rule was addressed to “the athletes of God,” a spiritual elite, Percy’s is meant for the common man, for the Christian and almost-Christian rabble. If the Benedict Option imagines a faithful remnant waiting out the flood, the Walker Percy Option imagines an unfaithful one, nonetheless borne up by grace.

Well, okay, but I don’t propose that lay Christians literally follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Anyway, let’s go on:

Whereas Dreher sees Christians and Christianity as uniquely threatened by modernity, Percy sees the modern condition as a common disaster for believer and unbeliever alike. Dreher can see the cracks in the secular; he knows it is unsustainable and inimical to human flourishing. Yet he seems to suggest that only Christians—or other “traditional religious believers”—are truly alien to it. However, Percy recognizes that, where the modern condition is concerned, we are all in the same boat. This is no one’s native country. The good news, though, is that no one is born secular, and no one is condemned to remain so. The gate to a fuller life is narrow and even hidden, but it is open. And this gate not being the one of Paradise, but only of “a kind of comfortable Catholic limbo,” it is open to people far less holy than those St. Benedict set out to form.

Again, this might seem like quibbling, but of course I believe that we are all struggling in modernity. I wrote the book for Christians, though. Had I wanted to write a book for everyone struggling with modernity, it would have been a different book. My point was to convince Christians that they (we) have become far too comfortable in modernity.

More:

As Percy sees it, modernity birthed the malaise by splitting the human person in two, opening the “dread chasm” between body and mind. The individual is now forced to choose between living as an immanent self, sunk in everydayness, or as a transcendent self, perpetually in orbit. But Percy also sees the symptoms of the malaise extending beyond the individual, in the guise of what Binx names “scientific humanism.” Scientific humanism translates the chasm within the individual to the societal level, dividing mankind into an elite of transcendent conditioners and a mass of immanent consumers.

Under scientific humanism, says Binx, “needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle.” In other words, it is a regime under which the mass of humanity is intentionally kept sunk in everydayness. Absent a direct confrontation with the malaise, the main business of life for most people becomes maintaining a subjective sense of wellbeing, however tenuous, by satisfying the body’s felt needs and keeping the mind distracted. In such a society, power and authority are accorded to the scientists, technicians, and other experts who help keep ordinary people content through therapeutic conditioning, helping them adjust to an essentially animal existence.

Percy believes that the experience of having been reduced to an object of conditioning explains much of the distress of the modern subject. In Lost in the Cosmos, he observes that in spite of radically “improved” standards of living, the modern self is paradoxically impoverished, depressed, and anxious. He explains, “The impoverishment of the immanent self derives from a perceived loss of sovereignty to ‘them,’ the transcending scientists and experts of society. As a consequence, the self sees its only recourse as an endless round of work, diversion, and consumption of goods and services.” Scientific humanism deprives non-experts of agency; the secret to happiness in each of life’s dimensions is presided over by a particular expert, and the consumer’s only responsibility is to comply with their advice.

Percy imagines the logical conclusion of scientific humanism’s mission in the Qualitarian movement described in Love in the Ruins. In the novel, people accused of antisocial behavior and deemed in need of reconditioning are placed in “Skinner boxes” where they have electrodes installed in their heads that stimulate either the pleasure or pain centers of the brain. Those who do not respond to reconditioning are “shocked into bliss, soon learning to press the button themselves, off and dreaming so blissful that they pass up meals.” This is ultimately a passive form of euthanasia, but a more active form is being debated: does a person “not also have the right to throw a switch that stays on, inducing a permanent joy—no meals, no sleep, and a happy death in a week or so? The button vs. the switch.” The Qualitarians favor the switch, with or without the consent of the patient.

With but a little imagination, we can see the logic of scientific humanism behind the sociocultural dysfunction the Benedict Option is supposed to remedy or resist. Everywhere we see physical and emotional comfort treated as paramount and morality and meaning as relative, everywhere we see the overreach of a managerial class of technicians and social engineers: here are the marks of scientific humanism. But Dreher errs if he conceives of scientific humanism as a secular aggression against Christianity. The target of scientific humanism is not Christianity, but the malaise; like a dangerous, delusive fever, it is an immune response to the modern condition.

Though the malaise demands a response, the attempt to adapt humanity to its bifurcated condition is ultimately futile and destructive. While Percy hardly has a straightforward plan of salvation to offer, he shows us that scientific humanism is, if anything, a cure worse than the disease. We are not meant to be happy either as supine consumers within an artificial environment or as transcending conditioners of our fellow men. But however dangerous, scientific humanism is not the true enemy. Rather than merely fighting symptoms, our objective must be to treat the modern disorder at its roots.

Read the whole thing. Now I remember why I didn’t write about this earlier. It’s a good piece, with lots to chew on, but I was irritated that the author created a straw man version of The Benedict Option with which to contrast the Percy Option. I didn’t want to spend an entire post pointing this out. So I won’t.

But I will say — and I hope you find this encouraging — that the next book I’m working on is taking more of a Percyan (Percian?) approach. I don’t want to say too much now, but this bit from Clark’s essay is on point:

Tom More retires to a similarly quiet life after the events of Love in the Ruins. Five years later finds him in Paradise, Louisiana, hoeing collards in his garden while his wife Ellen stirs the grits for breakfast: “Poor as I am, I feel like God’s spoiled child. I am Robinson Crusoe set down on the best possible island with a library, a laboratory, a lusty Presbyterian wife, a cozy tree house, an idea, and all the time in the world.” A lapsed Catholic during the events of the novel, by its end he has returned to the Church: going to confession, even wearing sackcloth and ashes, and receiving communion.

Percy is especially interested in three practices Lost Cove and Paradise share, which we might loosely call Sabbath, Marriage, and Eucharist. The significance of these practices is that they are sacramental in character. Percy is only occasionally concerned with “the Sacraments” proper, but he is highly invested in a life characterized by “sacramentality.” The good life that he envisions is shot through with sacramental patterns of participation in nature and in other selves, and even directly in the divine. As signs, the sacramentals point to realities beyond themselves, and as participations, they draw the human person up into this higher reality. The elements are not merely consumed, appropriated by the individual to fill what Percy calls “the nought of self.” Their sacramental quality is marked by their not being used up or exhausted by observance. These sacramentals bridge the divide between body and spirit, and by participating in them, even as “bad Catholics,” Percy’s characters are gradually reintegrated into full and healthy human life.

My thesis involves exploring, in part, why a profoundly sacramental vision accords with human nature. I’m finishing the final draft of the book proposal today, in fact, and expect to get it out to publishers very soon.

Anyway, why don’t you come to St. Francisville in June and let’s talk about all of it? You too, Charlie Clark — lets you and me get a table at the Magnolia Cafe on Friday afternoon, and invite folks to come buy a cold beer and hear us talk about the Percy and Benedict Options.

If you haven’t seen this yet, readers, maybe this will convince you to come:

UPDATE: Here’s great news: Charlie Clark is coming to Walker Percy Weekend! I’ll set up an informal meet-up at the Magnolia Cafe on Friday afternoon. Anybody who wants to come buy a cold beer and listen to us talk about the Walker Percy Option and the Benedict Option, please do. You don’t have to have a ticket to the festival to do this … but Charlie’s going to be around all weekend, so why wouldn’t you want to hang out with him?

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Reconsidering Deconversion Narratives

A reader gives me permission to post this e-mail from him, provided I slightly edit it to protect his privacy:

I was gripped by your post today on “deconversion narratives” and how one might go about discerning which of these narratives amount to being blow down the proverbial slippery slope by the winds of culture and which of them represent a more profound sort of questing for truth and reckoning with what one comes to see as the reality of things. I’ve grappled with this question myself, as a deconvert, and with respect to the Ben Op: the sort of questioning and willingness to break with one’s past that can lead to deconversion are among the very qualities that might lead one to seek a lifestyle counter to modernity / the (neo)liberal order, yet these qualities also make it difficult to embrace fully the Ben Op’s communal vision (or at least certain forms of it).

By way of introduction, the basics of my deconversion: I grew up in moderate Southern Baptist churches in [state] and drifted toward Reformed Protestantism in my high school years. I attended PCA churches for a while before moving back to the SBC, this time on the Calvinistic side. I went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville for a brief period (around the time of Obama’s first term) and remained in Louisville for many years, attending seminary-affiliated churches until my wife and I reached a breaking point.

As is often the case, this breaking point consisted of a combination of doctrinal, sociological, and personal issues: I grew uneasy with sola scriptura and an overly forensic view of the atonement; my wife and I both felt constricted by that subculture’s view of “biblical manhood and womanhood”; my marriage was in a rough patch and we had received really bad marital counseling at two churches, attributable in no small part to the “biblical counseling” approach favored in those circles.

Seven years post-deconversion, we attend Eastern Orthodox services (less frequently than I would like, due to some work and family issues, but we are putting down roots near a church and hope to become catechumens later this year). Theologically and culturally, I believe we would be considered small-o orthodox Christians by your definition, and perhaps borderline liberals by people we knew in Louisville. It’s fair to say that my wife and I have experienced both the bad (bitterness, resentment) and good (a better sense of who we are and what we believe) that comes with these deconversion experiences. I’ll withhold judgment as to whether my story is ultimately one of the “good ones.”

In leaving Calvinistic SBC culture and exploring Orthodoxy, I’ve run into more than my fair share of other deconverts. From my experience, there are narcissistic / sociopathic deconverts, wounded / traumatized deconverts, and a bunch of people in the middle.

The sociopathic type have typically left a leadership-type position in one religious context, often for self-motivated reasons, and are looking to rebuild their platform in a different context.  I’d wager that certain “Christian celebrity” deconverts may well exhibit this tendency, though I believe it’s spiritually dangerous to assert that confidently about any particular person from afar. In any event, these types are relatively uncommon.

The traumatized type tends to be someone who has at a minimum been through legitimate hardship, and often who has been a victim of some kind of abuse. In my experience, many of these folks are met with skepticism by the environment from which they deconvert (their personal troubles are regarded as the “real reason” for the deconversion and considered an impediment to their thought process). Sometimes they find what they need in their next religous context, but often they don’t, as like many abuse victims, they can be drawn into other (spiritually) abusive environments. And all the rest of us are sinners and sinned against as well — none of us are perfect, even if we have perfectly legitimate reasons for our deconversion.

The thing is, there’s no heuristic I’ve discovered that can quickly reveal to me how “authentic” one’s deconversion story is. These things are revealed in time, often long periods of time. One pattern I have noticed is among the other Christians with whom my wife and I have connected: they are all people who, at some pivotal point in their lives, have had to break with one of their defining institutions (family, church, career, friend-group) and stand on their own two feet, often at great cost. There’s my wife’s friend who left home at age 15 to escape an abusive homeschool culture; another friend who stepped out of her patriarchal homeschool world in her 20s, to marry (her religious subculture believed fathers controlled who their adult daughters could marry); friends who uprooted their young family to serve as foreign missionaries, despite Christian family member’s insistence that it was more important to remain in the US to give the grandparents a chance to be near the grandchildren.

And all of this is precisely why the post of Dr. Kruger’s that you shared is so, so unhelpful to us laypeople.

Yes, the dynamic he describes is real, and yes, it can and does beget false teaching that can lead to the abandonment of the faith. But as heuristics go, it’s helpful perhaps for triaging the reliability of a Christian celebrity’s deconversion narrative (but even there, I would err on the side of caution), but in my experience, these steps do not inevitably lead people in the pew to liberalism. What does push people down that road, though, is church leaders who will read an article like Kruger’s and use it to delegitimize and trivialize genuine spiritual searching. When ordained ministers begin to “just ask questions,” yes, they should be assessed according to confessional standards and removed from their positions if they deviate from those standards. Typically laypeople need someone to listen to them. And yes, very often, there is some sin — resentment, bitterness, or simply just a desire to feel a little more acceptable to the culture — mixed in with that questioning, but one need not be perfect for us to have a Christian obligation to listen to them and treat them with dignity. Any husband or father worth his salt does not interject with, “yes, but, don’t let it make you resentful” immediately upon dealing with a distressed wife or child. Why would we be any less kind toward people in our churches?

More troublingly, this wariness towards parishioners who raise legitimate questions, and the tendency to expect them to exhibit perfect Christian morality when raising their concerns, can and does lead to the silencing of abuse victims, as evidenced by the experience of Rachel Denhollander (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html). Yes, I’m painting with a bit of a broad brush, but just look at the way Ms. Denhollander’s former church delegitimized her on the basis of her speaking from “subjective experience.” When one reads an article like Kruger’s — or dozens of such articles, as will often be the case for a pastor in those circles — one can very easily begin to see speaking from subjective experience as the hallmark of a budding heretic, rather than a thing someone does when they’ve been through some seriously heavy shit and no one believes them. Conservative Protestant leaders are fighting an air war against those who they perceive as wolves in sheep clothing while paying no mind to the ground war that pastors fight among doubting parishioners who are by in large more honest actors than the Jen Hatmakers of the world.

The problem is further exacerbated by the sense that the criticisms of conservative Protestants are always lobbed more fiercely at those who are politically liberal, such as everyone Kruger mentions in his article. Rob Bell wrote a book that deviated from certain Protestant confessional standards (to which he as a nondenominational pastor did not necessarily describe) with regard to the doctrine of the afterlife, and the Calvinistic Baptist crowd let him have it, one might guess, moreso because Bell is politically left of center in 21st century America, because his doctrine of hell ultimately differs very little from that of C.S. Lewis, who is revered by that same crowd.

But these same pastors do not show the same level of concern when key figures in the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (the group that penned the Nashville Statement) are accused credibly of significant deviations from Trinitarian orthodoxy (http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/housewife-theologian/is-it-okay-to-teach-a-complementarianism-based-on-eternal-subordination#.Wnkqz-dG3IV).  Or to think of it another way, compare a younger Al Mohler’s strong words to Bill Clinton’s “Baptist Enablers” (http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/1999/01/sla6) with his crowd’s reticence to strongly criticize Trump’s court evangelicals, a couple of whom numbered among the Nashville Statement’s original signatories.  Note also the lack of public criticism of Douglas Wilson or CJ Mahaney — conservative pastors responsible for organizations that have faced credible accusations of enabling and covering up sexual abuse (https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/02/14/the-sex-abuse-scandal-that-devastated-a-suburban-megachurch-sovereign-grace-ministries/) — among these circles as well. The cumulative effect is that one might begin to wonder if the concerns about the Bells and Hatmakers is driven more by tribalism and mood affiliation than by purely doctrinal concerns, and perhaps Kruger’s article becomes less helpful for providing spiritual counsel to people one might meeet in real life.

As for the Ben Op — any of us who “opt in” must have a bit of the deconversionist in us, as the Ben Op calls us away from the accommodations to modernity that may be part of the fabric of our daily lives and even of our churches. It is a call to ask questions, rethink our routines in light of the Gospel. Taken to an extreme, this questioning and questing can lead us to be skeptical and cautious, and prevent true community from forming.

Personally, I’ve found it troubling that the Ben Op has been so warmly received by the types of conservative evangelicals whose overzealous heretic hunting would militate against the very habits of mind that might lead many of us ordinary Christians to take the Ben Op. I’m encouraged by the fact that you recognize the legitimate purpose that such habits of mind might serve in the right place, at the right time — sometimes things really do have to change.

Thoughts, readers?

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Catholicism Hearts Chinese Commies?

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the lion of Hong Kong, is not taking Rome’s capitulation silently (Mike Chan/Flickr)

According to a top Vatican bishop, an Argentine:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

The bishop told the Spanish-language edition of Vatican Insider that in China “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States, something Americans themselves would say.”

The economy does not dominate politics because China is a one-party dictatorship, you boob!

More:

Bishop Sánchez Sorondo said that China was implementing Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ better than many other countries and praised it for defending Paris Climate Accord. “In that, it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned”, he added.

He accused US president Donald Trump of being “manipulated” by global oil firms, and said that, as opposed to those who follow “liberal thought”, the Chinese are working for the greater good of the planet.

Here is a link to the Spanish language original.

This is shameless whoring. Did the bishop forget that China continues to do forced abortions? How can this bishop praise China for implementing the pope’s environmentalist encyclical when China has catastrophically bad air pollution? Look at this 2013 photo of the same scene in Shanghai, taken three days apart:

A year ago, this was the news about the religious liberty situation in China:

In its annual report released March 2, China Aid said Beijing’s shift in how it seeks to manage religion and the adoption of that new policy by government agencies resulted in expanded persecution of individual Christians and greater oppression of unregistered house churches in 2016. Conditions for Christians in the world’s most populous country are expected to deteriorate further this year, the non-profit organization reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled the shift when he stressed during an April 2016 speech the significance of religions “persistently following the path of Sinicization,” according to the report. China Aid has described “Sinicization” as the effort to “transform Christian theology into a doctrine that aligns with the core values of socialism and so-called Chinese characteristics.” Beijing formerly guided “religion and socialism to mutually adapt,” China Aid reported.

The Vatican under this pope is eager to obey.

Yesterday, George Weigel wrote that the Vatican’s diplomacy with authoritarian regimes continues to be terrible. Excerpt:

If the situation gets worse — if, through increasing repression, Xi Jinping manages to hold together a Maoist political system despite a rising middle class — then what reason is there to have any confidence that the Chinese Communist regime would not tighten the screws on Catholics who challenged the state on human-rights grounds? What reason is there to believe that the Chinese Communists would break the pattern set by Italian fascists, German Nazis, and Eastern and Central European Communists by honoring treaty obligations? Has nothing been learned from the past about the rather elastic view of legality taken by all totalitarian regimes of whatever ideological stripe?

In light of this dismal track record, prudence and caution would seem to be the order of the day in Vatican negotiations with the totalitarians in charge in Beijing. If, on the other hand, things get better in a liberalizing China, with more and more social space being created for civil-society associations and organizations, why should those Chinese interested in exploring the possibility of religious faith be interested in a Catholicism that had kowtowed to the Communist regime? Why wouldn’t Evangelical Protestants who had defied the regime in the heroic house-church movement be the more attractive option?

Weigel, who wrote St. John Paul II’s biography, is right about that. More Weigel:

The truth of the matter is that, today, the only power the Holy See wields is moral power, the slow accretion of moral authority that has come to Catholicism, as embodied by the pope, through the Church’s sometimes sacrificial defense of the human rights of all. How playing Let’s Make a Deal with totalitarians in Beijing who at this very moment are imprisoning and torturing Christians adds to the sum total of Catholicism’s moral authority, or the papacy’s, is, to put it gently, unclear. The same might be said for the de facto betrayal of Rome-loyal bishops in China who are now, it seems, being asked to step aside so that they can be replaced by bishops essentially chosen by the Chinese Communist Party apparatus. This is far less realism than a species of cynicism that ill befits a diplomacy presumably based on the premise that “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

Read the whole thing.

There have long been priests eager to sanctify communism, but you ever think you would see it from the Vatican itself? My God. What must John Paul think? Remember him in 1983, putting his finger in the face of Father Ernesto Cardenal, the Sandinista priest who served in the communist government there?

The pope told Cardenal to “regularize” his position with the Church — in effect, telling him that as a priest, he has no business serving as a government official. John Paul had the Code of Canon Law changed to keep priests, monks, and nuns from serving in government, period. This is not the same thing as rebuking Cardenal for serving a communist regime, per se. Still, I love this image, and like to think of St. John Paul II correcting his current successor on the matter of China.

Anybody who defends this episcopal lickspittle Sanchez Sorondo had better not direct a single word of criticism to Evangelical pastors who venerate Donald Trump — who, despite his many sins and failings, does not force abortions on women or send Catholics and others to prison because of their religious beliefs.

The underground Catholic Bishop Shi Enxiang, who spend half of his 94 years in prison for his faith, was not available for comment on Bishop Sanchez’s interview, having died in communist prison in 2015.

But Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong is not shutting up. From his latest:

The mainland brothers and sisters, in the past few days, have heard that the Vatican is ready to surrender to the Chinese Communists, their hearts are probably very uncomfortable. If the illicit and excommunicated bishops are to be legitimized, and the legitimate bishops are to be forced to retreat, wouldn’t the legitimate bishops of the underground communities be worried about their fate? Priests and believers will soon have to obey and respect those who are today illicit and excommunicated but become legitimized bishops by the Holy See because of the backing by the Chinese government. How painful nights will they have to bear?

No need to say tomorrow, but even today the great plague has begun. Since February 1, 2018 the Chinese government will strictly enforce the Religious Regulations. The underground priests of Shanghai have informed their Church members not to go to their Masses. Those who are stubborn and disobedient will probably be detained!

Don’t be afraid, God will heal the broken heart!

UPDATE: Though I am furious over all this, I really am eager to read the best case for the Vatican’s deal with the Chinese. If you see something worth posting, do let me know.

UPDATE.2: A Catholic theologian tweets:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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Liberalism And Elitism

Man of the people (Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock)

The biggest problem I have with populism is that it can become an ideology justifying the hatred of excellence. One big problem I have with liberalism is how it can become an ideology justifying contempt for the views of non-elites. In a rewarding interview with the author Fred Siegel, about his new book, The Revolt Against The Masses, the writer Sean Collins explores Siegel’s views on how identity politics took over from economic solidarity as the driving ideology of the American Left. Excerpts:

Collins: How important do you think the New Left and 1960s/early 1970s liberalism was for the character of the liberalism we see today, in particular identity politics? I was struck by how you described the 1960s movement as directed against the social-solidarity heritage of the New Deal. In the name of fighting racism, sexism and so on, liberals seemed to blame the unenlightened masses, including, in some cases, unionised workers, for social problems. Then, as you write, the workers reciprocate the animosity and start to leave the Democratic Party. Your narrative certainly goes against the typical story of liberalism’s unbroken continuity with the New Deal.

Siegel: There’s very little of what we think of today as identity politics that wasn’t there in embryonic form in 1972. Senator George McGovern, who I knew personally at the time, wrote the rules for the 1972 Democratic Party National Convention, which divided the delegates up by identity – by blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. And so the fragmentation into voting blocs is already there in 1972. The story of how identity politics captures more and more of the Democratic Party is the story of modern American politics since the 1970s.

Collins: You write that liberalism reached its political apex with the election of Obama. How so?

Siegel: Obama was a child of the 1960s. He represented the institutionalisation of a liberalism that had gone off the rails – and he further pushed it off the rails. When I listen to people tell me there were no scandals in the Obama administration, I tell them they’re right, and that’s because the mainstream media enlisted in the Obama campaign and the White House, and never reported on them. There were scandals at the Internal Revenue Service (Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS, who used the IRS Nixon-like to constrain Obama’s enemies during the 2012 election); and at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where people genuinely died because of its breakdown. Under Obama the Navy wasn’t replenished, leaving the Chinese free to create as many artificial islands as they like in the South China Seas.

I always ask people: where did the Obama administration succeed in foreign affairs? People sometimes say ‘the Iran deal’. But half a million people died in Syria! When I say that, people go quiet.

More:

Collins: Do you think the liberal elite today see themselves self-consciously as the ruling class of one nation, as Americans primarily, or do you think they see themselves as distinct from other Americans, maybe feeling they have more in common with the global elite? Are they almost embarrassed by their own society?

Siegel: Very much so. Something happens in the 1990s. The elites of Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles meld together. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and Wall Street all come together, and for the first time you have something like the British establishment. The British establishment could organise itself more easily because it was centred on London. For decades the American elite was divided among different coastal cities, plus the ‘third coast’ of Chicago, and it wasn’t until space collapses due to technology that you have the creation of this unified American elite. That unified elite is overwhelmingly liberal. Three hundred people who work for Google were part of the Obama administration at one time or another.

So this elite comes together, it looks across the Atlantic, it looks across the Pacific, but it doesn’t look at the heartland. The rest of the country recognises that. Whatever you want to say about Trump, he was the only candidate in either party who recognised that globalisation and immigration are the burning issues for much of America. One of the things he talked about early in the campaign, which was largely set aside, was the enormous mistake of allowing China into the World Trade Organisation in 2007. President Clinton pushed for this, President George W Bush pushed for this, and I supported it at the time. In retrospect it was an enormous mistake. If you draw a map of the places where jobs were lost due to competition from China, and look at the areas of Trump support, there’s a tremendous overlap.

Collins: In the past, Republican presidential candidates would use liberalism’s anti-middle-class tendencies as a foil – I’m thinking of Nixon and Reagan in particular. A good portion of Trump’s support, I believe, was down to his ability to draw a sharp contrast between himself and Hillary Clinton’s brand of liberalism. How would you compare Trump with other explicitly anti-liberal presidents?

Siegel: I think Trump is better compared with Nixon than with Reagan. Reagan was a free-trader, he had ideas about immigration that Trump wouldn’t agree with. But the hard edge of Nixon in denouncing George McGovern, with McGovern said to be representing ‘acid, amnesty and abortion’, that’s something you could hear from Trump. The elements of what we think of as Trumpism were coming for a long time. They were there in the 1992 Perot campaign, where he campaigned against free trade. I was working for the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) at the time, and I remember watching Al Gore, who was at one time the head of the DLC, debating Perot. In retrospect, Perot scored serious points (I don’t think either man was entirely correct, as is often the case in a debate). But it was interesting, it was a reasoned debate, and I haven’t heard reasoned debates over trade and immigration in recent years. People don’t debate, they exclude, especially the liberal-left. They cut people off, rather than debating them. The recent events at Evergreen College are an extreme example of that.

Identity politics has risen twice in this country. It rose to an apex in the early 1990s, but then it was diminished by a series of scandals. Some people may remember the Sokal hoax. Alan Sokal was a physicist who wrote an article for a postmodern magazine called Social Text, in which he claimed to prove that gravity was a social construction. And the magazine published it! It was obviously a parody.

But then identity politics fades. Bill Clinton is a moderating influence – he creates a broad coalition that sidelines an identity-based approach. But then Bush’s decisions in the Iraq War revive the left, and it slowly begins to gain force, until it rises again with Howard Dean, even before Obama. Howard Dean was a white male version of Obama. He barely considers Republicans human (even though – or maybe because – his father was a famous Republican fundraiser on Wall Street).

Collins: How do you view the liberal response to Trump’s election? You wrote in The Revolt that, ‘Liberalism is sufficiently adaptable, that even in failure, self-satisfaction trumps self-evaluation’. That sounds to me like a pretty good description of the past year. Liberals have struggled to come to terms with Trump, and to take responsibility for their losses – not just the presidency, but in both houses of Congress and in state governments.

Siegel: Liberalism has taken on a religious aspect. It’s a belief system, and not a system that represents political interests. Liberalism is seen as a source of grace, in religious terms. It is hard to talk to people, when you are effectively suggesting they are not among the blessed (or, to use Thomas Sowell’s phrase, the ‘anointed’), that they are in fact mistaken. Trump is wrong about many things, but you can argue with Trumpism. But it is very hard to argue with contemporary liberalism, especially in its West Coast incarnation.

There’s lots more here. 

I always shake my head when I read writers of the Left denouncing Trumpians for being supposedly enamored of “white identity politics.” The Left invented identity politics, embraces them, and institutionalizes them in academia and corporate America. It’s called “diversity.” And yet it is genuinely shocked when non-liberals do as they do. Don’t get me wrong, I am against identity politics across the board, because they tribalize us and dehumanize the Other. But if you are going to pick up that powerful but malignant weapon and use it against your political opponents, don’t be surprised if they do the same.

 

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Resisting Twisted Nanny

Once she’s got her arms around you, she’ll never let you go (Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock)

The Canadian journalist David Warren, a Catholic, recently delivered this address to the Catholic Civil Rights League in his country. In it, he discusses the state of the Catholic Church in Canada, with special reference to the Justin Trudeau government’s policy change to deny state funds for summer job programs involving religious organizations that (incidentally) oppose abortion or LGBT rights. If you run a faith-based soup kitchen, but your church is pro-life, too bad for you. David Warren talks about the militant secularization that swept almost overnight over Canada. Excerpts:

I have inserted this historical aside to suggest that while our world has outwardly changed in quite spectacular ways, in the course of the last generation or two, the changes have deep historical antecedents. For while the Protestant Reformation is no longer in vogue, the tyranny of the State has outlived it. The State appropriating the functions of the Church, is not something new.

Rather it is a theme of history, through all generations, times and places. The pagan Romans took the same attitude towards the early Christians; the Muslim conquerors of our Byzantine Christian East imposed their Shariah; and we ourselves have sometimes forced our own Catholic religion on subjects of another one, through the medium of State power. In this sense, what seems very new is rather very old.

I would not even call this a lapse of “tolerance” — an old word redefined to its opposite, like so many others in the Newspeak of today, bent to serve the purposes of “progress.” No State really cares what its people believe, so long as they keep it to themselves, and salute the State’s gods on all State occasions. The State’s gods today may be Abortion and Sodomy and Gender Metamorphosis. We might want to laugh at the idiocy of it. But they are gods, State gods, and every citizen must salute, as we see in this form-ticking exercise. Those who refuse must confront the State’s high opinion of itself.

This does not mean you can’t be a Catholic — so long as you keep it in the privacy of your own mind. It is only when you act as a Catholic, that you deliver yourself into the State’s hands.

Thus, “freedom of conscience” does not really come into this, either. The State has its religion, we have ours. So long as we remain meek and obedient, to anything we are required to sign, the Antichrist himself wouldn’t care less what we think. The trouble arises only when we fail to sign, salute, or check the right boxes. That is, from the Antichrist’s point of view, a form of defiance that requires punishment — a punishment that we have brought upon ourselves, as will be condescendingly explained.

The ancient Christian position was, “bring it on.” That’s how we made converts, even among our executioners, who saw the face of the Crucified Christ in our sufferings, and became Christian martyrs in their turn. Our liturgy is filled with saints and martyrs.

But another truth is that most apostatize under pressure, and I think this has always been so. God bestows such Grace that we could all be martyrs, but in practice we don’t want to receive it. The courage that we don’t have is not something we’re inclined to pray for — and when I say “we” I do not only mean people at the present day. The history of earthly tyranny corresponds to the human search for the path of least resistance. As Alexander Solzhnitsyn used to say, if everyone in Soviet Russia would get up one morning, resolved to speak only the truth, the Communist Party would collapse by noon. Yet through seventy-five years, that never happened.

I don’t expect it to happen today, even though the tyranny we now face is minor in comparison, and still fairly early in its development. It is growing fast, however.

Warren calls the Canadian state “Twisted Nanny.” More:

I am saying that we must accommodate reality; which requires real toughness of spirit. And we have not been doing a good job of that. If there is one thing I might hope, arising from the present controversy, it is that more faithful Catholics will realize that Twisted Nanny is not their friend.

Though I think we are right to state our grievances plainly, I do not think it will do much good. Nor, as I’ve hinted, do I seriously believe the majority of nominal Catholics in this country will rise to the banner. Polls indicate they much prefer Mammon.

This is from many causes, originating ultimately in failures within the Church herself — which was already retreating before Vatican II. The majority of Catholics now go with the flow. How, anyway, can they defend Catholic principles they were never taught? They more or less accept Twisted Nanny’s moral instruction, even when it directly violates that of their Church.

Pray for their souls, but don’t worry about them, on the practical level: for they will disappear. They have no foundations, no real opinions, and they don’t breed. The generation that follows “nominal Catholics” are not even nominal. The generation after that does not even get born. Over time, only the faithful remain.

Focus on what is within our power, which starts not with “outreach” and “dialogue” but with rebuilding our Church. For she is very weak, and we must make her strong.

Read the whole thing.

Warren didn’t say “Benedict Option,” but clearly that’s what he means. Don’t be deceived: there are and will be plenty of childlike shepherds who shelter under Twisted Nanny’s capacious skirt. A Catholic reader angry over progressive Catholic griping about the Ben Op — in particular Cardinal Cupich’s — wrote this morning to me:

And a ‘consistent ethic of solidarity’? I mean, solidarity with what? The army of the enemy? What? Do they not believe in actual forces of malevolence that are actively seeking the ruination of souls? Do they believe in the immortality of the sou? Or is it all, in the end, warmed-over materialism?

How do you engage the world if the world is trying to destroy you. This nonsense needs to stop. I think it is telling that your book is being attended to by very powerful voices in the progressive camp. They presume good will on the part of their enemies, but not on the part of their actual allies … or maybe, just maybe, they know more about which side they are on than they care to actually admit.

Oh yes, they know. Catholics who actually believe in what their religion teaches (as well as other Christians whose beliefs also stand in the way of the progressive juggernaut) are, to many of these progressive Christians, the enemy. Do not expect that that sort of Catholic would have any problem, say, shaking hands and smiling with representatives of a persecuting regime, even if it means throwing Catholic resisters under the bus. 

What’s almost funny is that in Canada, Caesar is Pajama Boy. Watch this:

Comedy gold, I know. But beneath that bubblegum exterior, he means business. Do Canada’s resisters? Do you?

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Benedict Option In Russia

From an icon of St. Scholastica and her brother, St. Benedict of Nursia (Edith OSB/Flickr)

A couple of you have sent me this nice essay on a big Russian Orthodox website, written by Vladimir Basenkov, who takes the measure of The Benedict Option from a Russian point of view. (The original Russian language version is here). Excerpts:

Of course, Rod Dreher speaks of the religious space of the West—the USA and Europe. However, we should admit that, despite all the ongoing serious changes, the modern world is still influenced by mass culture of Western countries. Whether we like it or not, Russia is no exception. The Western pop culture has become an integral part of the lives of many people. These images, designs, the music, cinematography and language permeate nearly every aspect of today’s society. If you enter a cozy coffee shop or an ordinary clothes shop that play background music permanently, you will immediately note the culture and language of the singers. On the feast of the Nativity of Christ the choir of one of the cathedrals of my native town performed “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” [a popular traditional English Christmas carol from the “West Country” of England.—Trans.] just before Communion. But I have not given this example in order to criticize—I just want to demonstrate that Western culture is truly permeating the fabric of our Russian society (both the secular and the Church “segments” of it). Therefore, the negative processes that we can observe “overseas” well may spread to our country.

More:

Beyond all doubt, The Benedict Option provides us good food for thought. The value of this book is not in alarmist sentiment, but in its highlighting of some useful practices of Christian life, which, first and foremost, are meant for every individual and aimed at the perfection of the community of the faithful. Focusing on your inner state, on your way of life and that of your community, on asceticism and your spiritual education is useful for any Christian even in a period of “the empire”, when “the weather is fine” and “the sun is shining”, figuratively speaking. The unforgettable words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved”, remind us (who are sometimes carried away by “external activities” in the Church, though nobody denies their role) that nurturing and caring for the soul is of paramount importance to Orthodox Christians. For, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21).

Whole thing here. 

What a pleasant surprise to see that the book has been read by a Russian, and what’s more, actually liked. I’m grateful to Vladimir Basenkov. I had not considered that The Benedict Option would be useful to Christians in Russia. It’s not that I was under the impression that Russian Christianity was free of the problems of liquid modernity, but rather that I assumed my book was too Western-oriented. Maybe not. Perhaps someone will want to translate it, and it will find an audience in Russia. I would dearly love to bring Russians into the broader Benedict Option conversation, so we Christians in the West can learn from and support our Christian brothers and sisters in the East in our common struggle.

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The Deconversion Playbook

Michael J. Kruger details the formula that Evangelicals like Jen Hatmaker and Rob Bell follow to explain and justify their falling into liberal religion. Excerpts:

Step #1: Recount the Negatives of Your Fundamentalist Past 

The first place to start in every good de-conversion story is to tell about the narrow dogmatism of your evangelical past. You begin by first flashing your evangelical credentials—Hatmaker was a Southern Baptist who went to a Southern Baptist College—and then you recount the problems you observed.

For Hatmaker, her evangelical past included people who are afraid to ask questions, won’t let you ask questions, only give pat answers, and never acknowledge gray areas.  She says, “I had no idea that we had permission to press hard on our faith.”

Of course, there are some evangelical groups that are like this.  And it’s certainly possible Hatmaker is from one of these groups.  The problem, however, is that Hatmaker’s language is a caricature of evangelicalism as a whole.

Many evangelicals believe what they believe not because they are backwater bucolic yokels who are scared to press hard on the text, but precisely because they have engaged the text and are persuaded it teaches these truths.

Indeed, it’s usually evangelicals who are actually reading both conservative and liberal arguments and weighing them against each other. There are plenty of liberal seminaries and universities that never have their students read a single conservative book. And it’s supposedly evangelicals that are in the intellectual echo chamber?

It’s for these reasons, I grow weary of claims that evangelicals give “pat answers.” Liberal complaints against “pat answers” are typically just veiled complaints about answers in general. It’s just another version of the tiresome trope, “Religion isn’t about answers, it’s about the questions!”

This is why Hatmaker often describes herself as merely exploring or on a “journey”—it’s a way to disarm a postmodern world who wants there to be no answers (all the while she is happy to sneak her own dogmatic answers through the back door—more on that below).

Step #2: Position Yourself as the Offended Party Who Bravely Fought the Establishment.

One of the major themes of Hatmaker’s interview was the relational-social trauma she experienced as she left the evangelical world.  She says she was mistreated in ways that were “scary,” “disorientating,” “crushing,” “devastating” and “financially punitive.”

Of course, it’s difficult to sift through these sorts of statements. No doubt there were people out there who were cruel, mean and unchristian in their response to her.  And such behavior should be called out for what it is. It’s wrong.

At the same, there’s nothing illegitimate about people criticizing her newfound theology. Much of the response to Hatmaker was simply vigorous opposition to her new direction that many regard as fundamentally unbiblical and out of sync with the entire history of Christendom.

Regardless, the tone of the interview very much set Hatmaker up as an oppressed minority fighting against what she called “commercial Christianity.”  She is merely the victim of a powerful and cruel evangelical world bent on revenge.

Needless to say, some of this is difficult to swallow given the current cultural climate where LGBTQ-affirming people are embraced as heroes (including Hatmaker herself), and evangelicals are being fired, sued, and drug into court for simply believing marriage should be between a man and a woman.

And if one wants to talk about “satire” and “outrage” and internet “hit pieces,” Hatmaker might do well to observe the outrageous level of vitriol displayed by the LGBQT community, and its advocates in the mainstream press, toward any Christian who shows the slightest hesitation about our culture’s new sexual direction. The PC police are always on the prowl, ready to prosecute evangelicals who don’t comply.

On top of all of this, it’s a bit disingenuous for Hatmaker to complain about harsh and judgmental rhetoric when, as we shall see below, she turns around in this very interview and lambasts evangelicals with language that would make any good Pharisee proud.

Step #3: Portray Your Opponents as Overly Dogmatic While You Are Just a Seeker

 

Et cetera. I won’t quote any more, because I want you to read the whole thing.  It’s very, very good. Kruger concludes:

While claiming to be non-judgmental, she declares the fruit of those who believe in traditional marriage as “rotten.” Despite her insistence that the Bible should be read without certainty, she offers all sorts of dogmatic claims about what the Bible teaches. While claiming her views are due to a deep study of Scripture, she offers only simplistic (and even irresponsible) explanations for the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, while disregarding 2000 years of church history.

Kruger is right about all of it. I am sure that Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Orthodox can tell similar stories about how the playbook works in their churches.

But let me ask: what is the difference between a “deconversion” story that is in some sense bogus, as Kruger describes Hatmaker’s, and one that is honest, however flawed. I find former Los Angeles Times religion reporter William Lobdell’s long testimony about how covering the abuse scandals in Catholic and Protestant churches cost him his faith to be valid. But then, I would, given that something similar happened to me. Nevertheless, what stands out to me about Lobdell’s case is that he clearly did not want to lose his religion. He clearly experiences it not as liberation, but as loss. There is nothing triumphalistic in his deconversion story. In my own case, my deconversion from Catholicism was the most catastrophic thing I have ever suffered internally — and I say that as someone who is grateful to God for Orthodoxy, and secure in my Orthodox faith.

That does not mean that I did the right thing, from a Catholic point of view. But I hope it means that I did not take my deconversion lightly. Only God knows, I guess.

But it is not fair to say that all deconversion stories, to be valid, must be told in a sorrowful key. Why shouldn’t people feel grateful to have been led out of falsehood into what they regard as truth? It isn’t right to say that deconversion stories that reach conclusions we happen to reject are therefore invalid or in some way inauthentic.

Here’s what I mean. I once had a lengthy conversation with a man who had been raised Eastern Orthodox, but who had become a fervent Evangelical. As a happy convert to Orthodoxy, it grieved me to hear this man’s story, but I had to concede that given his background (an all-too-familiar story of someone raised in a parish that seemed more concerned with worshiping ethnic identity than anything else), his deconversion from Orthodoxy made sense. I’m not saying the man did the right thing — I don’t believe he did — but rather that his deconversion was authentic in a way I do not believe that Jen Hatmaker’s is, assuming the facts as presented by Michael Kruger.

I would like to hear from readers who have insights as to how to discern the nature of deconversion stories. How can you tell authentic ones from the inauthentic ones? Does it matter? I think it does, for one big reason. It is no small thing to lose one’s religion. If someone is having a crisis of faith, they should question themselves rigorously as to why they are contemplating leaving their particular faith. One should not stack the deck, should not beg the question. There’s got to be a good way to do this, if one must do it at all, and a bad way. Let’s talk about the difference.

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Report: Pope Lied About Sexual Abuse

This Associated Press report is a bombshell:

Pope Francis received a victim’s letter in 2015 that graphically detailed sexual abuse at the hands of a priest and a cover-up by Chilean church authorities, contradicting the pope’s recent insistence that no victims had come forward, the letter’s author and members of Francis’ own sex- abuse commission have told The Associated Press.

The fact that Francis received the eight-page letter, obtained by the AP, challenges his insistence that he has “zero tolerance” for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy.

The scandal exploded last month when Francis’ trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defense of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of covering up the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. During the trip, Francis callously dismissed accusations against Barros as “slander,” seemingly unaware that victims had placed him at the scene of Karadima’s crimes.

On the plane home, confronted by reporters, the pope said: “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But members of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others witnessed and ignored.

More:

Four members of the commission met with Francis’ top abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, explained their objections to Francis’ recent appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and gave him the letter to deliver to Francis.

“When we gave him (O’Malley) the letter for the pope, he assured us he would give it to the pope and speak of the concerns,” then-commission member Marie Collins told the AP. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done.”

Cruz, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, heard the same later that year.

“Cardinal O’Malley called me after the pope’s visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands,” he said in an interview at his home Sunday.

Neither the Vatican nor O’Malley responded to multiple requests for comment.

The story contains a photograph of one of the group giving the letter to Cardinal O’Malley. O’Malley, sent into Boston to clean up the mess left by Cardinal Law, has generally been an honest broker in the scandal. The AP story plausibly suggests that this background is the reason why O’Malley rebuked the pope after his denial.

More:

In the letter to the pope, Cruz begs for Francis to listen to him and make good on his pledge of “zero tolerance.”

“Holy Father, it’s bad enough that we suffered such tremendous pain and anguish from the sexual and psychological abuse, but the terrible mistreatment we received from our pastors is almost worse,” he wrote.

Cruz goes on to detail in explicit terms the homo-eroticized nature of the circle of priests and young boys around Karadima, the charismatic preacher whose El Bosque community in the well-to-do Santiago neighborhood of Providencia produced dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops, including Barros.

He described how Karadima would kiss Barros and fondle his genitals, and do the same with younger priests and teens, and how young priests and seminarians would fight to sit next to Karadima at the table to receive his affections.

“More difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he wasn’t kissing Karadima — would watch when Karadima would touch us — the minors — and make us kiss him, saying: ‘Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.’ He would stick his out and kiss us with his tongue,” Cruz told the pope. “Juan Barros was a witness to all this innumerable times, not just with me but with others as well.”

“Juan Barros covered up everything that I have told you,” he added.

An important explanatory paragraph:

For the Osorno faithful who have opposed Barros as their bishop, the issue isn’t so much a legal matter requiring proof or evidence, as Barros was a young priest at the time and not in a position of authority over Karadima. It’s more that if Barros didn’t “see” what was happening around him and doesn’t find it problematic for a priest to kiss and fondle young boys, he shouldn’t be in charge of a diocese where he is responsible for detecting inappropriate sexual behavior, reporting it to police and protecting children from pedophiles like his mentor.

Read the whole thing.

This is staggering. If true — and unless Cardinal O’Malley is lying, which I find impossible to believe, it is true — then Francis’s pledges to stand by victims are fraudulent. Did Francis not see how much John Paul II’s defense of the sex criminal Maciel against similar charges hurt the Church? Future historians will one day marvel at the auto-destruction of the Catholic Church’s moral authority at the hands of popes and bishops who covered up for these sex criminals in the clergy.

UPDATE: I really can’t fathom this. It was never right to behave this way, but it is perhaps comprehensible in 2002. But to do it 15 years after Boston? That suggests depraved indifference.

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Why He Doesn’t Do Opioids (But Might)

A very moving e-mail from a reader:

Please don’t be offended, but I get more out of the letters your publish from your readers than most of your other blog entries. They speak to me in the foggy bottom where I live as a Christian and a conservative. No, I don’t work for the State Department (ha ha). I am a middle-aged academic who teaches at a good college, and who enjoys it, despite the fact that many of the problems you often write about re: university life and culture seem at times to be overtaking my institution.

I’m writing to you because I was reading something this evening about the opiate epidemic among white working-class Americans of my generation. The gist of it was that there is a collapse in the spirit of these people, who are giving up on life and turning to pills and worse (heroin) to take their spiritual and emotional pain away. It struck me that if I were not protected by certain things in my life, I would likely fall victim to the same curse. A college professor who enjoys a comfortable middle-class life is a world away from a Rust Belt factory worker strung out on Oxycontin, but we are much closer than I have thought.

Because I write anonymously, I will lay my cards on the table. I am a church-going Republican who has been married for 18 years, with two children. I have never been unfaithful to my wife, and have a close relationship with my children, who get high marks in school, and by all indications are well-adjusted. My life looks attractive from the outside, but within, I am in a substantial amount of pain.

My marriage has emptied out. Our firstborn came shortly after our one-year anniversary. My wife, who holds a master’s degree and planned to teach, wanted to be a stay at home mother, because she wanted our children to have what she had not. Though this plan was not without obvious sacrifices, I readily agreed to it. We could get by on my salary alone, and I could see the benefits to our child, and future children. It made her happy … for a while. Our second child came, and soon my wife began to complain that she was unfulfilled at home. She began to show resentment towards me for my work. To make a long story short: we decided that she would take a job. Given the complications of the academic job market, I had to resign from my position to take one at another college that offered my wife a teaching gig as part of a package deal. We moved a thousand miles away.

The results have been unsatisfying, to put it charitably. Professional life has not been the cure for dissatisfaction that she had hoped it would be. She complains about her colleagues incessantly, and resents me for the pleasure I take in my teaching. I can do no right by her. Though I enjoy my students, and get on tolerably well with my co-workers, I grieve for the old friends I left behind in our previous residence. My colleagues are pleasant, but if I dropped dead tomorrow, nobody would miss me. People here keep to themselves. I am not permitted within my marriage to talk about my loneliness. I am not permitted to do anything but listen to my wife, angry at the world, blame me and others for her unhappiness. I have to force myself not to think for long about this, or I would derail myself with my anger. Self pity is a luxury I cannot afford.

I thank God for my dear children and my religious faith, because I could not endure this otherwise.  I am a Catholic who is faithful to the sacraments, but my experience of parish life is profoundly lonely. We attend a relatively large but shrinking suburban parish. The priest is a decent man, but his homilies are terrible, and it looks as if he sees his job as trying to get through the days and weeks without offending anyone. I try not to judge him harshly. I could not do what he does. Nevertheless, it is impossible to look up to him as a spiritual father of any kind, and it is equally impossible to conceive of my Catholic self as part of anything cohesive or coherent. We are a gathering of strangers in that parish. We don’t know where we are going, or why we are going there. When my family first began attending it, I tried to get involved in the parish’s life, but I couldn’t sustain my efforts in the face of so much religious lethargy and indifference.

As in the case of my pastor, I try to withhold judgment of my fellow parishioners. However, this is what my experience has been. I have reconciled myself to the fact that loneliness is my fate in this parish. Yes, I am a theological conservative in a relatively liberal church, but I’m not interested in doctrinal combat, and I can’t say with confidence that the vibe in this parish would be much different if it were more conservative. The life of faith has become a grind. Our Lord did not promise that it would always be easy, and I persist because of His grace. But it is so much harder than it ought to be.

I remember first encountering the famous Thoreau quote (“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”) as an undergraduate, and thinking, “That’s my father, but it will never be me.” Now it is me. I have no realistic hope that things will improve. Church life is moribund, as I’ve said. I am mostly without friends at work or outside of work, and have been worn down by loneliness for so long that I no longer think about what I might do to improve things. I have accepted that this is simply my reality. Given the academic job market, my wife and I cannot realistically expect to move somewhere else, not at this stage in our lives and careers. This is as good as it is going to get. I have accepted that my wife despises me, and that this is part of the contempt she has been building up for the world over the past decade. There is no way out of this. She refuses to see a therapist, together or individually. Everything is my fault, and the fault of others in the world. It is a terrible thing to witness, and a terrible thing to live through. But I made a sacred vow, and I would do nothing to abrogate it, or to be disloyal to our children. Thus have I become a Stoic.

The real test will come when our children leave for college and then settle in their careers. It is unrealistic to expect that they will establish their homes around their mother and father. We do not live in an economically dynamic part of the country. It could be that in retirement, we will be able to move to be closer to one or both children. Then again, without the children to hold us together, will my wife and I be able to endure as a married couple? If not, then naturally I will not marry again. I am a believing Catholic — stronger than my wife, but I say that not out of pride, but in recognition that she would easily marry again with no scruples. That path is not open to me.

Mr. Dreher, the reason I go into all this detail with you is not to whinge or otherwise to engage in self-pity. I rather assume that Thoreau’s observation still holds true. My reason for writing is the realization that if I did not have Christian faith, as feeble as it often seems, and if I didn’t have meaningful employment, and children whose welfare means more to me than my own, then I could easily see myself falling prey to the same opioid addiction that has ensnared so many of the middle-aged white working class. [Note: I assume that this is what the reader is talking about. — RD]

Why not booze? Gin ensnared my father, who medicated his disappointments and failures in life with it. I have never been much of a drinker, because alcohol makes me physically ill without giving me any pleasure. Whether this is a gift of genetics or the psychosomatic result of fear of turning into my father and so many of his fellows of the “Mad Men” generation, I can only guess.

If opiates deliver their users from the existential pain of living with loneliness, defeat, and despair, it is not at all difficult for me to imagine their appeal. In fact, I frightened myself this evening by imagining how easy it would be for me to medicate my own emotional and psychic pain in that fashion (assuming I wouldn’t have a negative physical reaction to the drug, as I do to alcohol). What wouldn’t I give to be free from the crushing burden of defeat without surcease, if only for an hour or two?

I wouldn’t give my life. I wouldn’t risk the happiness of my children, nor would I compromise the stewardship I owe them as their father. The truth is, I have a strong ethic of self-discipline built into me, from the way I was reared, that makes such a temptation easy to resist, despite the (non-physical) pain I endure every day. I am a middle-class college professor who is respected and dependable, and who comes from a long line of respectable middle-class people who do not fall apart in “unrespectable” ways. (You see why I am grateful that alcohol is inimical to me.) I have many barriers around me to protect me from addiction: the interior narrative of my life, my religious faith, my love for my children, and maybe most important of all, the plain fact that opiate addiction is something beyond the barriers of my social group. Please don’t misunderstand: I have no doubt that there are people in my circles who are opiate abusers of some sort of another. It’s just that it is socially taboo, and I find restraint in that. To be blunt, opiates are for hillbillies, or so people of my class tell ourselves. I am fairly sure that is a lie, but it is a lie that keeps people like me from indulging our curiosity.

I suppose this letter is a roundabout way of commenting on the “shithole” controversy that has caused such a stir on your blog, but which has also generated stimulating discussion. If I were living in a “shithole” neighborhood, which is to say in a social environment where opiate use were less stigmatized and drugs accessible; if I didn’t have a stable job that I enjoyed; if I lacked  religious commitment and a deep conviction that “our sort of person” does not do drugs … what, then, would stop me, quietly despairing as I am, from becoming an opiate addict? It is hard to say, and that frightens me.

It gives rise to two contradictory responses within me. The first says, Do everything you can to keep the culture of opiate use far away! The second says, God, help me to be merciful to those poor souls, because there but for Your grace go I. 

I do not know how to reconcile those two warring impulses. I wish I had a priest, a partner, or a close friend that I could talk to about them, but you know…

Thanks for listening. It did me some good to write about these things.

Man. I was reminded over the weekend, in personal conversation, that the burdens many people, even happy people, carry in life are immense. Vale of tears, indeed.

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Cardinal Marx Opens Door To Gay Blessings

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, left (Peter Scholz/Shutterstock)

This is shocking, but not surprising:

The president of the German Bishops’ Conference has declared that, in his view, Catholic priests can conduct blessing ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx told the Bavarian State Broadcasting’s radio service that “there can be no rules” about this question. Rather, the decision of whether a homosexual union should receive the Church’s blessing should be up to “a priest or pastoral worker” and made in each individual case, the German prelate stated.

Speaking on Feb. 3, on the occasion of his 10th anniversary as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Marx was asked why “the Church does not always move forward when it comes to demands from some Catholics about, for instance, the ordination of female deacons, the blessing of homosexual couples, or the abolition of compulsory [priestly] celibacy.”

Marx said that, for him, the important question to be asked regards how “the Church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today – but also by new insights, of course,” particularly concerning pastoral care.

Now, we must be careful. A German reader says that the Cardinal’s actual wording is more ambiguous than the news report indicates. (Listen to the radio interview in German here.) The reader says that Father Dwight Longenecker is correct in his analysis: that it is possible that the cardinal’s words were distorted by the media, but this is the cardinal’s fault for avoiding clarity. Confusion is the result here — and I doubt that is accidental.

One has to consider Cardinal Marx’s words in light of his past statements on homosexual relations (including here and here.) In the first, the cardinal calls for a reshaping of the Catholic Church’s views on marriage and family, including homosexual coupling, but stops short of endorsing gay couples. In the second, the cardinal says that marriage must be seen as between one man and one woman, but that he can see no reason why the Church should oppose the State granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. My point is, Marx has marched right up to the line in the past, but has not crossed it.

Has he crossed it with this new interview? Vatican Radio, reporting on the same interview, characterizes Cdl Marx’s words as saying “no” to a general change of Church policy, but “yes” to the possibility that an individual priest in particular situations could choose to bless gay unions. If official Vatican Radio believes the Cardinal has approved of the possibility of blessing same-sex unions in Germany, that is fairly definitive. If Cardinal Marx does not believe this, then he must clarify as soon as possible.

Not that last month, the vice president of the German bishops’ conference reportedly did go further:

Bishop Bode asks, with reference to homosexual couples, “how do we do justice to them?” and adds: “how do we accompany them pastorally and liturgically?” Moreover, the German prelate – who had been one of the representatives of the German bishops at the Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family – proposes to reconsider the Church’s stance on active homosexual relationships which are regarded as gravely sinful. “We have to reflect upon the question as to how to assess in a differentiated manner a relationship between two homosexual persons,” he says. “Is there not so much positive and good and right so that we have to be more just?”

 

… Bishop Bode had raised such a discussion already earlier, in 2015, when he proposed “private blessings” for homosexual couples, and claimed that “remarried” divorcees “perhaps corresponds in a better way than the first [relationship] to the Covenant of God with men.” Bode then wondered whether such new relationships “always have to have as a consequence the exclusion from [the Sacraments of] Confession and Communion.”

What will Pope Francis’s reaction be? Cardinal Marx and the German bishops have been his strong allies in trying to liberalize the Catholic Church’s views of marriage and divorce. Are they now going to push for de facto acceptance of homosexual partnerships? If so, how can the Catholic Church declare something to be a mortal sin that it also sanctifies through blessing? It makes no sense.

If so, and if the pope approves of this move by Cardinal Marx, I don’t see how the Catholics avoid schism. If the pope avoids taking a stand … well, how can he? Whether or not Cardinal Marx has been misinterpreted here, it seems clear to me that Francis cannot avoid clarifying this issue. Well, on second thought, yes, he can; he has done so with the dubia.

Replying to Bishop Bode’s remarks, the conservative Catholic German blogger Mathias von Gersdorff wrote (Google’s translation):

Catholics should be prepared for a few things: The German Progressive does not want here and there a couple of changes, but to completely crush Catholic doctrine and basically fabricate a new religion. Bishop Bode’s latest comments could usher in a new phase of destruction. The “normal” Catholic remains perplexed and wonders: How far can the Catholic Church in Germany advance this path of destruction and still be called “Catholic”? When does the denial of church tax even become a moral duty?

German Catholics must pay a “church tax” that is cycled through the state apparatus and funds the activities of the Catholic Church in Germany. Von Gersdorff raises the question of whether or not faithful German Catholics should refuse to pay the church tax in protest of episcopal heresies. The German bishops have said in the past — and the state courts have upheld them — that any German Catholic who refuses to pay the church tax would be excommunicated. 

What a terrible position for faithful German Catholics! Von Gersdorff regards Cardinal Marx’s equivocating interview as a “fig leaf” hiding what he believes is the German bishops’ real desires. Excerpt as translated by Google:

For Cardinal Marx and for Bishop Bode it is clear: Catholic sexual morality must adapt to the Sexual Revolution. The above-mentioned proposals of these two prelates and those from German Progressivism can be summarized as follows:  Catholic sexual morality must be replaced by the maxims of the Sexual Revolution. In concrete terms, this means that there are no inherently morally wrong sexual acts, desires, ideas. Everything is allowed (as long as no violence is used against third parties). Of course you do not say that so directly, but you can not interpret the omissions of German progressivism differently. When did you last hear a suggestion that requires more discipline, abstinence, chastity, decency in fashions etc. etc.

The mission statement of Bishop Bode, of Cardinal Marx and of German Progressivism in general is the Sexual Revolution according to the maxims of the 1968 revolution. How this argument will end is still uncertain. Above all, the question arises of how strong the resistance in the church people will be against this destructive work. However, one thing must be prepared for one thing: the Catholic Church in Germany faces turbulent times.

Yes, and I am glad that a German translation of The Benedict Option is going to be published later this year.

The conservative Catholic website OnePeterFive has more information on Cardinal Marx’s words, and the direction of the German Catholic bishops:

In the wake of these prominent and high-ranking encouragements with respect to homosexual couples, a German diocese now proposes  even more concrete steps for the establishment of an official liturgical blessing for homosexual couples. With the explicit encouragement of the Bishop of the Diocese of Limburg, Johannes zu Eltz — a high-ranking priest, canon, and Dean of the City of Frankfurt (with a responsibility for around 150,000 souls) — has now made a public proposal to have a “theologically justified blessing” for those couples who are either homosexual, “remarried,” or who for other reasons do not feel “sufficiently worthy” for the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Zu Eltz now proposes a “liturgical celebration” that “omits the exchange of rings or the utterance of a marital vow.” Rather, one could, “with respect for a reliable partnership,” ask for God’s blessing “for a successful future of something that already exists.”

The issues around homosexuality have moved through the Christian churches of the West like a hot knife through butter. There is no escaping it, no place to hide. Already within American Orthodox Christianity prominent voices arise to promote liberalization on the issue. Today in Orthodox churches we heard this reading from the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

12 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

13 Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

14 And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!

16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”

17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.

19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

There is no getting around this, unless you deny it flat-out. Which is what liberal churches and liberalizing church people want to do. At some point this becomes a new religion. Watch Germany: if parish priests begin to bless same-sex unions, and bishops accept this — including the Bishop of Rome — then the situation will be much clearer, I’m afraid.

I have noticed a new series of attacks on The Benedict Option from higher levels of the Catholic Church. There was recently the review in the authoritative Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, in which the writer accused me of moral rigorism that flirts with the Donatist heresy (my response was here). Last week, Cardinal Blase Cupich, the quite liberal Archbishop of Chicago, denounced the Benedict Option:

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich refuted the so-called “Benedict Option” that calls for retreat from the modern world, and instead urged Catholics to engage with the world through a “consistent ethic of solidarity” that addresses a wide range of issues.

“That’s not who we are,” Cupich said of the “Benedict Option,” which takes its name from a book that calls for a conservative counterculture. He was responding to a question at a public talk Feb. 1 at Holy Name Cathedral here.

Instead, Cupich said, Catholics should go out and engage the world, much like Jesus’ disciples after Pentecost, or those who fought Hitler in World War II.

“We have to be in the trenches,” Cupich said, but Americans “are risk-adverse … to take up big problems.”

Today, Bernd Hagenkord, the Jesuit priest in charge of Radio Vatican’s German language broadcasting, also denounced the Ben Op in a blog post on Radio Vatican’s website. It reads as follows, in Google’s translation from German, slightly polished by me:

“That’s not what we stand for”: Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, was very clear in a speech at a demo for Life. He specifically opposed The Benedict Option, a book that speaks for a Catholic counterculture.

Wait a minute, Benedict Option? For example: detachment from the world? No, not at all. Benedict is in this case Benedict of Nursia, the monastery founder and monk. The book has the thesis that it takes a turning away from the morally decadent world in order to live a Christian life.

And Cardinal Cupich is against it. Thank you, Cardinal Cupich. Apart from the very simple insight that such a counterculture is exactly the opposite of what Jesus’ commission entrusts, the book’s adoption is based on a popular but false myth: namely, that Benedict turned away from the moral decadence of the Romans which ultimately led to the downfall of the Roman Empire.

The thesis is old but wrong. Cultural critics cannot leave it; it is just too seductive. Amusingly, it is based on the English historian Edward Gibbon, who claimed it is precisely Christianity that weakened the Roman Empire. This decadence thesis is a modification.

The fall of the Roman Empire had many causes, and was the result of a development that cannot be traced back to a particular reason. Especially not on the alleged moral decadence.

I have to interject here and say that The Benedict Option makes no claims for why the Roman Empire in the West collapsed. And it is certainly the case that St. Benedict withdrew from the city of Rome for moral reasons. As we know from St. Gregory the Great’s life of St. Benedict, who learned these things by interviewing four disciples of St. Benedict:

He was born in the province of Nursia, of honorable parentage, and brought up at Rome in the study of humanity. As much as he saw many by reason of such learning fall to dissolute and lewd life, he drew back his foot, which he had as it were now set forth into the world, lest, entering too far in acquaintance with it, he likewise might have fallen into that dangerous and godless gulf.

Therefore, giving over his book, and forsaking his father’s house and wealth, with a resolute mind only to serve God, he sought for some place, where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose. In this way he departed, instructed with learned ignorance, and furnished with unlearned wisdom.

Back to our Jesuit friend’s blog post:

And that’s why the withdrawal of Benedict had other reasons. And that’s why he’s not the godfather of an option that is campaigning to turn away from the world. Ask any Benedictine, or even better a missionary Benedictine: to live in the monastery does not mean to part with the world.

I would even say that the so-called Benedict Option is ultimately nothing but resignation. It is not a positive, not a creative response to the call of Christ in our time, but an attempt to save what can be saved because somehow you cannot cope with the challenges of today. And resignation does not seem to me to be a Christian virtue.

Why am I saying this? Does this matter at all? Perhaps not in the exaggerated logic of reasoning of the author of the book about the alleged “Benedict Option”. But looking down on the world, which wants to separate itself from alleged anti-christian currents, the complaints about the world which presuppose an inner separation, are everywhere. By contrast, Cardinal Cupich sets the commitment. And not only him. And that’s good.

That’s it. If either Cardinal Cupich or Father Hagenkord has read The Benedict Option, I’ll eat a pair of lederhosen. At this point, I hardly need to go into detail about how they argue in bad faith. The Benedict Option concept is not what they say it is; rather, it is about why Catholics (and Orthodox Christians, and Protestants) who want to keep the faith resiliently in the post-Christian — indeed, increasingly anti-Christian — West must withdraw to a certain extent from the mainstream for the sake of strengthening our faith, so that when we do engage with the world — as we must — we can do so as serious Christians.

What’s interesting is to consider why all of a sudden it has attracted the critical attention of very prominent liberal Catholics. Why do they consider the Ben Op to be so threatening? After all, what Catholic readers in particular should take from my book is that they should be more faithful Catholics: pray more, read more Scripture, take up fasting, go to confession more often, study the Catechism, reflect deeply on the Church’s teachings and traditions, and so forth. Why is that offensive to these liberal churchmen?

Could it be that if Catholics do these things, they will quickly observe that the direction in which these liberals are trying to lead the Catholic Church is far away from Catholic truth? The best way to get contemporary Catholics to abandon Catholic orthodoxy is to discourage them from deep engagement with Catholic teaching and tradition, and to think hard about how being faithful puts one at odds with the modern world. Which is why these Church liberals are so willing to distort its message to attack it.

I would say one of the best reasons (but not the only reason!) for Catholics to read The Benedict Option is to prepare for keeping and passing on the faith in a Church dominated by such bishops, priests, and lay leaders. The time of trial is upon all Christians, and it will only get more severe. Prepare!

UPDATE: A reader posts in the comments section an online exchange in which Father Hagenkord admits that he has not read my book, only “parts” of it, but that was enough for him, he said, to grasp its argument. Which he goes on to misstate severely. Where is the integrity of these critics?

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