Rod Dreher

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War As Culture War

Vladimir Putin, visiting the holy Mount Athos (Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock)
Vladimir Putin, visiting the holy Mount Athos (Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock)

Intelligence analyst John Schindler contends that Vladimir Putin really is making some very dangerous and threatening moves. For example:

He’s done it again. The honey badger in the Kremlin just moved more advanced missiles into position on Russia’s most westerly fringe to own the Baltic Sea. This week Moscow admitted it has deployed cutting-edge Bastion anti-ship missiles to the Kaliningrad exclave, north of Poland, plus equally advanced S-400 air defense systems to shoot down aircraft and missiles as far as 250 miles out.

With this move, the Kremlin has established control over the Baltic Sea, most of Poland and the Baltic republics—NATO members all. Russia now can exert anti-access and area denial—what the Pentagon calls A2AD for short—at will, meaning that any NATO aircraft or ships entering the region can be hit long before they get close to Kaliningrad. For Western military planners, this is nothing short of a nightmare, since Moscow can now block NATO reinforcements headed east to counter, say, Russian military moves on the vulnerable Baltic republics.

Schindler is no Putin apologist, but he explains why Russia is doing what it’s doing. There is a strong cultural core driving Russian policy — one that US policymakers seem incapable of discerning:

It’s not like Putin and his minions have been hiding what they believe. Putin himself is very much a KGB man—what Russians call a Chekist—cunningly conspiratorial to his bones. Yet over the last decade, he has become an open Russian nationalist with strong religious overtones. Regime outlets pontificate nonstop about the evils of the West, castigating our decadence and depravity, reflecting a nationalism that is deeply grounded in Orthodox Christianity.

Putin has talked warmly about what he calls “spiritual security“—which means keeping versions of Christianity other than Russian Orthodoxy out of the country—even stating that Russia’s “spiritual shield” is as important to her security as its nuclear shield. His inspiration for this comes from Orthodox thinkers, above all Ivan Ilyin, who hated the West with vigor and passion. This anti-Western worldview seems strange and even incomprehensible to most Americans, its reference points are utterly foreign to us, yet is grounded in centuries of Russian history and spiritual experience.

In this viewpoint, which I have termed Orthodox Jihadism, the West is an implacable foe of Holy Russia with whom there can be no lasting peace.

This is not a new thing in Russian history, of course, but Putin has revived it powerfully. More:

The anti-Western animus of this ideology would be difficult to overstate. There are rational-sounding complaints—for instance, Russian harping on NATO expansion up to their borders—but much of it boils down to depictions of the post-modern West as Satan’s project designed to subvert traditional religion and family life. These complaints sound a lot like what hardline Muslims say about the West. Just like Islamists, Kremlin ideologists claim that, since the West is spiritually attacking Russia and Orthodoxy with feminist and LGBT propaganda, all of Moscow’s responses—including aggressive military moves—are therefore defensive.

To be fair to Putin and his ilk, we’ve been doing a good job of making their anti-Western polemics seem plausible. Under President Obama, the State Department really has pushed feminism and LGBT rights hard—including in Russia. Washington’s official effort to coerce small, impoverished countries like Macedonia into accepting our post-modern views of sexuality has raised Russian ire, not least because Macedonia is a majority-Orthodox country.

The bottom line is that Putin’s Russia is driven by a state-approved ideology which hates the post-modern West and considers us a permanent existential threat. President Obama’s insistence that we can’t be in a new Cold War with Russia because there’s no ideological component to the struggle is completely and utterly wrong. The Kremlin sees that spiritual-cum-ideological struggle clearly, and says so openly.

Read the whole thing.

Here’s the deal: Putin may be a sneaky, conniving man, and a dangerous enemy to have. But he’s not entirely wrong about the postmodern West. One doesn’t have to credit Putin’s sanctity to concede this.

Depending on what you believe to be the heart and soul of a nation, we certainly are an existential threat to some nations and ways of life, whether we mean to be or not. As I’ve said before, the Islamist ideologist Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather behind al Qaeda, was a cutthroat and a crackpot, but he was not wrong to say to Muslims that the West, as the bearer of what we call “modernity,” poses an existential threat to Islam. For a calm, rational explanation why this is true, read Emma Green’s recent interview with Shadi Hamid. Excerpt:

Green: You emphasize the importance of taking the “metaphysical” propositions of Islam seriously, over and above the material circumstances of violence. What is lost in focusing on the material rather than ideological factors in the politics of Muslim countries?

Hamid: As political scientists, when we try to understand why someone joins an Islamist party, we tend to think of it as, “Is this person interested in power or community or belonging?” But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It’s about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre. Political scientists don’t use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that? But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.

It’s interesting that we’re having this conversation at a time when many people, including outside the Middle East, are loosing faith in technocratic, liberal democracy. There’s a desire for a politics of substantive meaning. At the end of the day, people want more than economic tinkering.

I think classical liberalism makes a lot of sense intellectually. But it doesn’t necessarily fill the gap that many people in Europe and the U.S. seem to have in their own lives, whether that means [they] resort to ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics. All of these things give voters a sense that there is something greater.

What we can learn from the Middle East can also apply to some extent to other regions that are struggling with similar questions of what are the ultimate purposes of politics.

“A politics of personal meaning.” And: “A sense that there is something greater.” And: “ultimate purposes” This is exactly right. The thing is, we don’t want to derive ultimate meaning in life through politics. That way lies madness. But we want our politics to embody some sense of meaning, to reflect a sense that there is something greater. In short, as someone (Kirk, I think) once said, all political problems are at bottom religious problems.

The Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko is deeply not a fan of Vladimir Putin, but he has written (in his brilliant new book The Demon in Democracy) and said in this interview he did with me in TAC, that the liberal democratic West comes up quite short in the politics of meaning. Excerpt:

The problem is a more fundamental one because it touches upon the controversy about what constitutes the Western civilization. The liberal progressives have managed to impose on our minds a notion that Christianity, classical metaphysics, etc., are no longer what defines our Western identity. A lot of conservatives – intellectuals and politicians – have readily acquiesced to this notion. Unless and until this changes and our position of what constitutes the West becomes an integral part of the conservative agenda and a subject of public debate, there is not much hope things can change.


You can’t resist Putin’s weaponized Russian Orthodoxy or the weaponized Islam of the Muslim world’s violent radicals with Justice Kennedy’s Sweet Mystery Of Life™ philosophy. Here’s Stanley Hauerwas:

Consider, for example, the hallmark sentence of the Casey decision on abortion: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is exactly the view of freedom that John Paul II so eloquently condemns in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. A view of freedom like that embodied in Casey assumes, according to John Paul II, that we must be able to create values since freedom enjoys “a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom.”

In contrast, John Paul II, who is not afraid to have enemies, reminds us that the good news of the Gospel, known through proclamation, is that we are not fated to be determined by such false stories of freedom. For the truth is that since we are God’s good creation we are not free to choose our own stories. Freedom lies not in creating our lives, but in learning to recognize our lives as a gift. We do not receive our lives as though they were a gift, but rather our lives simply are a gift: we do not exist first and then receive from God a gift. The great magic of the Gospel is providing us with the skills to acknowledge our life, as created, without resentment and regret. Such skills must be embodied in a community of people across time, constituted by practices such as baptism, preaching, and the Eucharist, which become the means for us to discover God’s story for our lives.

If you ask people if they want to live in a social order that requires them to pass no judgment when a feminist punk rock band invades a cathedral and desecrates it by turning a sacred space into a stage for political protest, you should not be surprised when they don’t consider that free speech of that sort is inviolable. It is not obvious to everyone that all decent people must be on the side of Pussy Riot, even if it means, in effect, standing alongside Vladimir Putin. It is not self-evident that the value of free speech, which Pussy Riot supposedly defended by its stunt in the church, is more important that the value of honoring God in a holy temple.

Putin is quite clearly using traditional morality and religion as a geopolitical strategic weapon — but again, that does not make us right and him wrong about the fundamentals. Patriarch Kirill, the Russian Orthodox patriarch, told Russian media recently:

What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.

Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it. It’s not the same thing, of course, but we could compare this to an extent to the apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws – when the law went against inherent moral values, people rebelled. They knew it wasn’t right; it was artificial; it was part of some ideology and not in sync with their moral nature. So the Church can never approve of this. We say that the Church can never redefine good and evil, sin and righteousness, but we don’t condemn people who have different sexual preferences. It’s on their conscience and it’s their business, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against or punished, as used to be common practice in some states. However, under no circumstances should this be accepted as a social norm no different from the social norm that stems from our moral nature, meaning marriage between a man and wife who create a family and have children. That’s why we believe this new trend poses a significant threat for the existence of the human race. The Church has to address this and say it’s a bad thing, but we’ve seen that authorities in some countries have been trying to silence clergymen. One Protestant pastor went to jail for calling same-sex marriage a sin in his sermon. Again, this is very reminiscent of what was happening under Soviet totalitarianism. In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion. That’s a dangerous trend, and I hope it will peter out and the natural order of things will prevail. I don’t even want to think about what might happen to us otherwise. Our prayers and our work are so that humanity lives on and follows the principles dictated by our moral nature.

Patriarch Kirill does not have to be the second coming of his predecessor St. Tikhon of Moscow to be correct in this assessment. And he is correct. Meanwhile, the United States government is preparing American scholars to go abroad and undermine local traditions in the name of LGBT liberation. The United States government has contracted with George Soros to recruit culture-war janissaries to tear down traditional Orthodox culture in the Federal Republic of Macedonia. Let’s take a look at John Schindler’s 2014 post about Putin as head of the global “anti-WEIRD coalition.” Excerpt:

That’s social science shorthand for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic – and nobody is WEIRDer than Americans. In the last several decades many Americans, and essentially all our elites, have internalized a worldview based on affluence, individualism, and secularism that makes us unique, globally speaking. So much so that we seem unable to comprehend that there actually are opposing viewpoints out there.

Barack Obama, by virtue of his diverse ethnic and religious background and elite education, is almost an ideal stand-in for the WEIRD demographic, as he embodies so many things WEIRDos admire: education, affluence, diversity, progressive social views, etc. He comes close to being almost the perfect post-modern American, which perhaps is why so many Americans of that bent adore him deeply. Thus when President Obama says he detects no ideological rivalry with Putin’s Russia, he undoubtedly speaks the truth as he sees it.

Americans of all stripes have a well-honed ability to ignore inconvenient facts, and our better educated citizens seem particularly prone to this (as I noted with our “expert” inability to see what North Korea believes, even though they aren’t shy about it). At root, I suspect Obama and many Americans refuse to accept the in-our-face reality of Putin and his regime because they represent a past version of ourselves, caught up in retrograde views that are entirely unacceptable to our elites, therefore they pretend they do not exist, because they don’t actually exist in their world.


[It] is important to note that the post-modernism about cultural and social matters that has become the default setting in the West in the last couple decades has had a hard time putting down roots in Eastern Europe. It’s an odd fact that living under the Old Left (i.e. Marxism-Leninism) inoculated Eastern Europeans from much of the New Left of the 1960s and after, with its emphasis on gender, sexuality, and race. “Critical Studies” didn’t get far with people who had to live under the KGB; indeed, East Bloc secret police in the 1980s viewed all this – the feminism and the gay rights stuff especially – as bourgeois deviance and a subversive Western import. Since 1990, Western countries have made actual efforts to import that, but it’s met a lot of resistance, and doesn’t make much of an impression outside educated circles; which is why when educated Westerners meet, say, educated Poles, “they seem just like us” – because they have accepted, verbatim, what we’ve told them is normative in a “developed” society.


ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] propaganda portrays a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style. The practices of “sexual minorities,” to use the Kremlin term for LGBT lifestyles, come in for harsh criticism. …

Faith aside, it’s not hard to see why Putin wants to fight off Western values based on individualism in the sexual realm that have unquestionably led to lower birthrates, which is something that Russia, which is already facing demographic disaster, cannot afford. The existence of the country itself is at stake, so we should not expect Putin to back off here, especially because he may actually believe all this as a matter of faith, not just natalist practicality.

The West, and the United States especially, have helped cause this by active promotion of the post-modernism that Russia now rejects. It is not a figment of Moscow’s imagination that the U.S. State Department encourages feminism and LGBT activism, at least in certain countries. When Washington, DC, considers having successful gay pride parades a key benchmark for “advancement” in Eastern Europe, with the full support of U.S. diplomats, we should not be surprised when the Kremlin and its sympathizers move to counter this. My friends in Eastern Europe, most of whom are comfortable with gay rights and feminism, have nevertheless noted to me many times that it’s odd that the U.S. Government promotes such things in small, poor Eastern European countries it can intimidate but never, say, in Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, there remains the question of just how universal post-modern Western values actually are outside educated elites. There is ample evidence that many average people in Eastern Europe who fear Russia nevertheless are closer to the Kremlin’s positions on cultural matters than to America’s. In Georgia, where loathing of Russians generally and Putin particularly is universal, resistance to LGBT rights and feminism remains deep and broad, with the support of the Orthodox Church, while much the same can be said of Moldova, where fears of Russian invasion are acute, but so are fears of Western social values. Neither is this resistance limited to the East. It can be found as well in Central Europe, among NATO and EU members. In Poland, the Catholic Church continues to resist post-modern sexual values – what they collectively term “gender,” meaning feminism plus gay rights – leading one bishop to term this “ a threat worse than Nazism and Communism combined.” Strongly Catholic Croatia last December in a national referendum rejected same-sex marriage by a two-thirds margin, to the dismay of progressives across Europe.

As most readers know, I am an Orthodox Christian. My deep concern over the relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church is not that the ROC will exercise undue influence over the Russian state, but that the ROC will become Russian nationalism at prayer. I am extremely sympathetic to the ROC critique of the West, and see things like the opening of the new Russian Orthodox cathedral in Paris to be a blessing. On my next trip to Paris, after I make my pilgrimage to pray before the relics of St. Genevieve, the city’s patron, I will make a visit to this Russian cathedral, pray there, and give thanks to God for its witness in that magnificent Christian (or once-Christian) city. It is my prayer — really, it is — that the Russian cathedral will in some real sense bring believing Eastern and Western Christians closer together, and strengthen our common witness against the post-Christian West — such that one day, Europe may return to the widespread practice of the faith.

That said, it will not do to lament the corrupting effect of nationalism on American Christianity — as I do — while giving a pass to the same thing in Russian Christianity.

The point of all this is that Putin aside, many people outside the West look at us and do not like what they see. In fact, they see the values promoted by the West today as godless, hedonistic, and a threat to what they believe to be sacred and true. And you know what? Mostly, they’re right. American religious conservatives should at the very least ask why if you had to choose whether traditional Christian teaching would be respected and defended more by the President of Russia, an ex-KGB agent, or the President of the United States (or any other major Western nation), that the answer would be ambiguous at best.

If you put people in the position of choosing their way of life and its sacred values, as defended by an imperfect leader like Vladimir Putin, or abandoning their way of life, what do you expect?

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Safe Spaces For College Commies

'Thou shalt not speak too ill of communists at Samford' declares university Politburo (Malchev/Shutterstock)
‘Thou shalt not speak too ill of communists at Samford’ declares university Politburo (Malchev/Shutterstock)

The faculty senate of Samford University — not Reed, or Oberlin, or some other godless Yankee college, but a Baptist college in Alabama — is refusing to recognize a new chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) because language in its 1960s-era founding charter could be triggering to communists.

No, really. Look:

[YAF organizer Karalee] Geis received an email from a Samford official who expanded upon the specific reasons the application was denied. ““We are looking for the YAF student group to amend or justify the inflammatory language listed in their Purpose,” the email said. “This is the direct statement from the Sharon Statement that, though likely appropriate in 1960, does not hold the same in 2016.”

Phillip Poole, Samford’s Executive Director of Communications, told Yellowhammer that members of the faculty were concerned with “inflammatory language” and wanted to work with students to make the process work next semester. He noted that the same process applied to YAF is the same standard protocol applied to every campus organization.

“Concerns were expressed by some faculty members regarding what they perceived to be inflammatory language in the YAF statement of purpose regarding Communism and Communists,” Poole said in a statement. “Faculty members were seeking to confirm that opposition to a political ideology would be accomplished in a manner that respects the worth of each individual, as stated within the university’s Code of Values. The members of the committee indicated their willingness to further explore these issues with students during their next scheduled meeting in the spring semester.”

YAF was founded in the 1960 by William F. Buckley and 100 young conservatives who gathered at his home. You might recall that in 1960, there was this entity called the Soviet Union, which held the peoples of Eastern Europe in imperial bondage. It had the year before, with the Cuban Revolution, established a beachhead 90 miles off the US mainland. Two years later, the Soviet Union would attempt to place nuclear missiles on that island. So, that was a thing that happened. Now, here’s the language from the Sharon Statement that caused members of the faculty senate to take to their fainting couch:

That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;

That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;

That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and

That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?

The existence of these lines in this 56-year-old statement from an organization founded in the Cold War is a reason why the faculty senate of Samford University will not allow YAF to establish itself on campus. A campus that is not in San Francisco, or in Boston, or a Prius-driving cultural precinct inhabited by scholars who consider NPR’s Terry Gross to be a latter-day Pasionaría … but in Birmingham, Alabama.

What’s up next for Samford? The disbandment of patriotic student groups because the Declaration of Independence might hurt the feelings of British exchange students? The banning of Christian student groups because of these words, spoken by Christianity’s founder and recorded in its foundational document — Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? — are too unkind to Pharisees?

It’s worth pointing out to the faculty senate of this Baptist university that the Soviet Union alone mercilessly persecuted Christians, murdering millions of them, and sending countless others — including Baptists — to the gulags because of their faith. In Romania, which was seized by communists near the end of the Second World War, the Marxist government went on a savage campaign of torture against Christians. One of those imprisoned and tortured was the late Father Gheorghe Calciu, an Orthodox priest. He recalled that time many years later, in his American exile:

They wanted to break the people, the whole country. Romania was not a primitive country. We were connected to European culture.

We believed in Christian values. Therefore, they wanted to do this special experiment with the young people, to create a gap between the children and the older generation, to make this generation of students a communist one. They wanted to build a new world – a communist world; a new man—the communist man and so on. Se the arrested the young people – the students – and put them in a special prison for this very experiment.

They took very distinct steps. The first was to destroy the personality of the youth. For example, the guards would come together with a group of young prisoners who had converted to communism in a cell where there were perhaps twenty young students and try to intimidate them. They would beat without mercy. They could even kill somebody. Generally they would kill one of them – the one who opposed them the most; the most important one. Generally he was a leader. They would beat him and even kill him. Thus, the terror began.

After that, they began to “unmask.” They wanted to force you to say: “I lied when I said, ‘I believe in God.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my mother and my father.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my country.’” So everyone was to deny every principle, every feeling he had. That is what it means to be “unmasked.” It was done in order to prove that we were the products of the bourgeois, and the bourgeois are the liars. We lie when we say we are virgin, we are Christian, and when we try and preserve our bodies for marriage.

They tried to say I was a prostitute, a young man that had connections with the all the girls. We would be tortured until we denied everything we believed before. So, that is what it means to be “unmasked.” It was done in order to prove that Christian principles we not principles, that we lied when we said we loved Jesus Christ, we loved God, mother, father, and so on. It was to show that I lied when I said that I was a chaste man, when I held the ideal of nation and family. Everything had to be done to destroy out souls! This is the second step

After this came a declaration against everybody who was in touch with us, everybody who believed as we believed. I was to make a declaration against everybody who knew about my organization or my actions, to denounce everybody—even father, mother, sister. We were to sever completely any Christian connection and moral people.

The final step was to affirm that we had given up all the principles of our faith and any connection we had with it. With this we began to be “the new man,” “the communist man,” ready to torture, to embrace communism, to denounce everybody, ready to give information, and ready to blaspheme against God. This is the most difficult part, for under terror and torture one can say, “Yes, yes, yes.” But now, to have to act? It was very difficult.

It was during this third part that many of us tried to kill ourselves.

The memory of the people who did this to the Christians of Romania (and other dissenters from communism) are the people whose sensitivities the Samford faculty senate wishes to protect. What a complete moral disgrace those professors are. The university community ought to be ashamed of them.

A triggered Samford alumnus who reads this blog sent me this story today, and forwarded this letter he sent to the Samford official quoted in the story. I edited it to protect his privacy:

Mr. Poole,

I’m a Samford graduate (’90) and my wife ([name], ’02) is a Cumberland grad. I’m saddened to see that liberal faculty members are now running the ship. Please remove my wife and I from your communications list until further notice. I’m hopeful that we can eventually add Samford back to the list of schools our children will visit. I trust you will take the necessary steps between now and then to restore our faith in the University and what it stands (or stood) for.



UPDATE: This just in:

Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland issued the following statement Nov. 30 to employees and students regarding the establishment of a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Samford:

I’m writing to provide you with a few facts related to a proposed new student organization on our campus which has received media attention over the past 24 hours.

On November 10, the Campus Life Committee of the Faculty Senate met with a group of students who seek to establish an affiliate chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at Samford. The Faculty Senate committee followed the regular process for reviewing and approving student organizations, which includes approvals at meetings of the Student Senate, the Campus Life Committee, the Faculty Senate, the University Faculty and, eventually, the Board of Trustees. The process offers the opportunity for faculty members to ask student representatives questions regarding their plans for a proposed organization. During the meeting in which the YAF chapter was under consideration, some members of the committee asked questions regarding the planned activities of the group, ideas for promotion, and the YAF statement of purpose. I believe that the statement of purpose for the national organization and affiliate chapters is tied to a document known as the “Sharon Statement,” written in 1960 by William F. Buckley Jr. One of the specific elements of the dialogue within the committee meeting, which seems to be at the core of much of the current attention in social media, relates to a provision of the Sharon Statement which called for “victory over, rather than coexistence with” Communism. Herein lies much of the confusion, as the students and faculty involved in the meeting had different understandings of the exchange. The students believed they were told that this element of the Sharon Statement would need to be amended in order for the chapter to receive recognition; members of the faculty believed that they were only asking hypothetical questions in order to clarify the statement. Following the session with the students, the Campus Life Committee elected not to grant immediate approval for the organization and instead provided the students with specific feedback related to their application, expressing the intention to reconsider the students’ application when the committee next reconvenes.

Throughout the past 24 hours, media outlets have misrepresented some of the facts related to this situation. Among the errors is that the request for a YAF chapter at Samford has been rejected. Rather, the approval process for the organization remains in effect, pending additional information from the students at the next meeting of the Campus Life Committee. The media has incorrectly reported that the university is sympathetic to Communism and even inferred that we have now or at some time in the past had a “Communist Club” on campus. As you might guess, we have never had a Communist Club at Samford. Finally, as I highlighted above, the differing understandings of the dialogue regarding the Sharon Statement have led to such headlines as “Samford is a Haven for Marxists.” In fact, the Campus Life Committee requested technical improvements and clarification of the purpose statement in the proposed organizational constitution submitted by the students.

Earlier today, students, faculty and staff who are involved in this matter visited via conference call with a national YAF representative to more thoroughly explain the issues and to dispel misconceptions. I’m told that it was a positive exchange and that everyone is hopeful for a smooth process as the consideration of the YAF chapter moves through the prescribed system for review. Both Karalee Geis, the proposed president of the YAF affiliate chapter, and Shannon Ashe, the chair of the Campus Life Committee, were involved in the conference call and each of them agreed with the plan for moving forward.

Because of the rather bizarre comments that have been made regarding Samford in social media over the past 24 hours, I feel compelled to offer a few personal observations. First, I defend the rights of all people, even those within what many may view as the cloistered environment of a private university, to write and to speak. It is a First Amendment right and, I believe, a basic human right, therefore I think that it is not advisable to attempt to insulate either students or faculty from expressing or hearing opposing views. That being said, I can say with confidence that Samford is not a bastion of support for Communism. I think we have overwhelming agreement throughout the campus that Communism is a failed system. Even so, I am faced with the truth that, as Christians, we are compelled to show the love of Christ to all people, regardless of political ideology or any other factor.

And I can’t help adding that I am a thoroughgoing Capitalist.

Any questions or concerns you have about this issue should be communicated to Dr. Phil Kimrey in the Division of Student Affairs, which has administrative responsibility for the establishment of new student organizations on our campus. Any media inquiries related to this matter should be referred to Philip Poole, Executive Director of University Communication.

And that’s all I know, at least for the moment.

Andy Westmoreland

The professor who forwarded that statement to me adds:

Replace “communism” with Nazism, anti-Semitism, or  White Nationalism and see what happens.

“Love all people” claim is just so much bullsh*t. He would never extend the same deference to a group that took a stand against racism and racists, Nazis and Nazism, but Communists and Communism, that’s a different kettle fish, since the president knows that so many “respectable” people were drawn  by its allure.

UPDATE.2: Great comment by a Samford alumnus:

I’m a graduate of Samford, Rod. You’re right to be calling attention to this, but not quite for the reasons you think. Let me provide a little context here:

Samford has never held itself out as a freewheeling “marketplace of ideas” environment. Oh, they throw out the usual boilerplate about that stuff, but the administration always made it crystal clear that for them, “free exchange of ideas” came with a giant asterisk. When I was there, the administration was very clear that certain things would not be tolerated. For example, they pretty much banned the distribution of any pro-abortion literature on campus. “Banned” might be too strong a word — I mean, if you went to the library, you’d have no problem finding pro-abortion books or magazines; what I mean was they wouldn’t allow any student groups, and definitely no outside groups, to distribute literature or advocate for pro-abortion causes on campus.

Pro-abortion stuff is just one example; there were other taboos, not all of them explicitly spelled out. Now I love Samford, but there was no mistaking the fact that in many ways, it was kind of a totalitarian environment. A soft, comfy totalitarianism, but totalitarianism nonetheless. When I was there, no demonstrations or protests of any kind were permitted without explicit permission from the administration. Heck, a professor who wanted to put on a mock “protest” just to show students what protesting was like had to get permission! Back in the 70s, the school actually shut down the student newspaper over some petty dispute that basically boiled down to the staff being insufficiently conformist.

Even the design and location of the campus underscores their mindset. Look at some photos of the school; it’s quite intentionally designed to stand apart from the surrounding community, and the school is fronted by a large wall and gate. And unlike virtually every other college I’ve seen, there is absolutely nothing within easy walking distance to allow students to escape the school’s atmosphere — no bars or restaurants or clubs catering to a college crowd.

That Samford might have misgivings about YAF doesn’t surprise me. It has nothing to do with YAF’s opposition to communism. Samford doesn’t particularly like ANYBODY to make a scene or cause trouble, even if they’re sympathetic to the cause — and I assure you, they’re probably VERY sympathetic to anti-communism.

Now the reason for this is that Samford is, or was, an explicitly conservative Christian school. They see themselves as having a distinct theological mission. Anything that detracts from that mission is suspect.

What’s funny to me, though, is that Samford’s ideological intolerance was always the butt of jokes by outsiders. Thing is, over the years, as PC culture has become increasingly militant, I’ve watched supposedly “enlightened” liberal schools move closer to Samford’s totalitarian model. Some — Oberlin comes to mind — seem to have surpassed it. Yet still they mock Samford, and schools like it, oblivious to the fact that they are slowly morphing into left-wing versions of the same thing. Leftist-dominated schools are turning themselves into almost perfect mirror images of a college where, at least when I was there, we had professors of biology who openly questioned the theory of evolution. Yet still they look down their noses at Samford, fancying themselves as wide-open arenas for intellectual combat.

It turns out, the joke’s on them: Want to see what the natural end-point to “safe space” PC hysteria is? IT’S A BIBLE-THUMPING SOUTHERN BAPTIST COLLEGE. Seriously, the “safe environment,” with all that implies, is a huge part of Samford’s sales pitch to conservative Christian parents. They were into “safe spaces” before safe spaces were cool.

It’s hilarious, really. I’ve long told people that when I lived in California, I discovered that some of the more intolerant leftists I encountered reminded me a lot of the intolerant fundamentalists I’d known back in Alabama. Well, this is EXACTLY what I was talking about: Campus PC madness has now reached such a peak that when somebody hears about a conservative Christian school in Alabama stomping on free expression, they IMMEDIATELY assume the threat must be from SJW fanatics — because that’s where all the intolerance comes from these days, right?

I’m sure a lot of leftists probably hate schools like Samford with the fury of a thousand suns, but Samford is the embodiment of their SJW utopia, staring them right in the face. They should take a long, looooong look and decide if that’s really the example they want to emulate.

BTW, I know this post sounds very critical of my alma mater, so I should reiterate that I actually loved my experience there. I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I went, and I think there’s definitely a place for schools that want to provide that experience, as long as they’re clear about it, which Samford was. What I object to is schools that essentially try to be “Samfords of the Left” while holding themselves out as something different and more noble, while implicitly or explicitly mocking a school like Samford simply because it’s more upfront about its biases.

If the left wants its own Samfords, they should have the courage to own it.

UPDATE.3: This just in from a source inside the university:

Despite this recent controversy, Samford is on a more conservative trajectory. Samford now has an endowed chair in Western intellectual history and all undergraduates must now take a 2-semester course in Western intellectual history. The undergraduate liberal arts school (where most of the liberal professors are) recently underwent a change in administration. The Faculty Senate (stocked with liberals) recommended three candidates to the president: a very liberal African-American woman, another liberal Episcopalian woman, and a conservative Christian straight, white man (the horror!). Despite pressure to pick one of the more liberal candidates, the administration selected the more conservative, Christian candidate.

All this to say, Samford is not becoming a school controlled by SJWs. There are signs of renewed Christian commitment across campus. So instead of following the trajectory of most other schools, Samford is heading in the other direction.

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God Save(d) The Birra Nursia

The New York Times, of all places, proclaims the joyful news that the Birra Nursia brewery was spared the horrible Norcia earthquake! More:

“Remarkably, the brewery was hardly damaged,” the Rev. Benedict Nivakoff, who is from Connecticut, said during a chilly morning walk through the devastated town center. “The fermenters were loosed, but they’re tall and heavy, and so they didn’t fall.”

The monks are planning to move the beer from the brewery to a safer location, where it can be bottled and specially labeled before it is sold to raise money for reconstruction, Father Nivakoff said.

The monks set up a website for their fund-raising efforts after the basilica and monastery had been weakened by earthquakes and aftershocks in August.

“The campaign started then — now we need to add a few more zeros,” said Father Nivakoff, the prior of the monastery.


The monks, in the tradition of St. Benedict, who believed they should live and support themselves by the work of their hands, intend to keep the brewery small. That way, Brother Wilmeth said, “it will stay in our control and really serve monastic life, not overwhelm and consume us.”

The monastery’s beer varieties quickly gained an enthusiastic following in local shops and restaurants, and the brewery began exporting to the United States this year. If many of the regional venues that sold the beer are shuttered because of the earthquake, it is still available through American importers, the monks said.


Father Martin Bernhard, in the Birra Nursia brewery

Father Martin Bernhard, in the Birra Nursia brewery

The beer has also become very much a part of their lives. If fund-raising efforts can help both the sanctuary and Norcia live again, they say, the monks are happy to repay their benefactors — even in a small, frothy way.

“We are proud that we are American,” said the Rev. Martin Bernhard, who is from Texas and is the cellarer of the monastery. “To taste and buy our beer is a beautiful thing for us.”

Read the whole thing.

You could contribute to the cause by, well, contributing directly to the cause, or by mail-ordering some Birra Nursia for Christmas. It’s not cheap; the monks only produce 10,000 bottles per year. And it’s not cheap to have shipped from the distributor in California. But if you have been richly blessed this year and can afford it … I recommend the Extra. The last sip I had of it was at table in the refectory in Norcia this past February. In my memory, it has become the most delicious, precious beer imaginable.


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Church As Institutional Failure

Many comments on this new Pope Francis thread from Catholics and others are really sobering and thoughtful about the state of Christianity in our country. A couple:


[Quoting another reader:]

The cover-up by the Bishops struck at the heart of the moral and spiritual authority of the Church in the West. There is now this kind of uncomfortable silence…and anger: “Don’t you even try to challenge us on the moral issues that we are dealing with in our complicated private lives, with the way you dealt with your own dirty laundry.””

I think this is very true and will be true until the Church engages in a fearless and searching reckoning of the crisis and is transparent with the laity. And the clergy who covered up these abuses must pay a price for the cover ups not retire to comfortable positions like Cardinal Law.

However, the laity is not justified in ignoring the commandments because of the transgressions of a small minority of the clergy and the Church does not belong to the offending clergy. It is so much more than the clergy. Do not let them take it away from us or cause us to discard it.

Elizabeth Anne:

It’s not just anger. The clergy scandal irrevocably and permanently altered the way all the Catholics I know think about the church. In short, except for a VERY small core of Catholics I know who are able to separate the men from the institution, none of them are at all willing to believe anymore that the Roman Catholic Church is in any way a special institution with a particular right to dictate morality.

I live now in a very Catholic area (Wisconsin) with Catholic family. And the abuse scandals simply undid their faith in the church as an authority. Most of them have either left and will not go back or go with an insistence on a hands off approach wherein the priests and especially the bishops have absolutely no right to dictate morality to them. A few have gone the other extreme and jumped into sedevacantist RadTrad camps.

I think this is nowhere more painfully obvious than in the statistics out of Ireland. But you can see it everywhere.


It’s not the sex abuse scandal.

Take my parish where my kids attend school. Very conservative, orthodox priest. He even has introduced Latin into our Novus Ordo liturgy. It is a parish in a politically/culturally conservative neighborhood. The school is amazing. Prayer is an active part of their school day, and they focus a lot on faith formation.

That said, hardly any of people who send their kids to school at our parish go to mass regularly. I’m in my early 30s and so are the other parents in my kids’ classes. It is nothing like I remember being in Catholic school in the 90s, when you saw everybody at mass on Sunday. If anyone does go, it is the mothers and kids. Fathers rarely go to mass.

Why is this not the sex abuse scandal? Because these people who don’t go to mass are heavily involved in the social and community life of the parish. Everyone meets at the parish for sports and festivals. People volunteer for all sorts of things. For lollipop soccer (non-competitive soccer for kids under 6), the fields and concession stands are packed. People hang around till nearly 11:00 socializing. Even the priest and a seminarian will attend. This is a wonderful, vibrant (and welcoming) community. By the way, all of these parents could send their kids to the above-average public schools in the area.

If these people had a problem with priests, they wouldn’t choose to maintain their Catholic identity. And it’s not just identity. They are actively participate in the life of the parish and support it with time and money.

If people were honest with themselves, it’s because it is easier (and more entertaining) to avoid Church and a religious life. I love the Catholic mass. It is beautiful, and a representation of Heaven on Earth. But it is not entertaining. It is not ESPN on Sunday morning; it is not a fantasy football app. It is not even a Megachurch with Starbucks and bagels in the lobby. For the poorly formed Catholic, the Mass is boring and repetitive.

I am happy my kids’ school focuses on faith formation. There is a whole generation of people who were not properly formed as Catholics (1960s-1990s). They simply do not know about their faith and don’t care. Maybe they wouldn’t care regardless of formation. But we can’t have 40 years of a bland, superficial faith formation (tarnished by awful, criminal sexual abuse), and expect everything to be fine. The Church needs to heal. It will take 100 years.


I think a major reason for the disconnect between church doctrine and how Catholics live their lives is that the church and clergy actually DO NOT regularly teach on moral issues. I’m talking about in the parish, in classes, etc. not in Vatican documents that typical Catholics never read. I am a fairly recent convert to Catholicism from the Mormon faith. And even though I no longer believe in Mormon doctrine, Mormons do an excellent job in continually hammering home, to youth and adults alike, LDS moral teaching on things like sexuality. No active LDS youth will have any confusion about what the Mormon church teaches on the sinfulness of pre-marital sex for example or about how their participation in LDS life will be affected by it (at least if they don’t hide the sin from their local bishop). How many Catholic youth graduate from Catholic schools understanding that pre-marital sex is a grave sin or believing that if they have sex outside of marriage then they cannot fully participate in parish life?

And unlike in Catholicism, those who actively and publicly disagree with LDS teachings often leave the Mormon faith. Why? Because Mormonism is not a comfortable environment for those who publicly flout its teachings. The same can’t be said in most case for Catholicism.

And on and on.

Meanwhile, today I was communicating with a Catholic parochial school teacher, a theological conservative who is also a father of young children. He is extremely fed up with the indifference and even hostility of Catholic parents. But he is especially fed up with the bishops. He told me that his local bishop is a time-server and bench-warmer who is presiding over the decline of the diocese’s Catholic schools into mediocrity. Says this bishop doesn’t want to rock the boat, and contents himself with managing decline, because that’s the easiest route. This reader sees the sex abuse scandal as central to the decline in the Church’s authority, because in his view, the bishops of his church and very many of the clergy showed that they cannot be trusted.

Recently, I exchanged e-mails with an Orthodox priest. We were talking about some various issues in the different Orthodox churches. I told him that after I left Catholicism, I came to Orthodoxy incapable of trusting religious hierarchy. It’s not that I disbelieve in the authority of the hierarchy, or of its necessity. I am not a Protestant. Nor is it that I believe that all bishops are bad. I can think of several examples, in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches, that prove that statement wrong. No, the thing is this: that I cannot bring myself to believe that as a general matter, the hierarchy can be trusted to do the right thing consistently. I might be wrong about that, but I’m not moving off that belief, because I have seen up close and personal, in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the damage done to innocent people who did have trust.

Here are some very wise words from a theologically informed writer who was Catholic but who is now Orthodox, on why he is not interested in Catholic vs. Orthodox polemics. Excerpt:

The greatest pitfall in which one can be entrapped is the fantasy that one can find ecclesiastical refuge in either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. At the risk of offending pious ears, neither is a paradise. Whatever problems you had in one will follow you to another, and you will have to be willing to exchange one set of baggage for another. Anyone who tells you the opposite is either a liar or provincial in their view, having lived only in a carefully created womb of devotion that takes pains to remove or deny evidence to the contrary that would challenge its strictly defined parameters.

There is no “refuge” for us weary sinners in an organized religion. How many times have we grown frustrated with our own coreligionists or religious authorities to prove this out? “Refuge,” if it may be found, is found on the more personal level of the community one develops for pursuit of the praxis of the Christian life. For us non-monastics, this community increasingly violates old confessional boundaries, discarding barriers sustained by removed intellectual extrapolation in favor of the experiential knowledge born out of praxis. This is, indeed, the ancient Christian path to contemplative knowledge of God and true religion.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. One reason this works is because it is easier to trust people with whom you have personal experience. The Evangelical theologian Alastair Roberts recently wrote a very insightful blog post on distrusting institutions and its effect within Evangelicalism. Excerpts:

In the past, theologians and pastors typically heavily mediated theological thought to their congregations. The edification of church members was crucial, but theologically trained pastors were expected to pre-digest Scripture and theology for the sake of their congregations and feed them with it to the point that they could process ever more solid food.

The rise of the Internet, however, has posed serious problems for this model. Increasingly, the person in the pew is receiving their theological and biblical understanding independent of pastoral oversight and guidance, often through a sort of personal ‘research’ akin to that of the Googling anti-vaxxer.

Church leaders are increasingly facing a situation where members of their congregations have an ever-growing and diversifying interface with a dizzying array of different figures. Congregants are following people on Twitter and Facebook, reading various blogs, listening to podcasts, watching Christian videos on Youtube, participating in online forums and communities, reading a far wider range of books than they probably would have done in the past, watching Christian TV shows, listening to Christian radio stations, etc., etc., all within the comfort of their own houses. The sheer range of sources that the members of a congregation will be exposed to nowadays is entirely unprecedented. Although some may expect pastors to keep on top of all of this, I really don’t see how they realistically can.

The result has often been a situation—similar to that faced by vaccination programmes—in which pastors and church leaders urgently have to protect the spiritual health of their congregations against false teachings that untrained people have adopted through their independent ‘research’. In such a situation, few things are more important than a strong bond of trust between lay people and those in authority over them, who are responsible for their well-being.


However, that bond of trust has come under extreme and sustained assault in the last couple of decades. With the revelation of scandals of spiritual and sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups and gross mishandling, pastors and church leaders are subject to much more suspicion. Pastors, prominent Christian leaders, and teachers may commonly presume that authority is something that comes with the job position. However, this election is just going to provide further evidence of how profoundly mistaken this assumption actually is. Especially among the up-and-coming generations, the older generation of prominent evangelical leaders has less and less influence. Their widespread support of Trump will just be the final nail in the coffin of their credibility for a large number of younger people. ‘Authority’ counts for little where trust no longer exists. Not only will this mean that their future statements won’t carry weight: they will be actively distrusted. Once again, there is a dangerous situation of unattached trust, ripe for the establishment of counter-communities.

Many people now privilege online bloggers, speakers, and writers over the pastors that have been given particular responsibility for the well-being of their souls. The result is growing competition among Christian gatekeepers, which increasingly positions the individual Christian, less as one fed by particular appointed and spiritually mature local fathers and mothers in the faith, and more as an independent religious consumer, free to pick and choose the voices that they find most agreeable. Sheep with a multitude of competing shepherds aren’t much better off than sheep with no shepherds whatsoever.

The egalitarian online environment also makes it difficult to discern the difference between those who hold ordained pastoral office and responsibility and people who are simply self-appointed online ‘influencers’ (in case you need a reminder, I am just a blogger: I am not your pastor). It makes it difficult to discern the difference between trained and orthodox theologians and untrained people who are simply regurgitating error. Everyone appears to be a peer online, which dulls our awareness of the fact that some people have authority over us and others have other forms of authority resulting from privileged knowledge, training, or experience. Everyone is expected to make up their own opinion in such a world, but very few people have the means to make up their minds well.

Once again, when information overwhelms us and traditional gatekeepers are no longer trusted, we can renegotiate our networks of trust and find a new sense of orientation in tight-knit communities.


Whereas in the past, communities of trust would tend to be locally based, typically rooted within church congregations, extended families, workplaces, and neighbourhoods, in the age of the Internet, communities of trust are increasingly abstracted from locality. Twenty or thirty years ago, one’s community of faith would primarily have been found in one’s local congregation, and would have been overseen by pastors and church leaders. Nowadays, our communities of faith are much more diffuse and much less pastorally guided. Where once pastors, church leaders, and mature Christians could keep watch over a congregation, ensuring that error didn’t creep in, this is much harder to do today. Likewise, dissenting and disaffected persons are much more able to form their own independent communities online.

Jen Hatmaker is a good illustration of some of these dynamics. Hatmaker isn’t a trained theologian, yet her changed position on same-sex marriage has recently received an immense amount of discussion among Christians. In some respects, there isn’t a huge difference between Hatmaker on same-sex marriage and a celebrity anti-vaxxer who has claimed to have extensively ‘researched’ the issue. In both cases, even supposing they were correct, the person’s position is of little academic worth (because they only have very limited ability to engage in first-hand research themselves). Nevertheless, it is of deep social consequence and danger. The opinions of such persons hold weight on account of their popularity, likeability, and people’s instinctive trust of them, whereas the official authority figures challenging them are distrusted, despite their greater learning.

To understand the future of evangelicalism, there are few things more important than attending to currently shifting networks of trust. If people are confident that evangelicalism will generally be opposed to same-sex marriage in twenty-five years’ time, for instance, I wonder whether they have been paying close attention to the movements that have been taking place. The most prominent voices that have opposed same-sex marriage are now regarded with deep distrust from many quarters, especially by the younger generations, not least on account of their politics and the abuse scandals that have tarnished their reputation. People no longer trust them as leaders, so their position on same-sex marriage is now thrown into greater question. Although they may officially have authority, practically they have little authority over the younger generations.


As with the social crisis of truth, thought, and knowledge facing America, the crisis facing the Church will only be addressed as it is addressed precisely as a social problem. Where trust has broken down, a crisis of truth will soon follow in its wake. Rebuilding trust once lost is an immensely daunting and difficult task, yet it is the task that faces us. Where trust is lacking, there is little to be gained from directing ever more information and arguments at people. Repentance must be made, forgiveness must be sought, bonds of trust must be repaired, and then truth might begin to do its work.

Please read the whole thing. These little sections here can’t possibly do justice to the sweep of Roberts’s whole post. In case his name is unfamiliar to you, Roberts a young, English, theologically conservative intellectual. I don’t care what your tradition is, if you are a small-o orthodox Christian and not reading his blog, you are making a serious mistake.

This “social crisis of truth, thought, and knowledge facing America” is not confined to the churches alone, as Roberts points out. And it is by no means a matter of sorting out who has the most persuasive argument.  Roberts starts his post not by talking about the church, but about why it is that so many people put their trust in Donald Trump, in particular in Trump’s anti-vaccine theories:

Trump’s argument against vaccines works because people no longer trust the authorities—the governments, the scientists, the medical professionals, etc.—who tell them that they are safe. The biased mainstream media, the liberal elite, lying politicians, activist judges, crony capitalists, politically correct academics, the conspiring government, scientists bought off by big business, hypocritical religious leaders: all are radically corrupt, motivated by self-interest, and radically untrustworthy. In such a situation, people’s realm of trust can become more tribal in character, focusing upon people of their own class, background, friendship groups, family, locality, ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc. and deeply suspicious of and antagonistic towards people who do not belong to those groups. This collapse of trust hasn’t occurred because the general public has suddenly become expert in the science behind vaccinations and discovered the authorities’ claims concerning vaccines to be scientifically inaccurate. The trust that has been lost was never directed primarily at such scientific claims. Rather, it was a trust in the persons and agencies that presented us with them.

The loss of trust in the persons and agencies happened on many different fronts. It happened as people ceased to believe that the persons and agencies were being open with and transparent to them, that they were committed to their well-being and had their best interests at heart, that they were devoted to truth over power and self-advancement. However, with the loss of that trust, a lot of beliefs that those persons and agencies guaranteed, which formerly would have gone unquestioned, became collateral damage.

This is why the abuse scandal was so devastating to the Catholic Church. The thing that magnifies the power of the sex abuse scandal, or any other major church scandal, to destroy the church’s authority is that contemporary culture gives one a powerful disincentive to believe what one wants to believe. I have experienced this over and over in contexts that have nothing to do with religion, with people who are conservative and with people who are liberal (inevitably, people believe that THEIR experts are telling them the truth, and the OTHER people and their experts are just too stupid or blinded by ideology to see it).

Where does this leave us? In a mess. We have entered a period of radical distrust, and if anybody tells you they know for sure where it’s going, don’t trust them. Roberts’s insights, taken in tandem with the comments from you readers, help me to better understand the intuitions that led me to the idea of the Benedict Option. No community can survive without authority, and agreed-upon authority at that. The Ben Op is a general strategy for rebuilding social trust around small communities of believers who share a traditionalist (= anti-modern, at some level) Christian faith, and who — crucially — are committed to the practices necessary to sustain that faith in community, over time. Let me repeat Alastair Roberts’s words:

Rebuilding trust once lost is an immensely daunting and difficult task, yet it is the task that faces us. Where trust is lacking, there is little to be gained from directing ever more information and arguments at people.

Exactly. It is certainly true that the masses today have strong incentives to refuse legitimate religious authority. But it is also true that the authorities who run our authoritative religious institutions — archdioceses, parishes, schools, even down to the level of youth groups — ought not to make it so hard.

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What Pope Francis Knows

Reader JB commented on the Pope Francis marriage-and-communion thread:

Gallup Poll on U.S. Catholics: 86 percent say contraception “morally acceptable”…sex outside marriage ok for 72 percent of Catholics and 70 percent gay and lesbian relationships are morally fine. Guessing among younger faithful, maybe higher numbers.
The Catholic Church is not forming it’s followers to live its challenging and radically countercultural teachings on sexuality and family life.
Once you get outside of the tiny bubble of those that either care about or have some vested interest in these things, you find that Church teaching is completely irrelevant to the lives of most of your family and friends.
I am a faithful practicing Catholic. Most of my Catholic friends and family know nothing about this controversy; they could not care less. A number of them are in their second marriages and would never think to bother with an annulment. If they do attend mass, they receive communion like most everyone else. No one goes to confession. These are good people, not willfully committing sin — but according to official Church teaching, they are committing a serious sin against the sacrament of Eucharist.
There is such a growing chasm between peoples everyday lives and Catholic teaching on these matters. Their children often drift away from regular church attendance…but so do those who are raised in solid Catholic families who are faithful to the Church’s teachings.
We also cannot underestimate something that I think operates at an even deeper level than we realize – the clergy scandals.
The cover-up by the Bishops struck at the heart of the moral and spiritual authority of the Church in the West. There is now this kind of uncomfortable silence…and anger: “Don’t you even try to challenge us on the moral issues that we are dealing with in our complicated private lives, with the way you dealt with your own dirty laundry.” This is something I see with friends and family. It’s there, just under the surface and if you were to gently challenge them on some of these moral issues, it goes there quickly. I have heard things like this:
“Who are they (priests/bishops) to tell me how many kids I should have, how to deal with my daughter’s unplanned pregnancy, or if an adult can have a loving relationship with another adult of the same sex? These men who protected and sheltered abusers? Just say mass, marry my kids and bury our dead. Stay out of our private lives.”
Isn’t this really the current state of things? Am I being too dark here? I am not trying to be negative or hopeless. But don’t you have to deal with reality if you are going to find the right response/solutions?
These internal conflicts within the Church are important obviously. But are they now (in the West anyway) completely irrelevant to the masses of practicing and nominal Catholics?

Well, one answer to this is that when St. Athanasius fought the Arian heresy, most of the world was Arian, but the fight was critically important to have. These theological fights aren’t just for Christians of the present day, but for generations yet to come. Two hundred years from now, Cardinal Burke and his cohorts may be seen as footnotes to Catholic history, or they may be seen as the Athanasiuses of their time.

Still, the Catholic commenter makes some powerful points. I’d like to hear what you readers have to say about them.

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‘When The Crash Finally Happens’

Take a look at this eye-opening piece from The Atlantic. The writer Sam Kriss went to Europe’s largest tech conference recently, and wrote a bleak report in which he said the people he saw there were in a frenzy to move forward, with no idea where they were going or why they — or any of us — are going there. Excerpt:

There are, broadly speaking, two different ways of thinking about technology. The first is strictly functional: You look at what a tool does, how it interacts with other tools and helps its user achieve their aims. A hammer drives in a nail; a virtual bartender is interacted with over Facebook Messenger. Web Summit is a grand exposition of all these new tools; here you can find the things that might be making all our tasks easier for decades to come.

In the second, broader, more materialist account, technology is seen as regulating relations between people. A hammer doesn’t just drive a nail, but builds a wooden house in which the distinct family unit can wall themselves off from the world; a virtual bartender keeps you in that house log after dark in a silent city full of humming unearthly-white screens. As Marx writes in The Poverty of Philosophy, “the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist”; as Lewis Mumford argued, the machine isn’t so much an ordinary if complex object as it is a mode of organization; the first such mega-machines, in ancient Egypt, used human bodies as their working parts, and their products are still here today. In our own society the products are ephemeral, and its structure is one of increasing chaos. You can watch that chaos roiling through an exhibition center in Lisbon. Web Summit is a hyper-concentrated image of our entire world, and the panic and confusion that is to come.


For all the usual guff about dynamism and entrepreneurship, it’s clear that Web Summit isn’t really about showcasing new ideas or changing the way anyone does anything. The point is to attract buyouts or investment; this is how so much of the tech industry functions. (Social networks, for instance, generally make their money through investment or market flotation; they build up a vast userbase first, and defer the question of how to actually squeeze a profit out of them later.) The game isn’t to build anything that might last, but to secure just enough money to land unharmed when the crash finally happens.

Read that again: The game isn’t to build anything that might last, but to secure just enough money to land unharmed when the crash finally happens.

That is not just the tech world; it’s the world most of us live in, isn’t it?

The Benedict Option, the idea that I’ve been thinking about and working on and will soon publish a book about (pre-order here, if you are so inclined) is really a more hopeful variation on that line of Sam Kriss’s. It’s about building a Christianity and Christian culture that will last and carry us through the crash that is happening all around us. I received a nice e-mail from a prominent Protestant theologian the other night who had read an advance copy for review. He didn’t agree with everything in the book (few people will), but he said that the book is going to be very helpful to ordinary Christians in understanding the real-world issues at stake in the present moment, and urging them to think and act in the face of these challenges. In our e-mail exchange, he said that this is exactly the kind of book he hopes the people in his congregation will read and talk about, because it makes the kinds of things that the pastoral staff tries to convey quite clear, and urgent.

In other words, his hope and expectation is that the book will be a wake-up call for everyday Christians. Similarly, just this morning I got an e-mail from a reader who is the principal of a conservative Christian school in the American heartland. He said that:

Here in [deleted], everyone thinks it will be okay. I am convinced that we will save neither our children nor our society if we do not live counter-culturally.

I need help talking to my parents and convincing them/sharing with them about raising children into adults who love what is good, true, and beautiful.

The book is written for educators like that, and the parents of the students they educate (as well as the older students).

Now, I’m not bringing this up to sell books. I’m bringing this up in context of the Sam Kriss piece, specifically the impression he got from the big tech conference that people are just scrambling to get themselves into what they believe will be a safe space when it all comes crashing down.

Do you think that is generally true about our society and our civilization — that people, whether they are conscious of it or not, and operating in a sauve qui peut (save who you can) panic? To be perfectly clear about the Ben Op: it is based on the idea that Christianity itself within the West is facing this state of affairs, and that believing Christians, therefore, have to build new structures and reinforce old ones to last through the religious crash that is already happening. 

Sam Kriss’s line made me think of it like this: what if the religious crash Western Christianity is living through is simply the leading edge of a general civilizational crash (economic, political, etc.) that all kinds of people, even non-Christians and non-religious people, sense is coming? If we are headed into that kind of crash of the existing order, and the existing order of orders, then what role do you see the Benedict Option playing within that catastrophe? I get into that a little bit in The Benedict Option, when I say that Ben Op churches and communities need to practice hospitality to welcome refugees from what’s to come. But I had in mind circumstances like the ongoing collapse of the family, not a general economic or civilizational collapse.

On that front, did you see that the temperature at the North Pole now is 36 degrees above normal? Thirty-six degrees!:

Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.

The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”

More information about what’s happening right now is at The Washington Post. It is freaking climate scientists out.

Now, re-reading Kriss’s piece, it’s possible that the “crash” he’s talking about is the collapse of what he sees as the current tech bubble. Still, I think his phrase is worth interpreting broadly, if only as a useful imaginative exercise. In my book, I talk about sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity”: the idea that the rate of change has accelerated so much that there is no time anymore for customs, ways of life, institutions, and so forth to settle, before things change again. It’s like trying to build a house and a village on melting Arctic ice.

Nevertheless, we have to try to do this somehow — that is, we have to build stable, meaningful, hopeful, resilient lives amid the chaos. The question we all have to face, whether or not we have any interest in the Benedict Option, is at what point — if ever — we accept that a major crash of some sort is inevitable, and we shift our focus from trying to prevent it, and instead work on how to survive it and built structures that promote resiliency. I talk about this regarding Christian faith and culture, but people focused on global warming, economics, politics, and other areas would be wise to have the same conversations, it seems to me. As ever, here’s the key Alasdair MacIntyre quote:

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.

Your thoughts are welcome.

UPDATE: A reader who is a big deal in the tech industry writes:

I’ve been to a lot of tech trade shows (and trade shows in general).  They are all pretty much like this, and probably were like this in the Middle Ages when farmers brought their cattle to market. Kriss is way off base.

He makes these incredibly broad statements about trade shows not actually helping companies make money, and therefore implicitly is saying that not just some specific company but that the massive number of companies that go to lots of these trade shows every year for decades are just trowing money away, when this is clearly a subject he know nothing about.

He says that there is a tech bubble and a crash coming, which is like saying there is a sunshine bubble and the sun is going to set.  High-growth markets have pricing instability.  You’ll notice that we’ve had a lot of “tech bubble crashes” over the past 40 years, but it continues to be the sector of the economy that keeps growing.

He says that the economic model for these companies is not really to make any money, but just to sell themselves to somebody else, without confronting that he thinks that all of the buyers of these companies are therefore total suckers — again, not one particular company doing one particular acquisition, but the whole acquisition market over decades.

He says that social networks just try to get a bunch of people using them, then think about how to squeeze a profit out of them, without any knowledge of why the economics of a business with network effects might make this rational.

He’s says that various company taglines don’t really mean anything, when he doesn’t grapple with the challenge that it’s usually hard to explain what a piece of technology does in 8 words or less, and that he’s never bothered to learn any of the background knowledge to even get a hint at what they are trying to say.

Like Kriss (and many, many other people), I don’t enjoy conferences.  But then again I don’t enjoy a lot of the stuff you have to do to make a business make money.  Neither do most people in most businesses.  That’s why they have to pay you money to go to work every day.

All Kriss is doing is wandering around a conference that he really doesn’t understand — at all — and pointing out that he really finds these people and what they do baffling, without ever asking himself why it is he might be the one who is baffled.

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Francis Surrogate Fires Warning Shot

Cardinal Raymond Burke at risk of losing his cardinal's rank for challenging Pope Francis (Goat_Girl/Shutterstock)
Cardinal Raymond Burke at risk of losing his cardinal’s rank for challenging Pope Francis (Goat_Girl/Shutterstock)

Er, wow:

Archbishop Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, told a conference in Spain that Cardinal Burke and the three cardinals who submitted the dubia to Pope Francis “could lose their Cardinalate” for causing “grave scandal” by making the dubia public. The Dean of the Roman Rota went on to accuse Cardinals Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner of questioning the Holy Spirit. Archbishop  Pio Vito Pinto made his astounding accusations during a conference to religious in Spain.

Archbishop Pio Vito’s indictment against the four cardinals, and other people who question Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia, was that they not only questioned one synod of bishops on marriage and the family, but two synods, about which,  “The action of the Holy Spirit can not be doubted.”.

The Dean of the Roman Rota went on to clarify that the Pope did not have to strip the four senior cardinals of their “cardinalate”, but that he could do it.

Deacon Nick Donnelly, author of that post, cites the canon law statute granting the cardinals the right to say what they said. The text of canon law reads (emphasis is Dn Nick’s):

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. (Can. 212 §3).

If the archbishop tried to pull that, the Vatican would be in an extremely grave public crisis. But what if the Pope did it directly? Canon law states:

Can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

So, would Canon 212§3 be a valid defense for the four cardinals if Pope Francis ordered them stripped of their cardinatial rank for insubordination? Or does the pope’s “supreme, full, immediate, and universal” power over the governance of the church give him the right to overrule that canon, inasmuch as doing so would not contravene dogma or doctrine? I have no idea; if you’re a canon lawyer, please weigh in. No matter what the answer, that kind of confrontation would be an ecclesiastical bomb going off on in the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope would be saying that simply asking him to clarify a muddy teaching is enough to have your consecration elevation as a cardinal revoked. That would be the act of a tyrant, and will be seen as such by many. It’s hard to imagine how a schism would be avoided.

Are you wondering why this is so important, and why the four cardinals are demanding that the Pope clarify church teaching? John Zmirak has an FAQ explaining the issue and the stakes. Excerpt:

Q: So what does this mean for the authority of your church?

A: If Pope Francis does not reverse course and reconcile his teaching on divorce and remarriage with perennial church teaching, but instead makes a new teaching binding on all Catholics, then he will be teaching heresy — full stop, and imposing it on the whole Church. If infallibility doesn’t stop that, I don’t see what use it is.

Q: Can’t you just declare him a heretic and depose him?

A: No, we cannot. Vatican I in 1870 taught that popes can teach infallibly, and that they cannot be judged by anyone or ever removed from office.

Q: But God can’t contradict Himself either. He can’t let you teach one thing at the Council of Trent, then the opposite today.

A: No, He can’t.

Q: How can the doctrine of papal infallibility survive this?

A: Fans of logic will note that it can’t. If Pope Francis continues on the course he has chosen, he will prove, empirically, that this teaching was never true in the first place.

Q: What will that mean for the First Vatican Council?

A: That council, and every other council the Catholic Church has held since the great Schism with the Orthodox in 1054, will be called into question. The Orthodox theory, that it was Rome which went off the rails back then, will start looking pretty persuasive. Last time I checked, making the case for that was not the Roman pontiff’s job.

You, reader, might be thinking: Rod, as a former Catholic turned Orthodox, must be pretty happy with this.

Well, no. In fact, what Pope Francis wishes to teach on communion and remarriage is closer to the Orthodox view of things, which I believe is true. So why does it bother me if a) Pope Francis wishes to reform Catholic doctrine (or pastoral practice, depending on how you look at it) to be more in line with what Orthodox Christians believe is true, and b) if the current crisis were to reveal the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility to be false, and therefore causing at least some Catholics possibly to move to Orthodoxy?

Only for this reason: stability. The reason the Catholic Church is in this theological crisis at the moment has to do with pressure by the world to change its ancient teaching for the sake of accommodating a Western world that is post-Christian in its view of marriage and sexuality. Zmirak, I think, is right about this: if the Catholic Church changes its position on marriage and communion, the house will come tumbling down.

In the Catholic system, theological teaching is deep and complex, with doctrines building off of each other, and all of them developing out of binding tradition. It is not as simple as saying, “This teaching is hard now, and people don’t like it, so let’s get rid of it.” With some things, you can do it. But not the teaching about marriage and communion. It would be like having build a mansion around a tree, using the branches to support the internal structure, only to find that, over time, the tree is growing in ways not predicted, making the mansion difficult to inhabit. If you go in and start lopping of branches to make the mansion more comfortable, you might discover that the whole thing falls in, because the tree has become more fundamental to the core of the structure than you realized.

This, I think, is the danger that the four cardinals see. I don’t know enough about Catholic theology and canon law to say whether or not the Pope is right in this instance, but you don’t have to be an expert to read the dubiathe questions the four cardinals put to the pope for clarification — and to see that they are reasonable. This is a question of papal power versus papal authority. The Catholic Church, as Zmirak sees, is having to confront some unforeseen consequences of its doctrine of papal infallibility, which was formally defined at the First Vatican Council in the late nineteenth century.

Now, there might be serious Protestants and Orthodox who would like to see the Roman Catholic system collapse, because in their view it was built on error. But they should understand that if the Roman church falls into schism and disarray because of this, it will not be because the Catholic masses wish to be more countercultural in their marriages and in their reception of communion. Plus, the authority of all Christianity is waning in the post-Christian West; should Rome’s collapse in schism, the resulting earthquake will shake all of us Christians to the core, whether we realize it or not. To be pleased with what’s happening with Rome now in this fight is like taking pleasure in the possibility that the guy down the street’s house might fall down because he didn’t listen to your advice for building it, without considering that if his place falls, the entire neighborhood is going to be a much worse place to live.

It must be said that this whole mess is another example of how the church left never, ever brings a knife to a gun fight. The same is rarely true of the church right.

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Amos Pierce & The Flag

World War II veteran Amos Pierce, via a screen grab from PBS Newshour
World War II veteran Amos Pierce, via a screen grab from PBS Newshour

Well, golly. A few things:

  1. This is outrageous. Burning the flag is protected speech. It is highly offensive speech, but it is political speech, and is therefore constitutionally protected. This is just trolling. Lots of politicians take this brave, brave stand against flag burning, and have for years, to no effect. It ticks off liberals and libertarians, but satisfies the populist base.
  2. Passing a law against burning the flag is as American as apple pie. I think it’s dumb, but it’s a popular activity among Congress members — including some Democrats. Look:
  3. But HEY, “loss of citizenship or year in jail”?! That’s crazy. The fact that an incoming American president would float such an idea is unnerving. You don’t say things like that if you’re the president, or the incoming president. Laugh this one off as Trump being Trump, but you know we’re going to have this kind of thing for the next four years, right? Waking up and being confronted with some crackhead thing POTUS has said.
  4. Why is Trump doing this, aside from the fact that he believes it? Why this, why now? The answer is probably because Trump has no self-discipline, and this is the first thing that occurred to him when he picked up his smartphone and logged into Twitter today. An alternative answer is because he is probably trying to stoke up nationalist sentiment to use for political purposes down the road.
  5. Specifically, he’s baiting the activist left, which is probably gathering kindling and accelerant for its flag-burning demonstrations right this very second. These will be shown on national TV and spread via social media, and the masses, disgusted by it, will deepen their emotional identification with President Trump, defender of the nation and its symbols.
  6. Is it too much to hope that this is a teaching moment for the left regarding the First Amendment? The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, yes, but also the free exercise of religion. You find it outrageous that an incoming president would seek to penalize political speech? So do I. But guess what: the reason so many religious conservatives voted for Trump is that so many liberal politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, were far too willing to trample the free exercise rights of Americans when those rights clashed with progressive policy goals. Tough titty, Gordon College! Too bad for you, Little Sisters of the Poor.  For millions of us voters, what the Obama Administration was doing to the First Amendment rights of those religious dissenters (policies that a putative Clinton Administration was going to support and extend) was a really big deal.  It would do people like us well to remember that to arrest any enthusiasm for Trump’s imprison-the-flag-burners proposal. But in exactly the same way, it would also do the left good to recognize that the First Amendment is not only about protecting the kind of expression your side likes.
  7. Suddenly, this is once again James Davison Hunter’s moment. Hunter is the sociologist who coined the term “culture wars” in his 1992 book about them. Now would be a good time for producers to put him on their speed dial.

Why do we keep getting wound up about burning the flag? you may ask. Easy answer: Jeez, if you have to ask… .  Longer answer: because the flag, though a secular symbol, is the symbol of our nation. This is a perfectly obvious statement, but spend a moment thinking about what that means. It stands for us, together. To burn it is an act of deepest contempt for America as a nation. It’s the sort of thing our enemies do. To burn the flag as an American, on American soil, is a kind of blasphemy, a defiling of values that people hold sacred.

One reason Donald Trump will be our next president is that tens of millions of people are deeply anxious about our identity as a nation, and our future as a nation. You should not mock or otherwise belittle those concerns. They are deeply human. This is what the Brexit vote was about. The Mexican border wall Trump proposes to build is not really about keeping Mexicans out, but rather about an attempt to regain control over national identity: over the power of the people to define what it means to be a Nation. If you don’t see this as important, you are blind. You are dangerously blind. This is what drove Brexit, as much as economics: the fear that Britons are losing control of their own land and identity to foreigners, and that their own political, cultural, and business elites are selling their own people out for the sake of personal gain or an economic and political abstraction called “Europe”.

Understand: I’m not asking you to share those opinions. I am asking — no, I’m telling — you that if you don’t take this kind of thing seriously, you’re going to continue being surprised by what happens politically in this country, and not have the slightest idea how to respond to it effectively.

I have to make a confession here. Maybe you’ve been following the flag controversy at Hampshire College. Here’s a bit of background, from the NYT:

Students at Hampshire had lowered the flag to half-staff on Nov. 9, in a “reaction to the toxic tone of the monthslong election,” the college said in a statement.

The following day, it said, officials decided to allow the flag to remain lowered for a period of time while students and faculty members at the college discussed and confronted “deeply held beliefs about what the flag represents to the members of our campus community.”

Some on campus perceived the flag as “a powerful symbol of fear they’ve felt all their lives because they grew up in marginalized communities, never feeling safe,” the college’s president, Jonathan Lash, said in a statement.

Sometime the evening of Nov. 10 or in the early morning on Nov. 11, the flag was burned, an episode that campus police are still investigating. The flag was immediately replaced, and the college’s board of trustees voted to continue to fly it at half-staff, “to mourn deaths from violence in the U.S. and around the world,” it said in an email.

But within a week Mr. Lash had sent an email announcing that the flag was to be taken down altogether, noting that “some have perceived the action of lowering the flag as a commentary on the results of the presidential election. This, unequivocally, was not our intent.”

He added that there was not a campuswide ban on the flag, as had been mistakenly reported.

Hampshire College is an elite liberal arts college in western Massachusetts.

When I first read that, I was disgusted. These snotty kids and the campus administrators are turning their back on America because they don’t like the results of the election?!

But then I thought about how I would be feeling had things gone the other way. No, I would not have remotely felt that way about the American flag. But for some time now, as I have watched the United States become post-Christian, and over the past few years, as I’ve watched the US Government — including its courts — grow ever more hostile to the Christian faith and Christian moral truth, I too have felt myself losing faith in the ideal of America as a nation. My loyalty to God is more important than my loyalty to America, and if you are any kind of religious believer — Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever — you must feel the same way. You hope and pray you will never be forced to choose between the two, but believers have been compelled to make that choice many times in the history of the world. Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Silence is about such a time in Japanese history.

I would never, ever burn the American flag. It’s repulsive to me. It would feel like burning the clothes of your own father, mother, and ancestors. A good man (or woman) does not burn the American flag. But what about displaying the flag? I can foresee at some point in the future — distant, for now — losing heart for the display of the flag, as a symbol of losing heart in the idea of America. The more hostile the nation (not only its government) becomes to my most sacred beliefs, the less identification I feel with it.

So: after I got over my visceral disgust with the Hampshire College students and faculty, I thought about how I would feel if Hillary Clinton had won, and I had to resign myself to an even more aggressive attack by Washington on the beliefs and expression of people like me, I would have been feeling pretty discouraged about America The Nation. Had I been the president of a small Christian college, I certainly would not have lowered the national standard, and I would have told students who demanded that I do so to go to chapel and pray for the good of the country.

But I would have done so with a heavy heart and a furrowed brow, wondering how long I could do that in good conscience. Thinking about this made me push past my anger at the Hampshire College liberals, and find some empathy. I’m not a Trump fan, but it shouldn’t be hard for those who are, and for conservatives in general, to understand why so many Americans are angry and afraid, and feeling alienated from the nation.

I don’t know what we do about this, to be honest, but I do know that we need to be thinking about it, and acting on it. I’ll tell you what’s been on my mind this week: Amos Pierce.

Amos Pierce is the father of actor Wendell Pierce. I got to know him, a bit, working with Wendell on his 2015 memoir The Wind In The Reeds. Amos is a New Orleans native and a decorated World War II veteran. I blogged about Amos’s patriotism here, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to read the whole thing — or even better (much better!), read The Wind In The Reeds. In this passage from the book, Wendell reaches the end of his father’s saga over the combat medals he had earned in the South Pacific, but which a Fort Hood officer processing his discharge stateside denied Amos, saying that “no nigger could have won” all those medals.

Amos kept that humiliation to himself, and never let the sons he would later have know what America had done to their father, because he was black. Amos raised his boys to be patriots, even though they were born into a segregated America. In this passage, Wendell remembers being at the fights in New Orleans with his dad at some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s, during the heyday of the Black Power movement:

That night at the Municipal Auditorium, the national anthem began to sound over the PA system, signaling that the fights would soon begin. Everyone stood, except some brothers sitting in the next row down from us. They looked up at my father and said, “Aw, Pops, sit down.”

“Don’t touch me, man,” growled my dad.

“Sit down! Sit down!” they kept on.

“Don’t touch me,” he said. “I fought for that flag. You can sit down. I fought for you to have that right. But I fought for that flag too, and I’m going to stand.”

Then one of the brothers leveled his eyes at Daddy, and said, “No, you need to sit down.” He started pulling on my father’s pants leg.

That was it. “You touch me one more time,” my father roared, “and I’m going to kick you in your f—-ng teeth.”

The radical wiseass turned around and minded his own business. That was a demonstration of black power that the brother hadn’t expected.

At some point over the last decade, Wendell found out that his father had been denied medals he earned. He enlisted the help of the local media, and then-US Sen. Mary Landrieu, to get to the bottom of it, and to right that injustice. Once the Defense Department discovered what it — what the nation — owed to Amos Pierce, it set up a medal awards ceremony at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. Wendell takes us there:

[Black veterans] loved the country that persecuted them, and treated them like the enemy. To me, that is a vision of supreme patriotism. It’s like my father always said to my brothers and me, every time we would see a triumph of American ideals: “See, that’s why I fought for that flag!”

Amos Pierce never stopped fighting for that flag, and never stopped loving it, either. On the day he finally received his medals, he said nothing at the formal ceremony, but in the gala afterward, he decided that he wanted to offer a few words to the crowd.

He hobbled over to the microphone, and despite his hearing loss, spoke with ringing clarity.

“I want you all to remember those who didn’t come back, I want to dedicate this night to them,” he said. “So many who fought didn’t even have a chance to live their lives. I was given that chance, as difficult as my life has been.”

Daddy thanked the audience for the honor, saying he was not bitter for having been denied the medals for so long. He was simply grateful to have them now.

“We’ve come so far as a country,” he continued. “I’ve realized now a lot of what we were fighting for.”

And then he paused. It took all of his strength to stand as erect as possible at the podium. He saluted crisply, and said, “God bless America.”

That’s when I lost it. For someone not to be debilitated by pain and anger and embarrassment after all he had been through; who fought for this country when this country didn’t love him and wouldn’t fight for him; to come back from war and still have to fight for the right to vote and the right to go into any establishment he wanted to – that made me think of the vow he made to me as a child: “No matter what, son, I will never abandon you.”

I have never known a greater man than that old soldier on the night he received his due.

I tell you what, I literally have tears in my eyes now, just reading that again. Believe me, you want to read the entire book. Since I first heard that story from Wendell himself, and met his father, who is still alive, but in poor health, I have always countered my own pessimism about America’s future by turning my thoughts to Amos Pierce’s patriotism. That man fought for an America that was extremely unjust to him and his people, and he still kept faith with America even when it gave him reason not to. If Amos Pierce’s faith can overcome what he was made to suffer, what’s my excuse? What’s yours? You know?

America and Americans, both left and right, could use a whole lot of Amos Pierce right now. I know I could. Wendell is a passionate liberal Democrat, and I am … not, but we are united in boundless respect for the great man and American hero Amos C. Pierce. In this time of great division, which so many people, especially our President-elect, seemed determined to exacerbate and exploit, I hope some journalists — broadcast and print — will reach out to Wendell and get him to talk about his Daddy and America. Again: we need it, all of us.

Here’s a PBS Newshour story on Wendell’s work rebuilding his inundated New Orleans neighborhood after Katrina. The whole thing is worth watching, but you can meet Amos Pierce after around the 2:30 mark. If you think about burning the flag, imagine doing so in front of Amos Pierce. If you can still do it, well, you are beyond help. I can’t even imagine lowering it in despair in front of that great American. So he gives me hope. If you despair of America — and most of us have our moments — let Amos Pierce carry the weight for you until you regain your footing. That’s what I try to do:


UPDATE: Great comment from Steve S.:

Excellent post. As a veteran who wore the American flag patch on my shoulder downrange, I have many of the same feelings of anger at those who burn the flag, mostly because I think they do it in a facile way and to signal their hip, against-the-Man virtue. I’ve seen friends and comrades whose coffins have been draped in that flag. Like someone once said on this blog, there is a stench of the Leftie version of “cheap grace” in actions like burning the flag.

That being said, I also get very annoyed by the hyper-jingoism that I often encounter from many on the Right. Cheerleading for endless war, ignoring veterans’ serious needs, failing to account for the bloody debacle of Iraq…all of these are sins of those who would consider themselves loyal patriots who would never burn the flag. But as long as they sing along with Lee Greenwood and fist-pump at F-16 flyovers, then it’s all good. This is just as cheap and insulting as the college kids at Hampshire who want to burn the flag.

I understand that the American flag is a symbol that can be received in different ways. In this way, it is similar to a Crucifix, which for me is a sign of God’s infinite love and self-emptying for us sinners. But I understand that it can signify hostility, pain, and fear for a Jew. As a Christian, it saddens me profoundly that anyone can look upon a Crucifix and feel that way, but I have to respect that powerful symbols like the Crucifix and the American flag can be powerful in good and bad ways.

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View From Your Table

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The reader, an American expatriate living in Serbia, writes:

My brother and I were flying in to HK on Thursday, so our Thanksgiving was on a Friday.)

Attached is a photo of what is for my family as traditional a Thanksgiving meal as it gets: taken from Nepal 21, the restaurant my father’s a partner of. Featured in the photo are the crispy and steamed momocha dumplings: filled with healthy ostrich meat, though otherwise traditionally prepared. That set the tone for the restaurant’s key dishes we then went on to enjoy: Nepalese fried chicken wings picked up by the tips, marinated in Nepalese herbs, so juicy, but fried (in healthy oil), so crunchy on the outside; Nepalese pizza – all dishes that can be found in Nepal but with a twist to suit the contemporary taste for little, healthier snacks. At the table were not only blood relations but very close family friends from other cultures (Chinese and Nepalese). That is how we have celebrated thanksgiving most years as expats: my brother and I spent our childhoods in Hong Kong but now live elsewhere, so this was a really meaningful reunion.

I could write far more about it, even things to do with what it means to be an American expat and how my now liberal father continues to host and gather people from all walks of life of all views at his table – which makes for such interesting conversation and in many ways might also be a component of the Benedict Option, but this text already looks too long!

Maybe it’s too long for a VFYT, but I would love to read your thoughts, and to publish them here. So send me (us) a longer e-mail when you have time.

Salem County, New Jersey

Salem County, New Jersey

The reader writes:

Home roasted Costa Rican coffee (exhibiting polar opposite styles of accoutrementation) stays warm while we try to do the same around the wood stove.

Ah, late autumn. Meanwhile, here in Baton Rouge, it’s hot and steamy today.

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Watching The Professors

The New York Times has a story about a website called Professor Watchlist, deemed by the Times as “seen as a threat to academic freedom.” It’s not hard to see why. Excerpts from the story:

A new website that accuses nearly 200 college professors of advancing “leftist propaganda in the classroom” and discriminating against conservative students has been criticized as a threat to academic freedom.

The site, Professor Watchlist, which first appeared last Monday, says it names those instructors who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

“We aim to post professors who have records of targeting students for their viewpoints, forcing students to adopt a certain perspective, and/or abuse or harm students in any way for standing up for their beliefs,” wrote Matt Lamb, an organizer of the site.

The Professor Watchlist is a project of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit organization that says its mission is to educate students about “true free market values.” Charlie Kirk, its founder and executive director, wrote in a blog post that “it’s no secret that some of America’s college professors are totally out of line” and that it was time to expose them.

But Julio C. Pino, an associate professor of history at Kent State University in Ohio who is among those named on the site, said in an interview, “What we are seeing with this site is a kind of normalizing of prosecuting professors, shaming professors, defaming professors.”

“The broader issue it raises is: What kind of country is America going to become in the next four years?” he added.

If I were a university professor, I would be thinking, “Oh good grief. It’s not enough that I have to deal with the snowflakes in class who are policing my lectures and classroom discourse for microaggressions, but now I have to worry about right-wing informers reporting me to a website? Who needs that?”

Then I had a look at the site. It describes itself as follows:

This website is an aggregated list of pre-existing news stories that were published by a variety of news organizations throughout the past few years. While we accept tips for new additions on our website, we only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else.

TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish; however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.

Note that they’re not publishing anonymous allegations, only aggregating things that have been reported elsewhere. The question is, were these things reported by reputable journalistic outlets? Can they be believed? I went to the site’s page for Julio C. Pino, quoted in the Times story. Its description:

Dr. Julio Cesar Pino, an Associate Professor at Kent State University faced investigation by the FBI for connections to ISIS. He is strongly anti-Israel and calls Israel the “spiritual heir to Nazism”. According to Campus Reform, a 2002 eulogy Pino wrote in a campus newspaper praising Palestinian terrorist Ayat al-Akras” gained widespread attention.


Follow the link, and you’ll learn a lot about Pino. Here’s an even better link to a different Campus Reform report about him.  Excerpt:

Julio C. Pino, who teaches in the school’s history department, has been the target of other investigations in the past. In 2007, the school launched an ongoing investigation after Pino posted on a Jihadist blog. The investigation allegedly concluded in 2009 after Pino was visited at his home by U.S. Secret Service agents.

Early on in his tenure, Pino wrote a eulogy in a school newspaper praising Palestinian terrorist Ayat al-Akras who murdered two Israelis in a suicide bombing. At the time, a fellow professor interpreted the eulogy as a call to arms and urged the university to fire Pino.

Another professor said he often sees Pino wearing military camouflage around campus but dismisses any suspicions by calling it a “fashion statement.”

Pino came back into the spotlight in 2011 after he interrupted a student event featuring Arab-Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi with shouts of “death to Israel!” Pino stood up in the middle of Khaldi’s presentation and said “your government killed people.” He proceeded to call Khaldi a liar before he stormed out of the room. Then-university President Lester Lefton condemned Pino’s actions as “reprehensible” and an “embarrassment to [the] university.”

A few years after his on-campus outburst, Pino published an open letter to his Israeli academic peers blaming them for the murder of Palestinian children and called the Israeli government the rightful heir to Nazism. “You have chosen to openly work for and brag about academic collaboration with a regime that is the spiritual heir to Nazism,” Pino wrote in his letter. He concluded the letter with calls for a jihad, saying “hasta la victoria siempre” and “jihad until victory!”

Pino told he stands by every word of his original statement.

On Tuesday, the FBI confirmed its investigation after Special Agent Donna Cambeiro told the Record Courier it is “conducting an ongoing investigation.” She declined to offer any further comment. KSU spokesman Eric Mansfield said “Kent State is fully cooperating with the FBI” and assured faculty and students there is no threat to campus.

Student reporters on campus sat down with Pino for an interview on Tuesday after hearing about his alleged ties to the Islamic State. During the interview, Pino denied involvement with the Islamic State and said he is not aware of any investigation.

“I’ve not broken the law,” he said. “I don’t advocate anyone else break the law, so I’ll stand by that statement that I fulfill my duties as an American citizen by speaking out on issues that some people find controversial, of course, but no, I have not violated any laws that I’m aware of or than anyone has informed me of.”

As part of the FBI investigation, several of Pino’s colleagues and students were questioned. Among them was Emily Mills, editor-in-chief of the Kent Stater student newspaper, who said she was asked about what students think of Pino. He is “really, really open about his views and what he believes,” she said.

The FBI investigation was revealed back in January of this year.

What on earth is wrong with publicizing this information about Pino? These aren’t anonymous allegations; they’re based on the public record, including Pino’s own statements. If I were a Kent State student — or a parent of a Kent State student — I would very much want to know what kind of classroom Pino runs. I see nothing wrong with this website aggregating credible information.

I picked another professor at random. Here’s what the site says about Joseph Schwartz:

Joseph Schwartz, professor of Political Science at Temple University, took over a College Republican discussion with a representative from Pennsylvania Right to Work Defense and Education Foundation. He and some of his students, insulted the speaker and accused him of racism. Schwartz then exclaimed, “Oh come on, f*****g a–. I believe in the religion of foul language.”


If you follow the link, you’ll go to a column about the incident by Todd Starnes, a controversial figure in conservative culture-war opinion journalism. I don’t follow his work, but conservative Evangelical friends of mine who do, and who are generally sympathetic to his point of view, have told me they always double-check allegations he floats before believing them. In this case, Starnes posts an actual video of the confrontation, and Schwartz did exactly what his critics say he did — and there’s proof.

One more, chosen at random:

Dr. Brittney Cooper is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University. Cooper stated that white racism is to blame for Brexit. She tweeted “White nationalism gone be the death of all of us. #Brexit” and went on to say “The only thing I know that makes white folks vote against their own economic interest is racism. #Brexit.” In another interview to Salon she stated that white people need to start recognizing that they are “the face of the oppressor.” Cooper has also stated that Christian conservatives worship a “white supremacist Jesus.”


Again, follow the link, which simply quotes choice bits from Cooper’s essay reacting to the state of Indiana’s passage of a RFRA. Here are excerpts from that essay. Remember, these are Cooper’s own words:

And given our current anti-Black racial climate, there is no reason to trust that these laws won’t be eventually used for acts of racially inflected religious discrimination, perhaps against Black Muslims or Muslims of Arab descent, for instance. Surely this kind of law in this political climate sanctions the exercise of Islamophobia.

As a practicing Christian, I am deeply incensed by these calls for restoration and reclamation in the name of religious freedom. This kind of legislation is largely driven by conservative Christian men and women, who hold political views that are antagonistic to every single group of people who are not white, male, Christian, cisgender, straight and middle-class. Jesus, a brown, working-class, Jew, doesn’t even meet all the qualifications.


This is why I identify with the story of Jesus. And frankly, it is the only story there really is. This white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, gun-toting, Bible-quoting Jesus of the religious right is a god of their own making. I call this god, the god of white supremacy and patriarchy. There is nothing about their god that speaks to me as a Black woman of working-class background living in a country where police routinely murder black men and beat the hell out of black women, where the rich get richer while politicians find ever more reasons to extract from the poor, and where the lives the church imagines for women still center around marriage and motherhood, and no sex if you’re single.

This God isn’t the God that I serve. There is nothing holy, loving, righteous, inclusive, liberatory or theologically sound about him. He might be “biblical” but he’s also an asshole.

The Jesus I know, love, talk about and choose to retain was a radical, freedom-loving, justice-seeking, potentially queer (because he was either asexual or a priest married to a prostitute), feminist healer, unimpressed by scripture-quoters and religious law-keepers,  seduced neither by power nor evil.

That’s the story I choose to reflect on this Holy Week.

Clearly, Brittney Cooper is a crackpot. Nobody made this stuff up about her. She wrote it herself! And yes, it is relevant to Rutgers students, parents of Rutgers students, and Rutgers alumni.

Professor Watchlist clearly needs to be edited more professionally. For example, it ought to link to original sources when possible, not to other aggregators. But based on the entries I looked at, the problem left-wing critics have with the site is not that it makes things up, but that it holds left-wing professors publicly accountable for their words and deeds.

Today on TAC’s site, I wrote about a creative writing professor at Sweet Briar College who decided to toss her lesson plan on the day after the presidential election and harangue her students into admitting that they voted for Donald Trump, and, having received this admission from some of them, proceeded to berate them for their thoughtcrime. I don’t know this because a classroom spy made spurious allegations. I know this because the professor wrote about it herself in a sympathetic magazine, praising her own “honesty,” and calling on other professors to do the same thing during the Trump administration.

Again: parents, students, and alumni of Sweet Briar College should know that this is what passes for pedagogy in Prof. Nell Boeschenstein’s classroom. If Professor Watchlist puts her on its site, I hope its editors won’t only link to my blog entry about her, but to Boeschenstein’s own article in Guernica magazine.  It makes the claims more credible.

Of course you knew this was coming:


In what sense is it “McCarthyism” to draw attention to the professors’ own words and deeds? For people like this, a “McCarthyite” is someone who simply notices what left-wing professors say and do, and says, “Hey, look at this.”

The fact that Professor Watchlist exists, and that there is an actual need for it, is evidence of a profound institutional failure, and a failure of trust. Prof. Stanley Fish, who is nobody’s idea of a conservative, writing critically about Nell Boeschenstein’s nonsense at Sweet Briar, said:

Boeschenstein knows that her performance that day goes against the “general rule of thumb for us teachers… not to say what is right or what is wrong, but to teach our students to think critically.” But she invokes the “these-are-not-ordinary-times” rationale and regrets only that she hadn’t set aside “test preparation and dates to memorize and topic sentences to hone” earlier: “Had I been brave enough to start this conversation in September, I wonder whether some of my Trump-supporting students might have chosen otherwise at the ballot box on Tuesday.” That is to say, had I engaged in political indoctrination from the beginning of the semester instead of merely doing my job, my students might have done the right thing on November 8. The rest of us, however, can learn from her failure to act in time and take up the real work ― of saving the world from Donald Trump — right away: “Don’t defer the conversation any longer. If we do, more bucks will be bound for our desks that we cannot afford to watch pile up”.

And people wonder why so many take a dim view of what goes on in our college classrooms.

I am made queasy by a site like Professor Watchlist, but when academia has lost the ability to police itself, allowing ideological fervor to abrogate a basic commitment to professional standards, then it should not be surprised when the public it serves is no longer willing to trust it. Nell Boeschenstein ought to be professionally reprimanded for her behavior in the classroom that day. If the academy were working as it ought to, she wouldn’t have felt free to abandon her post that day and spend it picking on her students. And she would have been ashamed of having done so, instead of being so proud of it that she wrote in praise of herself in a magazine.

Again: if there are instances of such gross failure on the part of individual academics to abide by basic standards, and a failure of the culture of academia to form the minds of professors in these standards, then they have no right to be surprised when people lose trust in their authority. In my education, the four best professors I ever had were men of the political left. I knew that. But they were not crusaders, or ideologues; they were teachers of moral and intellectual integrity, who challenged us students to think, and taught us how to do so.

I remember how shocked I was as a fired-up campus leftist in my first semester of college, and in a rhetorical composition class, turning in a paper filled with praise for the Sandinistas. I liked the professor a lot, and knew that he was a left-wing activist. Man, he gave me a low grade for that paper, and let me have it, saying it was nothing but cant and groundless appeals to emotion. I was blown away! I knew that he probably agreed with my conclusions, but he analyzed my paper as a piece of rhetoric, and tore me to bits. It was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned as a young writer. He retired a long time ago. I looked him up online, and sure enough, he’s now living in a part of America so blue that it’s indigo, and is engaged in full-time left-wing activism. It probably would not please him to know that he had had so much influence on the development of a conservative writer, but I hope that he would be proud of what he taught me about intellectual integrity. I would trust my own kids to a college full of professors like that, because a teacher like that is trustworthy.

These other ones? Not so much.

Think of Professor Watchlist as a version of That website — that invaluable website — arose as a collaborative project by Catholic laymen and laywomen who had lost trust in the Catholic hierarchy’s ability to police its own ranks, and even to tell the truth about what was going on inside the priesthood. has a tremendous database, culled from media and court records, detailing accusations of clerical sex abuse and episcopal cover-ups and mismanagement of the crisis. It is not a site devoted to the theological wars within American Catholicism. It only exists as a resource for people who want to know what information is publicly available about particular priests and bishops.

That has to exist at all is a disgrace. But the disgrace does not belong to

I know, I know, clerical sex crimes and their coverup is not on the same moral or legal plane as fatmouthing left-wing professors. The point is that both websites are grassroots responses to a serious problem within bedrock institutions of civil society, problems that compromise the ability of those institutions to perform their necessary function. Professors who end up on Professor Watchlist may — may — by their public words and actions have forfeited the expectation of trust by students, their parents, and the wider community. You want to take a class from Prof. Brittney Cooper at Rutgers, or is your kid signed up for one of her classes? You may not be a reader of, but thanks to Professor Watchlist and other campus watchdog sites, you have direct evidence that she’s a racist crackpot. Let the buyer beware.

Finally, you might remember last year the online clash I had with Katie Grimes, a young Catholic theologian at Villanova who, on the basis of her own published work, despises the Catholic Church as a spiritual charnel house of homophobia and white supremacy. You think I’m kidding? Read here. Note that left-wing Catholic critics blasted me not for telling lies about Katie Grimes, but about drawing negative attention to her actual written work. This, even though Villanova University trusts her to teach Catholic theology to its students.

It’s fraud, straight up. And it’s about time those perpetuating the frauds got called on it. This stuff matters, too. As one of my readers said last year:

I watched in horror at what a top-flight humanities grad program did to my sister. She went in a lively, driven, extreme talent with original thoughts. I was so excited that she got into the program. Now she just sees Dead White Zombies on every street corner, feels compelled to deconstruct the oppressive subtexts of hardware stores and ice cream, and is ONLY friends with people who consider themselves revolutionary academics because they use the c-word on Tumblr as a performative rebellion against whatever social poltergeist that they proxy for their daddy-rage. Not to mention the only job she can find is bagging groceries, is more depressed than I’ve ever known her, and “can’t” bring herself to talk to her priest, because her little tribe has turned her against him.

So Katie Grimes isn’t the problem, she’s the product of the problem.

It’s not that these professors are ashamed of what they’re doing. It’s that they don’t want the common people to know about it. It’s easier to read Professor Watchlist and shout “McCarthyism!” than it is to defend the garbage it documents. But shouting “McCarthyite!” works about as well as shouting “Racist! Homophobe! Islamophobe!” Those epithets have lost their meaning, because they aren’t intended to describe, but to silence dissent and legitimate inquiry.

Professor Watchlist isn’t the problem. It’s the product of the problem. Put another way, I’m glad the site is there, but the existence of Professor Watchlist is a testimony to a profound breakdown of trust within American society. That is the main story. How we repair that, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. Got any ideas? Let’s hear them. I’m talking about real ideas, not the frantic suggestion that if we just call the Professor Watchlist people enough names, the serious problem they document will cease to be a problem at all.

UPDATE: Wise words from the editors of Heterodox Academy (thanks, reader, for tipping me off):

Turning Point USA has a constitutionally protected right to publicize and criticize the words and actions of professors that it finds offensive. But we think that this project will only exacerbate a problem we are trying to address at Heterodox Academy: professors and students are increasingly afraid of voicing and debating opinions in the classroom. For this reason, we–the executive committee of Heterodox Academy–believe that Professor Watchlist is pernicious and misguided. We expect it to have the same speech-chilling effects as do many of the “Bias Response Teams” that are being implemented nationwide, which encourage students to report professors and fellow students for anything—including sincerely expressed opinions—that they interpret or misinterpret as offensive.

We call on everyone who is concerned about the state of higher education to stop devising ways that members of an academic community can report or punish each other for classroom speech.

Whether the reporting is done to a campus authority, setting in motion weeks of time-draining bureaucratic procedure that is often far removed from common sense, or whether the reporting is done to the Internet at large, triggering public shaming campaigns and a cascade of threatening tweets and emails, such reporting systems encourage everyone to walk on eggshells. This kind of fearful climate deprives everyone of the vigorous debate and disagreement that is essential for learning and scholarship.

Serious question: I don’t want to know if my kid’s professor is a leftie. Who cares? I do want to know if my kid’s professor has been known to behave in ways that grossly betray academic standards. Again, this is what happens when you have a severe breakdown of trust in authority.

UPDATE.2: A good comment from a reader:

I had one of the professors on the list, Mark Tushnet. He is so honored because he wrote, in a pre-election blog post, that the winners of the culture wars should take a hard line with the losers. This has been reduced, as is the way of the internets, to saying that Christians should be treated like Nazis.

While his personal politics was hardly a campus secret, and he was relatively open about his own jurisprudential philosophy, in my two classes with him he taught the material. He engaged students on the merits. He challenged our thinking on all sides of the issues. Never did he berate anyone for expressing an ideological disagreement.

If the point of Professor Watchlist is to avoid professors of the Nell Boeschenstein variety, that’s understandable. That’s not why anyone goes to college. But Mark Tushnet? Nothing in my experience qualifies him for such a list, unless the whole point is to avoid/call out people whose views–rather than behavior–its creators disagree with.

Jon Haidt said in a comment that people should lay off professors for what they say outside of class. Generally, I agree, but Nell Boeschenstein acted unprofessionally and ideologically in class, then wrote a piece about it, praising her own righteousness and encouraging other professors to do the same. How should we regard that?

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