Rod Dreher

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A Country’s Slow Suicide

The late dictator Hugo Chavez murdered his own country (Vitoriano Junior/Shutterstock)
The late dictator Hugo Chavez murdered his own country (Vitoriano Junior/Shutterstock)

This reflection by Joel Hirst on Venezuela’s agony under socialism has been making the rounds. Excerpt:

I never expected to witness the slow suicide of a country, a civilization. I suppose nobody does.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing epic about it. We who have the privilege of travel often look down in satisfaction at the ruins of ancient Greece; the Parthenon lit up in blues and greens. The acropolis. The Colosseum in Rome. We walk through the dusty streets of Timbuktu and gaze in wonder at the old mud mosques as we reflect on when these places had energy and purpose. They are not sad musings, for those of us who are tourists. Time has polished over the disaster. Now all that is left are great old buildings that tell a story of when things were remarkable – not of how they quietly fell away. “There was no reason, not really,” we tell each other as we disembark our air-conditioned buses. “These things just happen. Nothing is forever; and nobody is at fault. It’s just the way of the world,” our plastic wine glass in hand. Time ebbs and flows, slowly wearing away the foundations of a civilization until it collapses in upon itself – at least that’s what we say to comfort ourselves. There’s nothing to do about it. These things can’t be stopped. They just are.

This is what people will say in a hundred years, a thousand years about Caracas, Venezuela. Or Maracay, or Valencia, or Maracaibo. Those great sweltering South American cities with their malls and super-highways and skyscrapers and colossal stadiums. When the archeologists of the future dredge the waters of the Caribbean and find the remains of sunken boats; putting them on display in futuristic museums to tell of the time when this place had hosted a civilization. Ruins of great malls filled with water and crocodiles – maybe the ancient anaconda will have retaken their valleys; maybe the giant rats that wander the plains will have made their abodes in the once-opulent homes of the oligarchs – covering the tiles and marble with their excrement. “There was nothing that could have been done,” the futuristic tourists will also say. “The country declined – and vanished – it’s the way things go.”

We tourists are wrong.

Read the whole thing.  This was not an accident of fate or of nature. This was because of Hugo Chavez’s socialist dictatorship. More on that here. It has also been reported that Chavez’s daughter has $4 billion stashed away in foreign bank accounts, and other Chavez intimates have even more.

This is a reminder that no matter how badly screwed up our capitalist system is, it could always be worse. Much worse. I mean, it takes real skill to destroy the country with the world’s biggest oil reserves. But Chavismo has done it.

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Orthodoxy Is Hard. Thank God

Father Matthew and Baby Irene, at the parish's post-Pascha picnic
Father Matthew and Baby Irene, at the parish's post-Pascha picnic

Around our house this morning, we are still trying to recombobulate ourselves after Orthodox Holy Week. Not every Orthodox parish offers the full range of Holy Week services — ours doesn’t, because we are so small — but if you went to all the services our parish did offer (11 services in seven days, if you count Palm Sunday), you would have been in church for over 20 hours. And if you were in the choir, as my wife and the priest’s wife are, you would have had to have been there at each and every service, standing, singing virtually the entire service. And, of course, if you were the priest, you would have been there too, censing, chanting, consecrating, and so forth.

The Orthodox tradition requires an all-night vigil at the symbolic Tomb of Christ from the last service of Good Friday until the first service of Pascha, stopping only during the Holy Saturday liturgy. During the vigil, at least one person is present reciting the Psalter at all times. Because we are so tiny, our parish, and because the Drehers live closer to the church than anybody else, I take the greater part of the overnight shift. I sat in the darkness of the church reading the Psalms aloud from 1 am till 6 am. I can tell you that it takes five hours precisely to recite all 150 Psalms.

And then there’s the Paschal liturgy, which begins in our parish at 11:30, and doesn’t end until around two in the morning, after which we all retire to the parish hall (= a room attached to the narthex) to break the Lenten fast together. And then it’s back in church at 3pm the next day for a short service called Agape vespers, followed by a parish barbecue at the home of a parish family.

Christ is risen -- and he brought back pulled pork with him!

Christ is risen — and he brought back pulled pork with him!

Last night at the barbecue, my friend Chris and I were talking about how exhausting it all is, but how we wouldn’t trade it for anything. “It’s like Navy SEAL training,” said Chris. I smiled, because I had made that same comparison in an e-mail to a friend the day before. This is Church as training for spiritual athletes. Mind you, monks, both Orthodox and traditional Catholic, have a far more rigorous schedule, but for lay Christians, there is simply nothing as demanding as ordinary Orthodox liturgical life during Lent and Holy Week.

Believe me, I don’t say that as a boast. It is hard to keep yourself engaged when these services go on and on. When I was first Orthodox, I didn’t go but to a handful of them, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. I confess that I didn’t really catch on until we established our mission parish here in St. Francisville, and suddenly had to be at everything, absent a good excuse, because when you are as small as we are (four or five families), it’s All Hands On Deck. The word “liturgy” derives from the Greek compound word leitourgos, which means one who does a public duty. In the past three years of participating in a full Orthodox liturgical life in a parish, I have come to appreciate the work of the liturgy, in terms of what it tears down inside of me, and what it builds up.

It’s not that you are earning grace by participating in the liturgy. That is theologically impossible; grace isn’t earned, it’s given by God. What fasting, prayer, and liturgical worship does for those who engage in it with full hearts is to remove barriers to the experience of God’s transforming grace. For the Orthodox Christian, Lent, and especially Holy Week (the days after Lent, preceding Pascha), are a spiritually and physically intense time of repentance and preparation. It involves all your soul and body. Again, nobody’s holding a gun to your head and making you come, but if you do come, and give yourself over to the services, they will wear you out, but also build you up in ways you might never have thought possible.

Standing in the long Paschal liturgy the other night, I was listening to the choir narrate in chant the events that took place after the Resurrection. This is not something they do freelance; this is the same story they tell in the same way every year. It occurred to me that this is exactly what the social anthropologist Paul Connerton says that societies who hold on to their stories successfully do: re-present them ritually, as sacred events, involving the body. Connerton:

What, then, is being remembered in commemorative ceremonies? Part of the answer is that a community is reminded of its identity as represented by and told in a master narrative. This is a collective variant of what I earlier called personal memory; that is to say a making sense of the past as a kind of collective autobiography, with some explicitly cognitive components. But rituals are not just further instances of humanity’s now much touted propensity to explain the world to itself by telling stories. A ritual is not a journal or a memoir. Its master narrative is more than a story told and reflected on; it is a cult enacted. An image of the past, even in the form of a master narrative, is conveyed and sustained by ritual performances. And this means that what is remembered in commemorative ceremonies is something in addition to a collectively organised variant of personal and cognitive memory. For if the ceremonies are to work for their participants, if they are to be persuasive to them, then those participants must be not simply cognitively competent to execute the performance: they must be habituated to those performances. This habituation is to be found … in the bodily substrate of the performance.

The prostration, the endless crossing of one’s breast, the kissing of icons, the lengthy reading of Scripture and chanting of Psalms, and so forth — it’s all part of it. It sediments itself into your bones.

Last night at the picnic, my friend and I, bought of us exhausted but happy, reflected on how we simply could not imagine being anything but Orthodox now. Once you’ve tasted wine this heady, it’s hard to be satisfied with anything else. And you know, it’s strange how that works. I don’t know of any form of Christianity in America that is more demanding on its adherents than Orthodoxy … and that is why it succeeds! If by “success” one means forming Christians. That probably also has a lot to do why it is not terribly successful (yet) at attracting large numbers of American converts: because this is not a faith for casual Christians. It is a Christianity that demands your whole self. But from my experience, and the experience of my parishioners (because they have said this in my presence), those who are willing to lose their own ordinary American lives to the demands of Orthodox Christianity will gain far more than they can imagine from the outside.

(And the moment you feel tempted to be proud of yourself for all that fasting and churchgoing is the moment your Orthodox conscience will say: “Stop it; this is about to become a matter of sin.”)

If I had known how difficult it was going to be, I don’t know that I would have become Orthodox. Well, yes, I probably would have, but it would have been with a lot more fear and trembling. Then again, no priest or congregation ever made me do more than I could handle. If you’re in an American convert parish, chances are the priest knows how different this is from the Christianity in which you were raised, and he will advise you to take it easy until you habituate yourself. The fasts and the churchgoing that you will be doing years from now, after you’ve been in training (so to speak), will be more intense than what you, as a beginner, will likely be able to manage. That’s okay. We are all on a journey. The practices of the Church don’t exist for themselves, but for the sake of our ongoing conversion. The thing is, the Orthodox life, if it is working like it’s supposed to work, will not let you be satisfied with doing “enough.” It is not a swimming pool; it is an ocean, and it calls you farther into the deep with each passing year.

Orthodoxy is many things, but this year, it occurs to me that it is a form of Christianity for Christians who want to lay the groundwork within themselves and within their families and communities for endurance.


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No-Platforming Neofascists

While Latinos rioted outside the Trump rally, these Orange County Trump backers enjoyed themselves (mikeledray /
While Latinos rioted outside the Trump rally, these Orange County Trump backers enjoyed themselves (mikeledray /

What’s the matter with California? I was shocked last week to see the Latino mob riot outside a Donald Trump rally in Orange County, destroying a police car.  Excerpt from the LA Times:

“I’m protesting because I want equal rights for everybody, and I want peaceful protest,” said 19-year-old Daniel Lujan, one of hundreds in a crowd that appeared to be mostly Latinos in their late teens and 20s.

“I knew this was going to happen,” Lujan added. “It was going to be a riot. He deserves what he gets.”

And another anti-Trump mob attacked the hotel where the state GOP convention was located, hurling eggs, shouting filth, and holding up signs with messages so disgusting the CNN reporter covering it live had to apologize to viewers. From the San Francisco Examiner account:

“We’re here today because we feel like Donald Trump has misused his media and political platform to spread hate and violence and we won’t stand for that here in the Bay,” said Deidre Smith of the Blackout Collective. “Communities of color need our vote to be respected and we need our basic humanity to be honored.”

Cat Brooks with the Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project said that while she deplored Trump’s views, she appreciated that he had helped demonstrate that the United States is not, in fact, a post-racial society, as was sometimes claimed after President Barack Obama’s election.

“He has exposed what we have always known is alive and here in America, and that is a deeply anti-black sentiment,” Brooks said.

Wait … what? I can understand why Muslims and Latinos have a big problem with Trump, but what has he said to antagonize blacks? Anyway, peaceful protest is all-American, but this coalition of Social Justice Warriors from the Bay Area set out to deny Trump the right to speak at the GOP event.

Left-wing, anti-speech activism is apparently a thing in the Bay Area. Last month, when the mayor of Jerusalem arrived at San Francisco State University to give a planned speech, a mob of pro-Palestinian activists shut him down (video here).

Aaron Parker was there to hear the mayor speak. He writes, in part:

Today I witnessed something I’m still shaking from. The Mayor of Jerusalem came to San Francisco, and I attended his planned speech at San Francisco State University, where he was prevented from speaking in a high profile public humiliation of Israel and the Jewish community.  The media are reporting he was shouted down by protestors, which makes for a nice headline, but it isn’t the real story.  The real story is the university’s decision to let it happen.

Mayor Barkat’s visit was planned.  University administrators expected both him and the disruptors, who reliably attend all Israeli speaking events here.  The university police were sent in.  But, in a decision that should deeply disturb all who value a civil society, and one that I as a Jew find profoundly demoralizing, the police were instructed not to remove the disruptors and instead to stand by and watch the event be completely shut down.

Please let that sink in. Public university administrators and police stood and watched as the Mayor of Jerusalem, the Jewish student organization that sponsored him, and all of us in attendance, were permanently bullied off the stage.  Officers with guns, and the power that comes from the barrels of those guns, were instructed to stand, watch, and do nothing, as freedom of speech was replaced with a policy of whoever shouts the loudest wins, at least when it comes to shouting down a visiting Israeli dignitary. Those whom we thought were there to protect us and restore order, stood, watched, and did nothing.

Last month, California’s Loyola Marymount University suspended a 15-year employee over accusations that she advocated Catholic doctrine to SJW students. According to the College Fix:

It’s uncommon at Jesuit universities these days for someone to openly share a traditional Catholic viewpoint.

When it happened at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the school was so spooked it called the Los Angeles Police Department.

Both the police and the university’s Bias Incident Response Team are investigating the stated belief that only two genders exist, male and female, as a hate crime.

A Loyola alumni office employee discussed her views on sexual orientation, which align with the Roman Catholic Church, with three students who were hanging up posters on the subject on April 14.

Cosette Carleo, one of the students involved, told The College Fix in a phone interview that the hate crime under investigation is “denying transgenderism.”

Carleo’s account agrees in part with an email by the husband of the employee with whom she tangled.

The employee told Carleo, who identifies as gender-neutral, that only two genders exist, male and female, according to the student. Carleo told The Fix that statement was the hate crime.

Carleo responded that “you can have your opinion” as long as it doesn’t “deny my existence.”


According to an e-mail sent to California Catholic Daily by the employee’s husband:

Yesterday (Thursday) my wife came home from work very excited and happy about a conversation she had with a couple of students at work. She has worked at Loyola Marymount for the last 15 years in the Alumni department. The students were placing signs along the walkway of the University promoting among other things, “PanSexuality”, meaning any and all sexual preferences. These girls were member of the LGBTQ group at LMU. LMU still calls itself a Jesuit Catholic University.

At the time my wife was talking to alum, who thankfully heard the entire exchange. After determining they had permission to post the signs, the group engaged in a what my wife thought was a very good dialogue of ideas and opinions. The girls were posting signs promoting the various sexual activities and orientations of the LGBTQ. My wife is Catholic and a strong supporter of the Church, marriage and family, and Catholic morality. Of particular focus was the girls promotion of what they label “PanSexual” i.e. someone who participates (or prefers) every kind of sexual encounter. One of the girls identified herself as lesbian and accused my wife of not loving women. My wife pointed out she was called to love everyone, including the girls. She said she found the whole sexual labeling thing was causing confusion especially in the youth whose sexuality is still malleable. The girls agreed with my wife that they too disagreed with the ideas behind Pan-sexuality, claiming they wanted monogamy, but wanted to give it a label so people could identify themselves. My wife pointed out that this was promotion of these lifestyles not just labeling and this was offensive to her heart. It was lovingly expression of disagreement, and a legitimate exchange of ideas and reasons, with my wife defending the Truths of the Church, and listening with love to these girls ideas.

The next day, the campus newspaper published a story about a “hate crime” committed on campus: this conversation. Excerpts:

The Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) met and released a statement on April 15, notifying the LMU community that BIRT, along with Public Safety and the Los Angeles Police Department, is looking into the events of April 14 as reported by the three students. BIRT also clarified that the investigation will continue as two separate incidents, the first being the removal of the LGBT signs and the second being the employee and students’ confrontation. 

“The University stands behind its statement of non-discrimination, which prohibits unwelcome, harassing conduct on the basis of several classifications, including gender identity and sexual orientation.” said John Kiralla, the executive director of marketing and communications and BIRT member, on April 14, before BIRT had met. 

The campus newspaper editorialized against the employee, even though it has not yet been determined what was actually said in the exchange. Excerpt:

According to senior management major Cosette Carleo, the students engaged the employee in a conversation and said employee replied hatefully. Carleo added that the employee denied the existence of transgender and gender neutral people, and insisted that heterosexuality is the only truth. “She did not respect the equal dignity that all humans should receive, especially those who are already marginalized,” Carleo explained in an email to the Loyolan.

This is not the first hate crime directed at the LGBTQ+ community at LMU. In February, a professor in the theology department was described to have made derogatory comments about transsexuals, causing a trans student to feel unsafe. This professor is still employed at LMU, while the student was placed in independent study.

In a press release, the LGBTQ+ students of LMU explained that they feel isolated, afraid to come out and unsafe. No student should have to feel unsafe on their own campus because of their gender or sexuality.

This is pathetic. For one thing, the editorialist accepts what the students claim without question, even though the students are activists. Second, even if the conversation was exactly as the activists say, the editorialists accepts that this difference of opinion is a “hate crime.” And third, what counts as “derogatory” comments? The fact that a trans student feels “unsafe” — that’s enough to call something “derogatory”? I searched the newspaper’s website for a report of this incident, but found nothing. We are not told what the comment is. It’s simply assumed that because a student felt “unsafe,” that the bias allegation is valid.

What an insane place that Jesuit university must be for actual Catholics, or actual non-leftists.

The insanity is not confined to California, obviously. A professor at a Catholic college in another state tells me that he would not feel safe presenting official Catholic teaching about human sexuality, including homosexuality, in his classroom because he would almost certainly be accused of making derogatory and bigoted remarks about LGBT students — this, even if he gave a neutral description of what the Church teaches. All it takes is for a gay student to say that he or she “feels unsafe,” and the faculty member is considered a thought criminal until proven innocent.

Still, seeing what happened last week at the two Trump events in California makes me wonder if there’s something particularly extreme about the state’s political culture. I am far from a fan of Donald Trump, and I fully support the right to protest him. But riots and violent protests? Imagine if white Trump supporters rioted in an attempt to shut down a Hillary Clinton rally, and tore down police barricades in an attempt to get into a hotel where she was speaking, to shut down her speech? The news media would be in crisis mode, and I wouldn’t blame them, actually: a country in which a candidate running for president has to fear for his and his supporters’ safety at a political rally is a country that is in trouble.

But hey, no big deal as far as our media are concerned. Just like the radically illiberal culture on many American campuses, where SJWs no-platform speakers they don’t like all the time, has not bothered the media overmuch. They don’t seem to mind mobs and thugs running roughshod over basic civil liberties, as long as those mobs and thugs are on the political and cultural left.


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Targeting Target

'Come on in, hetero pervs, the toilets are fine' (Northfoto /
'Come on in, hetero pervs, the toilets are fine' (Northfoto /

Andy Park, a gay Florida man, walked into a Target store to test its new bathroom policies. He said he was dressed like a male (you can’t see him in the clip), and had two days of beard stubble. He asks the store’s manager if he can use the women’s room. The manager says sure, and if any women have a problem with that, the store will speak to them about it. Read a news story about it here — with dialogue from the clip — and Target’s response, standing by its policy.

Park says in the video (which I saw) that he’s not targeting (ahem) transgenders, but rather “macho heterosexuals who will use this policy to walk in to women’s rooms and commit crimes.” The video went viral the other day, but Park took it down from his YouTube account after a lawyer told him that it might have been illegal to have recorded it with a hidden camera. Still, Target did not deny that it was real.

So Target, for the sake of virtue signaling and political correctness, has turned the door open for heterosexual perverts to harass women trying to use the bathroom. What contempt Target has for the safety and comfort of its female customers. I hope they return the favor.

Meanwhile, I received this letter over the weekend from a reader in New York City. I publish it with her permission:

I’ve been reading your thoughts on the whole transgender debacle this year and notice that in your threads and the comments it’s all been theoretical for you and your readers, including me. Until today.

My 14 year-old daughter is on a swim team with the NYC parks department where she practices at one of the public indoor pools. She is one of the older kids, with the youngest teammate a 7 year old. Today she informed us that just as she finished getting dressed after practice, a middle-aged man came out of the showers. He had a towel on so she couldn’t confirm if any surgery had been done (now there’s a conversation I never thought I’d be having with my kid) but besides his very large, breast-less male body type, bald head and mens’ shoes he was putting on, there was no question in her mind that he was a man. And she observed that the younger girls (remember, one’s a 7 year old girl) were staring with concerned expressions.

Everyone keeps going on about school bathrooms where kids are all the same age and how it should be no big deal. Have any of the politicians considered this particular scenario? Are the De Blasios and Clintons of the world going to be able to assure parents that their children will be safe in public locker rooms now? Is Mitchell Silver, the commissioner of the Parks Department, confident that a 7 year-old girl will not be adversely affected by the sight of a naked male stranger while she, too, stands naked and at her most vulnerable?

If this hadn’t hit so close to home I’d be enjoying the delicious irony of the situation. For several fraught moments, one sweaty locker room held the perfect storm of our nation’s treasured oppressed: transgenders, females, children, and even ethnic minorities, as most of the kids are non-white. (Only oppressed college students were missing.)

I anticipate that with the national climate these days, the kids will get thrown under the bus on this and have to do the accommodating. But because of the intolerance regarding any conversation on this topic, I’m completely at a loss as to how to address it.

It sucks to be a parent these days.

This country is losing its mind. When are parents going to stand up to this madness? I spoke to someone on Friday who told me that in his suburban school district in the Northeast, a couple of parents tried to organize other parents to fight this new trans locker room policy the school board imposed on their schools, but they couldn’t get anybody interested.

Same country, different worlds. Last night I was at a barbecue, and talked to a guy there about this stuff. We agreed that this kind of thing stands to destroy public schools in the South. If the federal government, via the executive or judicial branch, tries to force this on public schools down South, you will see an exodus. Either that, or open defiance.

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Let The Word Go Forth

(Photo by Rod Dreher)

(Photo by Rod Dreher)

That’s our Father Matthew, proclaiming the good news a few hours ago. Here’s a look at the darkened interior of the church before the news arrived:




This means Lent is over, and meat and dairy return. A friend at church, having heard me complain about beans during Lent, gave me a special Pascha present:


It’s going to be a LONG time before I eat beans again. After the Paschal liturgy, at the parish celebration, I had bacon, meatballs, ham sandwiches, cheese from Norcia … and prosecco. Just now I have taken a Pepcid, and am headed to bed.

Pascha is so joyous! Christ est réssuscité! Il est vraiment réssuscité! A special greeting to all my Orthodox readers around the world. Answer in your own language, please.

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Mr. Panos’ Pascha

American peypool: Christos anesthi! Alithos anesthi!

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Of Babies And Barbarians

America: Where terrorizing the unborn is freedom (Natur Sports/Shutterstock)
America: Where terrorizing the unborn is freedom (Natur Sports/Shutterstock)

A reader writes:

Just thought this was worth bringing up.

Vox had a piece today about how both proponents and opponents of abortion are misinformed about the facts of abortion.  Opponents think it is very dangerous whereas it is actually safer than real births.  The statistics that are helpfully provided are – 9 deaths per 1000 live births vs. 0.6 deaths per 1000 abortions.

On the other hand, the article says that proponents of abortion mistakenly think the procedure is rarer than it is i.e. it happens more frequently than we believe.  But funnily enough, no stats are provided to put this in perspective.  I mean its possible proponents may think the rate of abortion is something like 15 per 1000 births when it is actually 25 per 1000 births or something like that. Impossible to know without the data though.

So I checked.  According to the CDC in 2012 (last year with reported data), 699,202 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2012 was 13.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 210 abortions per 1,000 live births.  To repeat…for every five births there is one abortion.  91% of these abortions are done within the first trimester and 99% within the first five months.  In the period 2002 – 2011, there were a total of 8.1M abortions reported to the CDC.  I don’t know about you but I am stunned.

Try and spin that through your mind a few times…in the years of the Great War on Terror, 8.1M abortions happened within the walls of the country waging the GWOT. When we talk about this issue…we really should have all the facts on the table.  I have no grand ideas or insights here, but for everybody out there interested in empirical, evidence-based policy, some starting facts might be useful.

8.1M !!!!!!  May God have mercy on us and guide us all….

But … but … they are supposed to be the barbarians! This reader is messing with the Official Story. Good. It needs to be messed with.

I’m guessing by the name of the reader who sent this letter in that he’s a Muslim — which, if true, adds some context to his valid complaint about this country’s regard for human life. We say we want immigrants to assimilate, but it’s important to keep in mind that we are asking them to assimilate to the norms of a nation whose people exterminate about a million of its unborn children each year.

[Note to readers: I’m away from the blog and not approving comments today. I wrote this and all posts appearing on Friday last night. Leave your remarks and I’ll approve them tomorrow. — RD]

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Conservatism After Trump

One of the Tipiloschi with plans for an orchard walk, to serve the local community (Photo by Rod Dreher)
One of the Tipiloschi with plans for an orchard walk, to serve the local community (Photo by Rod Dreher)

David Brooks says that he’s not taking Donald Trump’s march to the nomination lying down. He confesses that he has spent too much time inside bourgeois circles, talking to people like himself, and hasn’t spent enough time out with the kind of people who respond to Trump’s message. A lot of people don’t like David Brooks (I am not one of them; I’m very fond of him), but you have to give the man credit: it’s very hard to find another prominent columnist at his level who will admit he was wrong, especially in that way, and who vows to get out of his office and into the country to see what’s going on.

Anyway, this part of the column is especially interesting:

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.

Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.

Then at the community level we can listen to those already helping. James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.

Then solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again — maybe though a national service program, or something else.

He may be right. I hope he’s right. This has implications, obviously, for the Benedict Option.

As I see it, the Ben Op is, as someone here put it the other day, a form of “Christian localism,” one that would inspire exactly the kind of thing Brooks is talking about here. One gives up much hope of changing the country, and focus on what good one can do locally. As I will never tire of saying, the best example I have yet encountered is the Tipiloschi, the lay Catholics in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, who built a community school that also serves kids outside their own community, who reach out to local kids who are falling through the cracks and helps them, and who even launched a solidarity program with the Chesterton Center in Sierra Leone (fellow distributists!) to send them used equipment and other supplies needed to support their own local community. The Tipiloschi are ardently local, but because they are ardently local, they find the resources to reach out beyond their town.

I spent hours interviewing Marco Sermarini, the leader of the group, this past February, finding out how and why they succeed so brilliantly. Alas for you, you’ll have to wait for my book to come out next year to hear what he has to say. For now, I will say that the Tipiloschi are defiantly countercultural. They see the contemporary world as badly misguided, and don’t want to conform to it. The key is that they are not simply against something; if they were, they would be stuck in a defensive crouch. Rather, they are for something, and for it with joy and energy.

The main lesson I took from my short time with them is evidence that it’s simply a false choice that if one thinks of one’s community as separate from the world in a serious sense, that one has by that fact turned one’s back on the world. Granted, it’s a hard thing to pull off, I imagine, but they could not imagine being faithful Christians without doing both. That is, they know that in order to hold on to their faith in the world today, they have to adopt certain practices that build internal solidarity, deepen their roots, and that set them apart from the mainstream. But they also know that the very faith that holds them together and gives them a reason to live both commands and inspires them to serve others. How they do so is a fascinating case study. I hope David’s travels take him to San Benedetto del Tronto, because we Americans have a lot to learn from those Italians, for sure.

The great challenge orthodox American Christians face in our fragmenting society is one that the Tipiloschi have somehow mastered: managing to be in the world but not of it. That’s not just a saying with them; they live it. From what I can tell, the Tipiloschi, all of whom are orthodox Catholics, know exactly how far their religious beliefs put them from the mainstream of Italian society. They don’t feel beaten down or abashed by that, but embrace their difference. They are open to the outside world, but confident enough in their own beliefs and practices not to want to compromise with the world for the sake of getting along. If the world wants to join them, great, come on in. But they’re not going to water down their Catholicism for the sake of being seeker-friendly. In fact, they consider their faith the primary good that they have to share with the community, but not the only good.

When I visited the Tipiloschi “clubhouse,” as I call it, on top of a hill overlooking the Adriatic, I saw three teenage boys, all of whom had been involved in one way or another with juvenile crime, who had been drawn into the community and were now a part of it, working with its adults and its young people to improve the site. The Tipiloschi gave them a ladder of hope. It was a beautiful thing. They’re doing small but effective things too, like trying to keep the tuition low enough at the community’s school, the Scuola G.K. Chesterton, so that working families outside the community can afford to send their kids. But here’s the thing: they insist that the school’s mission to educate kids in a classical manner, according to the Catholic faith, cannot succeed unless the parents are also part of the mission. In other words, people in the community cannot sit on the outside, partaking of its goods as consumers. Real solidarity requires them to assume a role in the overall mission.

To pull this off requires immense confidence, and that’s what they have, for sure. It’s going to take the same kind of confidence here. One of the big lessons I took from the Tipiloschi is a very Benedictine one: by focusing first and foremost on serving God as Roman Catholics committed to their local community and its practices (frequent mass, Scripture study, prayer, confession, at least once a week having a communal meal, etc.), they find the strength to be of real service to others. The difference between this and what I’ve observed in (non-Benedict Option) American Christian communities is that Americans tend to believe, mistakenly, that the fundamentals of the faith are solid in themselves and their own young people, such that they can spend most of their time focusing outward. That’s not how the Tipiloschi are. Everyone in the community, even the adults, participates in Bible study and the like. Learning about the faith is a lifelong project, one that provides the fuel for the light that they bring to others outside the community.

This is an example of anti-political politics in action. They all vote, and in fact many of them went earlier this year to a big demonstration in Rome in favor of traditional marriage. But the national political scene is not really their concern. Localism is.

In our country, I wonder to what extent laws and public sentiment will allow Benedict Option Christians to do what the Tipiloschi do, given the growing move to demonize orthodox Christians. No doubt things are going to tighten up on us, and we need to give up hope that we are going to solve this through political engagement. What we need to do is to build strong internal resistance, by putting down deeper roots in our faith (through study and practices), and by building thick relationships with each other and our local communities.

Some people say that the state is bound to forbid Benedict Option communities like the Tipiloschi from operating in this country. Maybe that will come one day. Who knows? In the meantime, we have to do what we can with the time and the resources we have. The Tipiloschi suggest what can be accomplished by religious conservatives locally.

[Note to readers: I am not posting or approving comments on Friday, which is Holy Friday for the Orthodox. Leave a comment if you like, but I won’t approve it until tomorrow. Thanks for your patience. — RD]

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NCAA Polices Political Morality

Politically correct ball busters (Al Sermeno Photography /
Politically correct ball busters (Al Sermeno Photography /

The oh-so-progressive NCAA just cannot keep from imposing its morals on everyone, even when their moralizing has nothing at all to do with athletics:

After months of hinting that it would use its financial clout to take a stand against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the NCAA on Wednesday made it official.

The organization’s Board of Governors, at its quarterly meeting in Indianapolis, adopted a new requirement for sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events in all divisions — from Final Fours to educational conferences.

Those host sites must “demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event,” the NCAA said.


It’s not the first time the NCAA has taken a strong stance on a controversial issue. It already prohibits championship events in states where governments display Confederate flags. It also bars NCAA members from hosting championships if their school nicknames use Native American imagery that is considered abusive and offensive.

The NCAA in a statement said it “considers the promotion of inclusiveness in race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity as a vital element to protecting the well-being of student-athletes, promoting diversity in hiring practices and creating a culture of fairness.”

Did you ever think you would see the day when a law that prevents a man dressed like a woman from taking a whiz in the ladies’ room would be grounds to deny a city the right to host a football game? If it was about protecting the right of gay athletes to compete, that’s certainly morally justified. But policing the toilet laws of states and localities? Really? The NCAA’s moralistic political preening is nauseating. This kind of thing has absolutely nothing to do with athletics, and everything to do with imposing liberal morality. Just shut up and play ball already.

If you are a conservative Christian college, you had better read the handwriting on the wall: the NCAA is very soon going to make you choose between sports and your religion. Not sure how many collegiate Charioteers of Fire we have in this country. We’re about to find out.

[Note to readers: Comments made today will be approved tomorrow. Thanks for your patience. — RD]

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Trump Bait — Again

A Latino student at a March anti-Trump rally (Marie Kanger Born /
A Latino student at a March anti-Trump rally (Marie Kanger Born /

Donald Trump could not have paid for a better advertisement for his campaign. From the Los Angeles Times:

Hundreds of demonstrators filled the street outside the Orange County amphitheater where Donald Trump held a rally Thursday night, stomping on cars, hurling rocks at motorists and forcefully declaring their opposition to the Republican presidential candidate.

Traffic came to a halt as a boisterous crowd walked in the roadway, some waving American and Mexican flags. At one point, a demonstrator stomped on a police cruiser, its windows smashed to pieces.

“Dump the Trump,” said one sign. Another protester scrawled an expletive and Trump’s name onto a Costa Mesa police cruiser.

“I’m protesting because I want equal rights for everybody, and I want peaceful protest,” said 19-year-old Daniel Lujan, one of hundreds in a crowd that appeared to be mostly in their late teens and 20s.

Video footage showed some anti-Trump demonstrators hurling debris at a passing pickup truck. One group of protesters carried benches and blocked the entrance to the 55 Freeway along Newport Boulevard, with some tossing rocks on motorists near the onramp.

When a guy running for president can’t speak to his supporters without opponents staging a near-riot outside, throwing rocks at passing motorists and vandalizing police cars, it makes you wonder if he doesn’t have a point about how the country is going downhill. Remember how protesters in Chicago back in March shut down a Trump rally before it got started? We cannot have a country where violent mobs no-platform political candidates. Period.

I mean, look, I don’t blame Mexicans and Mexican-Americans for being offended by Trump’s nasty remarks about them. I don’t blame them one bit for protesting against Trump’s big mouth. But attacking the police over the fact that Trump is in town giving a speech to his backers? Turning yourselves into a violent mob because you hate the guy? This is not an America I want any part of. I mean, look at this (via Steve Sailer, who has pictures of the protesters waving Mexican flags):

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