Rod Dreher

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A Good, Weird Place to Talk

At the Abita Mystery House, Abita Springs, LA

Today is the last day of The American Conservative‘s fundraising drive. We’re only $1,800 shy of our goal. If you’ve already sent in a tax-deductible donation, believe me, I’m grateful, and so are we all. If you haven’t, would you think seriously about helping us out? 

I was thinking last night about how much I have learned from, and how much I have enjoyed, the threads this week about how people lost their religion, and how people gained their religion. We have such an interesting variety of readers in this blog’s community. As regular readers know, I work hard to keep the conversation in the comments threads civil, even when we are all arguing passionately. It’s important to me that this is a place of real conversation, not the usual yelling and name-calling that drives out all the smart, interesting people on other websites. I know you all appreciate this, too, because you say so. freakingregis

I’ve only ever met a handful of you in person, but I feel that I know many of you as well or better than most flesh and blood people in my life. I’ve been reading you for years, and don’t even know the real names of most of you. I really do think that we have a community here, one worth preserving. I’ve enjoyed sharing my love of France with you, and Louisiana, and my discovery of Dante, and Views From Your Table. I like telling you about my church, and hearing about yours. I liked talking about Walker Percy Weekend, and loved meeting you who came to town for it.

Franklin Evans, with mint julep on my front porch

Franklin Evans, with mint julep on my front porch

Starting next week, and for the first two weeks in October, I will be blogging from Italy, on the Dante trail. And guess what? The famous James C., il maestro of View From Your Table, will be coming down from the UK to Florence for a couple of days so that we can meet and eat together. The VFYT gods have already chosen this restaurant for one of our dinners. (Below, a previous James C. masterpiece from Italy.)

Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

I owe a lot to all of you. My book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming grew out of blogging here, and the amazing and generous way you all responded to the stories of my sister and my hometown. Same thing with my upcoming book How Dante Can Save Your Life. I’m beginning to get invitations to travel to elite forums to talk about the Benedict Option, an idea that I first aired here on this blog, and then in a TAC story. It’s now beginning to be taken seriously among culture leaders. I sense that this may be the next book I do, after the Dante project. And it all comes from this blog and its community.

And yes, I like how so many of you bait me with Prytania-worthy stories sent to my in-box, even if I somehow find the restraint to keep from posting most of them (if I posted even half of the ones I get, I would never post anything else). I love eccentricity, and I am grateful for the Ignatian (Reilly) spirituality that so many of you share with me.

If you value the kind of work I do, and my TAC colleagues do, and if it means something to have this forum in your life, won’t you consider making a donation? Like I said, it’s tax-deductible. When you’re a small a magazine as we are, believe me, every dollar matters. We’re not getting donations from corporations, defense contractors, or the financiers of Conservatism, Inc. We depend on you. We value you, and we hope you value us too.

And I hope in particular you value the genial weirdness of this here blog. It is true that I am responsible for drawing the world’s attention to Cosimanian Orthodoxy. Please don’t hold that against me. On the other hand, if you don’t donate, Uncle Chuckie will put on his psionics helmet and mess with your head!


UPDATE: A great comment from reader Aaron Paolozzi:

Ok, I saw the email last night, and it worried me. I didn’t realize that you guys hadn’t made your goal yet (I’m a regular.) I thought, oh people will see this and it will be no issue. But when I saw you writing this today, I knew it was still something needing fixing.

I figured, hell I’ll be one of the 30 people you need. I literally read this blog and many others every single day (yes I re-read things when there is nothing new out.)

Because you know what Rod, you are very very right , this is an amazing place for thoughtful discussion. This place has helped me on my journey to enlightened political thought, rather than reactionary responses to media stimuli.

Love all of you here at The American Conservative, keep on truckin’!

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France, Crunchy Con Paradise

Drinking absinthe at the Fête des Vendanges, Montmartre, Oct 2012
Drinking absinthe at the Fête des Vendanges, Montmartre, Oct 2012

For the past 20 years, foreign correspondent Roger Cohen has had a vacation house in France. Recently, he decided to sell it. Here’s what happened:

“Monsieur Cohen, whatever you do, you must on no account sell this house!”

I gazed at her, a little incredulous.

“You cannot sell it. This is a family home. You know it the moment you step in. You sense it in the walls. You breathe it in every room. You feel it in your bones. This is a house you must keep for your children. I will help you sell it if you insist, but my advice is not to sell. You would be making a mistake.”

This was, shall we say, a cultural moment, one of those times when a door opens and you gaze, if not into the soul of a country, at least into territory that is distinct and deep and almost certainly has greater meaning than the headlines and statistics that are supposed to capture the state of a nation, in this case one called France, whose malaise has become an object of fascination.

This episode with his real estate agent taught Cohen something about the French character. They are struggling so much today economically because they are a very conservative people, though not “conservative” in the way of Anglo-American politics. They do not like efficiency. They like their own traditions. The idea of the good life in France is different from the same in America. That’s just the way it is. Cohen concedes that he used to believe that all people all over the world wanted basically the same things out of life:

Now I feel I was wrong about that. Globalization equals adaptation to insurmountable differences as much as it equals change. Some things do not change, being the work of centuries.

Read the whole thing. There’s a lot of wisdom in that column.

The weather turned every so slightly autumnal here in Louisiana yesterday. There’s a hint of fall in the air, and I will never be able to greet the autumn, my favorite season, without thinking of France. It has been almost two years since Julie and I took the kids to Paris for the month of October. It was such a wonderful trip. I know we were living in Disneyworld, and that we would likely find daily life in France to be a grind. But boy, do I love being there, among those people and their beautiful culture. I will always go back to France, until the day comes when I am too feeble to travel. And then France will always be on my mind.

Next week at this time, I will be on a flight to Italy, to spend some time in Florence and Ravenna, on the Dante trail. A cousin of mine who visited Florence a few years back said, “Be careful. Florence will cure you of your love for France.” I am pleased to have a fall fling with Florence, but in the end, I know where my heart lies, and I know what is in my heart.

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Mr. & Mrs. Kissing Congressman

That’s the latest campaign ad from my sleazy, adulterous Kissing Congressman, Vance McAllister. Vance Romance brags that he’s “100 percent Louisiana.” Aw man, we have things bad enough without having to live down to that slur. I’ll give McAllister this: he’s 100 percent something, that’s for sure.

What is it with Kelly McAllister? I understand forgiving your husband his betrayal. But being his campaign prop, and bringing Jesus into it, for the sake of him holding on to his Congressional seat? Tacky, tacky.

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I Want, Therefore I Am

Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote an occasionally histrionic, but at times very moving and personal column about coming to terms with his bisexuality. He begins by writing in painful detail about being raped as a seven-year-old child by an older male relative, and how the rage that seethed inside of him over that very nearly destroyed him. He writes about how his mother finally got wind of it, and, phoning him at college, asked him what was wrong:

I was engulfed in an irrepressible rage. Everything in me was churning and pumping and boiling. All reason and restraint were lost to it. I was about to do something I wouldn’t be able to undo. Bullets and blood and death. I gave myself over to the idea.

He sped down the road, armed with a rifle, preparing to murder his pedophile rapist, and end his pain, or so he hoped. Before he arrived at his destination, Blow’s reason restrained his passion, and he realized that if he went through with it, he would destroy his own life. He turned back.

It’s a very powerful moment. Later, he talks about the fluidity of his sexual desire, and coming to understand and to accept that he desires both men and women. Once he opened himself to his desires, he found that they did not fit anybody’s neat, clear scheme. Here are some excerpts I want to highlight:

I would slowly learn to allow myself to follow attraction and curiosity wherever they might lead. I would grant myself latitude to explore the whole of me so that I could find the edges of me.


I wasn’t moving; the same-gender attraction was. Sometimes it withdrew from me almost completely, and at others it lapped up to my knees. I wasn’t making a choice; I was subject to the tide.

One more:

I would hold myself open to evolution on this point, but I would stop trying to force it. I would settle, over time, into the acceptance that my attractions, though fluid, were simply lopsided. Only with that acceptance would I truly feel free.

There are some complicated things going on in this column, and I commend it to you for consideration.  The thing that stands out to me about it is Blow’s (very modern) belief that his passions constitute an essential part of his identity as a person. That is, he seems to believe that his freedom consists in accepting his desires, and that he is “subject to the tide.”

But is this really true? Somehow, reason tamed his homicidal passion in the case of avenging his rape. Why is that passion restrainable, but sexual passion is not? He would say that the passion to kill someone is not the same thing as the passion to have sex with someone, and he would, of course, be right.

But he would be wrong in another sense. According to Dante (speaking from a position informed by both classical and medieval Catholic thought), all sin comes from disordered passion. To be truly free is to master our passions by making them subject to our reason. We cannot prevent our desires, but if we make ourselves “subject to the tide” of passion, we cannot be said to be free. I believe this is true, and it would be true if Blow believed himself to be subject to the tide of heterosexual desire, or desire for wealth, food, status, or anything else he wanted.

Understand that I’m not making an argument against homosexuality or bisexuality here. I’m raising a point about identity and desire. What makes us different from the animals is our ability to reason, to control and to direct our passions. Blow says here that we only become fully human when we yield to our desires.

Except he doesn’t really say that. His freedom depended on his will and his reason controlling his desire to kill his rapist. That was a passion that, if he had yielded to, would have resulted in his literal imprisonment. He kept his freedom by refusing to be a slave to that passion.

Yet he says he found his freedom later by giving in to his sexual passion.

So which is it?

It is the characteristic lie of our age that we find our identities by indulging in our passions instead of mastering them.

UPDATE: Listen, before you post a comment, get it straight in your mind that I am not arguing about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality. For the sake of argument in this thread, I will take the position that there is nothing in principle wrong with homosexual desire. What I’m arguing about is the primary role Blow gives to desire in terms of determining both his conduct and his identity.

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Questioning the Faithful

If you have commentary on or questions for those who post in the Finding Your Religion thread, this is the place to leave them.

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Finding Your Religion

If you haven’t read yesterday’s thread in which people shared their stories about losing their religion, I highly recommend that you do. It’s so moving. Here is the thread for commenting critically on those stories. Today I invite readers who found religion to tell their stories. I will also start a side thread for the critical discussion of these stories. As with yesterday’s posts, please do not place critical commentary in the story thread. It’s only for stories.

I can add something to this. I’m not sure I have ever told this story.

It was 2005, and I was deeply mired in the slough of despond over my Catholic faith, because of the scandal. Discovering that a priest we were getting to know and like was in fact a manipulative liar who was not supposed to be in ministry until the sexual abuse accusations against him had been cleared up, and that the pastor of the parish we had begun attending knew all this and put him into informal ministry anyway — and hid it from most parishioners and his bishop! — was the final straw. My anger, fear, and utter lack of trust in the institutional Catholic Church was working like acid on me. I couldn’t go to mass without having to walk out half the time because I was so angry.

I prayed intensely, desperately for relief and direction. As a Catholic, theologically I believed that the only possible option was Orthodoxy. I read book after book, trying to compare the competing arguments for each church. They only confused me more. I had enough self-awareness to know that it was impossible for me to read these books lucidly. The cloud of darkness around me was like stinging flies. What I recall learning from all that was that the Catholic case for Roman primacy was not nearly as airtight as I had believed. I had only seriously considered the Roman claim versus Protestant claims. Orthodoxy was a new thing. The Orthodox arguments were making some headway with me, but they were far from a slam-dunk, at least with me. What they did was loosen my confidence in the solidity of the Catholic claim. Yet I was highly aware that my own mental and emotional state was inflamed by anger and distrust, such that I was not sure to what extent my deliberations could be trusted.

I prayed and prayed for clarity. One Saturday morning, I woke up from an intense dream. In the dream, I was walking down an oak alley, away from a friend’s plantation house that has always been my dream home. I was about to pass through the outer gate when something caught my eye. There was a briar patch on the inside of the fence next to the gate, and on it, a wide patch of furry white. I looked closer, and saw that it was a thick cobweb. When I pulled the cobwebs away, there was my Orthodox prayer rope, entirely unknotted by the spider. It was still an intact circle by a single thread. The vision in the dream was so shocking I woke up gasping.

To understand how shocking this is, take a look at this website that sells prayer ropes (in Russian, chotki). The knots on a chotki are very tight, impossible to untie. According to pious legend, the knots are fashioned in such a way that not even the Devil himself can untie them. Well, this spider untied them.

My first thought upon waking up was, “I’ve got to find that prayer rope.”

I had a prayer rope, in fact, one that had been given to me a few years earlier in New York by an Orthodox friend. I had been grateful for the gift, but had never prayed it. I prayed the rosary. Still, I cared for the chotki, though I hadn’t seen it in a while. I jumped out of bed and went into my office, where I found it in a drawer. I remembered how my friend had shown me how to wrap it around my wrist, and I did so. Haunted by that dream, I decided that I should find the nearest Orthodox church and go to it to pray that very day.

It was a Saturday, and I had to put in some time at the office. When I left work that afternoon, I drove over to St. Seraphim Orthodox cathedral in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas, not far from downtown, where my office was. The parking lot was empty, except for a single car. I pulled in next to it. As I got out, I saw a young man walking out of the church towards that car. I stepped to him to introduce myself, and we discovered as we extended our hands to shake that we were both wearing the same type of prayer rope. I would discover later that these were not common types. We had a laugh at that. I told him that I was not Orthodox, but wanted to go into the church to offer a prayer. He excused himself to ask the archbishop for permission, then came back to let me in.

I was dazzled by the interior of the church, which you can see here. I didn’t know what to do once I was inside. I remember going over to the left side of the nave, standing before an icon of the Blessed Mother, and asking for her prayers. Then I kneeled in the center of the nave and poured out my anguished heart to God, silently asking for help. When I finished, I turned to leave, and saw the young man sitting on a bench in the narthex, the back of the church. I thanked him for showing me the church.

“Do you know how to pray that thing?” he asked, pointing to my prayer rope.

“Not really,” I said.

“Let me show you.”

He taught me the Jesus Prayer, and taught me how you clear your mind, and focus your breathing. I thanked him for that.

“Try it,” he said, not willing to let me leave.

So I prayed ten beads, breathing as he taught me to breathe, and clearing my mind. It felt good.

“That’s something else,” I said. He smiled.

In the parking lot, he told me he was a soldier based in Fort Hood, and a fairly recent convert to Orthodoxy. He had driven nearly three hours north to go to vespers that night. His time serving in Afghanistan had been rough. He said that the government was not leveling with the American people about the war. I didn’t want to hear that back then, but it turned out he was right.

The young soldier — I forget his name — had told me that the Philokalia was good to read, so I stopped by a Borders on the way home to see if they had it. They did not have it, but they did have a book called The Mountain of Silence, by Kyriacos Markides, which is more or less a journalistic-style introduction to Orthodox spirituality. I bought the book, and devoured it. I began to pray my chotki diligently. And I began to reconnect with God.

Eventually my wife and I began attending the Divine Liturgy at St. Seraphim, with no intention of converting. We desperately needed to be in a place where we were confident that the Real Presence was in the Eucharist, even though we could not commune (Catholicism teaches that the Orthodox sacraments are valid), where the prayer and the music was beautiful, and where we could worship without the burden of all our anger, fear, and suspicion. We began to recover, slowly. We were very nervous about what was happening. Finally, my wife said one day, “I can’t go back.”

Neither could I. But I didn’t want to go forward. It seemed like a bridge too far. I thought and prayed about it more, and I simply could not solve the intellectual problem of which church had the more persuasive claim. It occurred to me one day, though, that I was being too intellectual in my approach. The faith was not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. As a Christian, the Truth was not a proposition, but a Person, Jesus Christ, and that my salvation depended on establishing a relationship with Him. Because of my own brokenness, and because of its own brokenness, I could no longer do that in the Catholic Church. If I did not leave, I was afraid I was going to lose Him entirely, and so, in turn, would my children.

The message of the spider dream was that my faith was holding together by a thread. I now saw a way back to God, through Orthodoxy.

I became Orthodox, but the day I was chrismated was a very sad day for me. It had loved being Catholic so much. It was like a failed marriage. I was so grateful to God for giving me a second chance in Orthodoxy, and I did not doubt that I had done the right thing. I still don’t. The humiliation and pain of losing my Catholic faith made a very big impression on me, though. I don’t think I will ever be healed from it fully, nor, frankly, do I think full healing is something to be desired. The truth is, I need to have that wound inside me to prevent me from giving myself over to the kind of prideful certainty I had before in my faith. And I need to never, ever be so blindly trusting in religious authority as I once was.

And I learned after getting mixed up in an ugly OCA dispute among the hierarchy and church factions, all in the pursuit of what I believed was justice, and getting burned by it, that I am not the sort of person who has any business involving himself with church politics.

It was a blessing that by becoming Orthodox, many of the things I had loved about Catholicism were restored to me. Once I no longer felt responsible for challenging the injustice the Catholic bishops and institution inflicted on victims, I could once again see all the good things about Catholicism. But they could never be mine again, not in the same way. I’m okay with that. I am a lousy evangelist for Orthodoxy, though, because I have no interest in disputation or apologetics, as I once did as a Catholic. I burned myself out on that stuff, and don’t have the fire in my belly to tell people that they’re wrong, and that they ought to believe as I believe (even if I really think they should). I am restless by nature, and need to learn how to be at rest. I am simply grateful for what God has done for me and my family by bringing us to this wonderful little church in the country, which, as it turned out, became the most important reason we came to Louisiana. All I really want to do now is to pray and worship, and learn to be a better Christian and servant to God and to my church family. That’s enough.

Remember, this thread is only for stories; go to the other thread for critical commentary on the things you read here.

UPDATE: Please don’t use this thread to proselytize or to evangelize. Just tell your story, and let it stand for itself.

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The NYT’s Unknown Unknowns

As regular readers will recall, I dropped my New York Times subscription not long ago after nearly 20 years. Why? Because the paper’s pig-blind hostility to orthodox Christianity finally got on my last nerve. I can take people critical of Christian belief, no problem. The Times, though, has an agenda that, if successful, will result in people like me being demonized and marginalized. They can do that, but they’re not going to do it with my subscription money.

Yet the Times remains an extremely good newspaper, one I consult daily, though I have to find ways around the paywall. Every now and then, though, something happens that makes you realize how incredibly ignorant the newspaper’s staff is about basic religious facts. I can understand someone living in Pakistan, or Sichuan province, not getting that all of Christianity, in its many versions throughout the ages, rests on the resurrection of Jesus. I don’t understand how an educated American, whatever his beliefs, can not know that. Yet that story got through several layers of editing at the Times before making it into print. It’s staggering.

If the Times doesn’t know the most basic facts — or the most basic fact! — about Christianity, what else do its reporters and editors miss about Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and other religions? I’m not being snarky here. The United States is plunging once again into an extremely complex war in the Middle East, one fought in large part between the two great expressions of Islam — Sunni and Shia — and to a lesser degree, among various strands of Sunni Islam. It is the job of that newspaper — and of all media covering the war — to inform the American public about events there and the factors behind them. Does the Times even know what it doesn’t know? And if the people whose job it is to explain the world to the rest of us don’t know what they don’t know, what kind of ignoramuses are the rest of us going to remain?

I think the Times, and most of the US media, approach religion as something religious people tack on to the real business of life. These journalists aren’t religious themselves, and don’t understand how religious people think. America is increasingly secular, or experiences its religion as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (which is to say, a form of belief that is a comforting add-on to ordinary secular life, like a shpritz of God-scented perfume). But that is not how real religious believers see the world. The Times‘s job is not to advocate for Christianity, of course, or for any religion. It’s to report in as much details as possible the facts as best we know them, and to say what those facts mean. I were a Times subscriber, the paper’s errors about Christianity would make me skeptical not only of the way the paper handles religion when it is part of wider stories, but also of which important religious trends and events occurring in the world that are not seen by the Times, because it doesn’t know what it’s seeing.

Everybody makes mistakes. But saying that Christians believe the body of Jesus is buried in a tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Educated people working for the best and most influential newspaper in the world making that kind of error? It ought to be shocking and embarrassing to the Times. It almost certainly won’t be.

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Cradle In The Hammock

Jen Lints, courtesy Kara Tippetts
Jen Lints, courtesy Kara Tippetts

The Christian blogger Kara Tippetts, as you may know, is in the final stage of cancer. Yesterday, she lay down in a hammock some friends gave her. Then her little girl named Story joined her. Kara picks up the story here:

And today, this beautiful day I took my book, pillow, and sweet new afghan made with love and prayers by our Hannah- and headed out back. Soon I was met by my littlest love. She came and hunkered close and rested next to me. She always comments on my warmth. She says her favorite place is beside my warmth. When we both woke from our brief rest we started to talk about heaven. I’m not exactly sure where the conversation started, but we started to imagine the place of no more tears. I told her I was going there. She told me she would meet me there. I told her that time would feel long, but that it really wasn’t. It was a tender moment. A quiet moment. One I will not forget. The hammock became this sweet cocoon of tenderness and wonder. When the conversation ended I prayed it would always stay with Story. I prayed she would always remember dreaming of our next home together. So I write these words, I share this picture in the hopes that one day- she will return here and the memory will come to life for the health and love of her heart.  Lately I have been ending these precious moments with my children with one simple phrase- “do you know you are a child cherished? Do you know I treasure you, and God delights in you?” And some smile a knowing smile, some answer, but they always listen to these words. Because I will say them to my dying day- we can never hear enough about love. Never. Oh- what a beautiful and high calling we have as parents to treasure the hearts of our children.

Read the whole thing. 

It is impossible to overstate the value of the gift that this dying mother is giving to her children. Impossible. If, God forbid, I ever find myself walking the same hard road Kara is walking, I hope and pray that I will have the courage to give my children the gift she is giving them. The light there is so strong it almost hurts to watch. But it will light the path forward for those children for all of their days.

Pass this story on. You know someone who needs to hear today what Kara has to say. Keep track of Kara’s daily journey on her blog, Mundane Faithfulness. Kara’s book, The Hardest Peace, will be published on October 1. You are going to want to read this book. Trust me on this.

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Questioning the Faithless

As a sidebar to the (excellent) Losing Your Religion thread in which ex-believers tell their deconversion stories, I want to start this thread for the critical discussion of those deconversion stories. I don’t want this kind of talk to be on the other thread, because I like it being simply a place for people to tell what happened to them and why it happened to them. Nevertheless, there have been some good questions raised about these accounts, and I’d like to give the critics a place to air their questions, and for the others to answer them.

Edward Hamilton writes of Gretchen’s deconversion story, which started the original thread (follow the link above to read it):

This story stops right where I want a little more detail about Gretchen’s thought process. In particular, I’m curious as to why the progression is from “conservative Anglican” to “nothing at all”, without at least a temporary stop in some intermediate waystation like a standard mainline church. Surely the idea that all Episcopalians (or UCC congregations, or Unitarians!) would suddenly become gay-hating Ugandan types is pretty far-fetched. And some of the more liberal mainline churches are even tolerant of a total loss of confidence in the propositional content of faith, to the point where they can still comfortably function as social agencies for the promotion of an ethical guidance and emotional support.

I feel like even if I ever started losing my faith formally, I’d still never want to completely abandon the social network of people I know from church. There’s something strangely flattering in the awareness that there are so many ex-Christians who think that the only kind of Christian worth being is an orthodox one. But the emphasis here is on “strangely” for me. So many liberal-minded Christian pastors (my brother is one of them) would love to have a thoughtful agnostic in their congregations, someone with a strong moral center and a willingness to speak honestly about how religion has been a disappointment, and would never pressure that person into an inappropriate expression of faith. And I’m sure you’d hear a lifetime of sermons that never mention hell, or gays, or implausible Bible stories about talking animals, or creationism, or guilt, or generic Republican party talking points, or anything else that would dilute or detract from those valuable sermons about family life and social justice. (And I’m not being sarcastic here at all — I enjoy hearing the three or four theological liberals in my own family talk sincerely and passionately about those aspects of faith.) Why doesn’t Gretchen want to devote herself to helping those philosophical allies in the liberal mainline triumph over the forces of fundamentalism in their long crusade for the soul of the church?

I’d love to hear from Gretchen why the decision of herself and other Gretchens is so often to not even try to engage with liberal spiritual communities, but to disengage entirely and permanently. Why do the failures of orthodox Christianity so often function to psychologically discredit progressive Christianity as well? I definitely don’t want to accuse Gretchen specifically (or anyone else in this comment box full of W.E.I.R.D.people, with emphasis on that E), but I still think that many of these formal “I stopped needing religion” narratives are post-facto cover stories for more mundane transformations in lifestyle affecting entire demographic groups. That’s a fancy way of saying that 50 years ago lots of people were going to church because it was the respectable thing to do, but now that it’s less obligatory they’re gratefully enjoying a few extra hours of free time on Sunday morning.

Thursday writes:

This is one thing I don’t get angry at unbelievers for. We live in a general culture that can fairly be described as a gigantic secularist liturgy, that trains you to think in secular ways. Just going to church isn’t going to be enough to counteract that immersion in secular culture. So, lots of people are going find themselves without the same kind of faith, despite having been raised in church.

However, even if you don’t believe the same beliefs any more or don’t believe them in the same way as before, it can be incredibly difficult to leave the church. That is be where you grew up and where your family and friends, your whole life, are now. Especially if you strongly identified with the church as a culture.

However, a word of warning: if you stay, you are probably in for a world of hurt, as the core of people who stay in traditional religious institutions are not going to change their religion to better accommodate your new views. Most of the people who are there are there because they like the old ways. You’re going to be continually frustrated by how they continue to do and say things that just appall you. Staying for the culture is a recipe for burning out.

OK, readers, your turn.

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Our Wild Man In Williamsburg

They love Mikheil Saakashvili in Albania (Vladimir Tkalčić/Flickr)
They love Mikheil Saakashvili in Albania (Vladimir Tkalčić/Flickr)

The New York Times found former Georgia president Mikheil Saakashvili, who mixed it up a few years back in a border war with Russia, lounging on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He’s gotten fat, and is living it up in his uncle’s luxury apartment:

Mr. Saakashvili is in self-imposed exile on North Seventh Street — plotting a triumphant return, even as his steep fall from grace serves as a cautionary tale to the many American government officials who had hoped he would be a model exporter of democracy to former Soviet republics.

Since leaving office last November, this George W. Bush favorite — whose confrontation with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia led to a disastrous war in 2008 — has commandeered his uncle’s apartment in a tower on the Williamsburg waterfront, where he luxuriates in the neighborhood’s time-honored tradition of mysteriously sourced wealth. When not lingering in cafes, riding his bike across the bridge or spending stag evenings with friends on the Wythe Hotel rooftop, Mr. Saakashvili seizes on the Ukrainian conflict and his experience with Mr. Putin’s wrath as a lifeline back to political relevance.

“It’s the end of Putin,” Mr. Saakashvili, 46, said of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the topic of discussion on Thursday as its president, Petro Poroshenko, met in Washington with President Obama and Congressional leaders. Mr. Saakashvili called Mr. Putin’s actions “very, very similar” to those in Georgia. “I think he walked into trap.”

Yeah, some trap. Where is Putin today? And where is Saakashvili? This has to be the most pitiful statement in the entire story:

Mr. Saakashvili said that while he had a “normal life” in Brooklyn, he considered himself a big deal in Eastern Europe, pointing out that on a recent trip to Albania “they shut down traffic for us and our 20-car escort.” …

Hey, he’s the toast of Tirana! Read the whole thing. It’s full of opportunities for Schadenfreude. Such as:

Mr. Saakashvili is also accused of using public money to fly his massage therapist, Dorothy Stein, into Georgia in 2009. Mr. Saakashvili said he received a massage from Ms. Stein on “one occasion only,” but Ms. Stein said she received 2,000 euros to massage him multiple times, including delivering her trademark “bite massage.”

“He gave me a bunch of presents,” said Ms. Stein, who splits her time between Berlin and Hoboken. “He said, ‘Oh, my wife won’t mind.’ He gave me a gold necklace with some kind of religious pendant, which obviously I’m not going to wear because my God is Frank Zappa.”

Below, some footage of President Saakashvili and an unnamed countryman visiting a Williamsburg art gallery:

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