Philadelphia’s Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered a humdinger of a speech today at Notre Dame, at the Bishop’s Symposium on Reclaiming The Church for the Catholic Imagination. Excerpts:
The 2016 election is one of those rare moments when the repellent nature of both presidential candidates allows the rest of us to see our nation’s pastoral terrain as it really is. And the view is unpleasant. America’s cultural and political elites talk a lot about equality, opportunity and justice. But they behave like a privileged class with an authority based on their connections and skills. And supported by sympathetic media, they’re remaking the country into something very different from anything most of us remember or the Founders imagined.
The WikiLeaks email release last week from the Clinton entourage says a lot about how the merit-class elite views people like those in this room. It’s not friendly.
But what does any of this have to do with our theme? Actually quite a lot. G.K. Chesterton once quipped that America is a nation that thinks it’s a Church. And he was right. In fact, he was more accurate than he could have guessed. Catholics came to this country to build a new life. They did exceptionally well here. They’ve done so well that by now many of us Catholics are largely assimilated to, and digested by, a culture that bleaches out strong religious convictions in the name of liberal tolerance and dulls our longings for the supernatural with a river of practical atheism in the form of consumer goods.
For all of its greatness, democratic culture proceeds from the idea that we’re born as autonomous, self-creating individuals who need to be protected from, and made equal with, each other. It’s simply not true. And it leads to the peculiar progressive impulse to master and realign reality to conform to human desire, whereas the Christian masters and realigns his desires to conform to and improve reality.
In Philadelphia I’m struck by how many women I now see on the street wearing the hijab or even the burqa. Some of my friends are annoyed by that kind of “in your face” Islam. But I understand it. The hijab and the burqa say two important things in a morally confused culture: “I’m not sexually available;” and “I belong to a community different and separate from you and your obsessions.”
I have a long list of concerns with the content of Islam. But I admire the integrity of those Muslim women. And we need to help Catholics recover their own sense of distinction from the surrounding secular meltdown. The Church and American democracy are very different kinds of societies with very different structures and goals. They can never be fully integrated without eviscerating the Christian faith. An appropriate “separateness” for Catholics is already there in the New Testament. We’ve too often ignored it because Western civilization has such deep Christian roots. But we need to reclaim it, starting now.
A-men! Finally, this passage:
When I was ordained a bishop, a wise old friend told me that every bishop must be part radical and part museum curator – a radical in preaching and living the Gospel, but a protector of the Christian memory, faith, heritage and story that weave us into one believing people over the centuries.
I try to remember that every day. Americans have never liked history. The reason is simple. The past comes with obligations on the present, and the most cherished illusion of American life is that we can remake ourselves at will. But we Christians are different. We’re first and foremost a communion of persons on mission through time – and our meaning as individuals comes from the part we play in that larger communion and story.
If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.” It’s a moment for courage and candor, but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.
Read the whole thing. See, this is the kind of leadership that all churches need in this new Dark Age. I had a chance a week or two ago to read an advance copy of Archbishop Chaput’s forthcoming (February 2017) book Strangers In A Strange Land: Living The Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. It’s very good and very important — and not just a book for Catholics. It made me feel confident about The Benedict Option book, in that it’s not just me and a relatively small number of Christians who read the signs of the times in the same way. We’re going to need each other more and more as the times grow darker.
A couple of weeks ago I posted an appeal by reader Sam MacDonald, making a case for Benedict Option folks to relocate to his part of the world, Elk County, Pa. Sam’s piece caught the attention of Salim Furth, an economist at the Heritage Foundation, who sent me this essay:
Rod Dreher posted a long dispatch from Sam MacDonald, president of a busy Catholic school system in Elk County, Pennsylvania. MacDonald reports that a thriving, social-spiritual community of Catholics has carved out a niche in the beautiful hills of northern Pennsylvania. The quote from McDonald’s letter that I tweeted emphasized the economic opportunity:
Last week there was an ad in the paper for an entry level worker at one of the local plants. GED required. It started at $15.60 an hour. A greenhorn at the papermill can expect to earn upwards of $50,000 first year.
Cost of living? If you walked into Ridgway tomorrow and offered my mom $40,000 for the house she raised four kids in, she’d probably take it.
With mounting evidence that social and economic health go hand in hand, it would not be surprising if an enclave of good parish schools and well-connected community organizations fostered high-productivity jobs.
But is Elk County really special? Would data on social and economic outcomes support the anecdotes of a self-admitted local booster?
To be sure, Elk County is really Catholic. Really, really Catholic. Seventy percent Catholic. Elk also has the second-fewest evangelical Protestants in the state. Elk is unique on another dimension: it is the most Caucasian county in the state, at 97.8 percent white, Mayor Guillermo Udarbe notwithstanding.
Other than the cassocks, Elk County looks a lot like any other rural Pennsylvania county.
Average income in Elk County is normal for the region. The number of social associations per capita in Elk County is just a bit above average. Unemployment, loosely estimated at 6.7 percent, is substantially higher than in Pittsburgh or metropolitan Philadelphia, but typical of rural Pennsylvania. Elk County’s population is declining – which might explain why factories are having difficulty finding labor.
Demographically, I compared Elk County to 43 other Pennsylvania counties that are 90 percent or more white (which effectively drops the cities and suburbs). Elk has a typical rural demographic structure, with 20 percent of the population under age 18 and 20 percent aged 65 and up.
Family structure is mostly normal. Almost 80 percent of family households are “husband and wife families”, as is the case elsewhere. The one oddity, perhaps, is the lack of large families. There are just 86 households in Elk County with at least seven members. That’s 0.6 percent of all Elk County households. By contrast, wealthy, urban Arlington, Virginia has 0.9 percent large households and suburban Loudoun County, Virginia has 2.1 percent large households. As a result, average family size in Elk County is among the lowest in rural Pennsylvania, although not by much.
Elk County denizens succumb to temptation a little less than average. According to County Health Rankings, Elk’s smoking and excessive drinking rates are typical of Pennsylvania. Elk is a moderate shade of orange on the dramatic national map of drug overdose rates. With about 15 overdoses a year per 100,000 residents, Elk is seriously affected by the national heroin epidemic, but is not ground zero. Elk has one of the state’s lowest rates of chlamydia infection, which suggests low sexual promiscuity, but the teen birth rate is normal. Elk’s brightest spot is its violent crime rate, which is the third-lowest among the comparison counties.
There’s scant evidence that Elk County is a uniquely cohesive community with particularly strong institutions. The dearth of large families suggests that the hardcore Catholic subculture is very small indeed. The simplest explanation that squares the data with MacDonald’s observations is that the dégringolade of rural America is rather overblown. The moral of the story is not that Elk County is a mess – it’s not – but that most other counties are in pretty good shape, too.
Elk County does, however, have one statistical advantage that might make suburbanites pull up and move there: the shortest commutes of any county in Pennsylvania.
I offered Sam (a former writer for Reason, by the way) the chance to respond. He writes:
I would like to thank Rod for giving me an opportunity to respond to what I think is some misdirected analysis here. I would also like to thank Dr. Salim Furth for engaging with my piece in the first place, and in most cases making a stronger case for my position than I ever could.
I stand by my original claim that Elk County is a location uniquely well-suited to the Benedict Option. I based it on a few things, including the fact that the area is deeply Catholic, that it’s safe, that it’s cheap, and that a middle class existence is well within reach even for people who did not go to college and instead work industrial jobs.
Furth concedes a great deal of my claim. In his words, “Elk’s brightest spot is its violent crime rate, which is the third-lowest among the comparison counties.” He also says, “To be sure, Elk County is really Catholic. Really, really Catholic.”
He then makes some odd moves which are hard to analyze because he does not provide links to his data. On the discussion of family structure he says that in Elk County, “Almost 80 percent of family households are ‘husband and wife families’, as is the case elsewhere.” Data here suggest that the statewide percentage is about 75 percent. Elk County is higher, but not by a large amount, which would seem to be based on the fact that there is not an awful lot of room to be dramatically higher.
Furth then launches into a confusing discussion of household size, which quickly morphs into a discussion of family size, which are two different things. Again, it’s hard to analyze because he doesn’t provide any links. He then makes the strange move of comparing household size in Elk County to what he admits is a large, wealthy county like Arlington in Northern Virginia. As this article explains, Arlington is a uniquely bad point of comparison. There has been a huge population boom there as Washington, DC, continues to sprawl. At the same time, much of the affordable housing has been removed, just as a huge wave of foreign immigrants has been imported to fill the booming, low-wage retail sector. So faced with relatively low wages and a staggering rate of income equality, the poor people do the sensible thing and cram a lot of people into small spaces.
Why don’t struggling people in Elk County cram tons of people into housing? Well, because they don’t need to. I searched Zillow for houses in the $240,000 range in Arlington. Generally speaking you are looking at one bedroom condos of less than 1,000 sf. Here is a house that recently was on the market in Ridgway for $240,000. It never sold at that price and was taken off the market. It says four bedrooms but it’s really more like six. It’s $3,500 square feet. So again, I am unclear what household size in dramatically different places is supposed to tell us about Catholicity in Elk County.
Of course, it might be convenient if a major, county-by-county study had been done to address the question of religion in America so we wouldn’t have to follow Furth’s idea of judging Catholicity by using household size as a proxy. I’m not an economist at the Heritage Foundation, but I do know what Google is and someone did do such a study. The Washington Post crunched all that data and built interactive maps. The story was picked up by none other than Rod Dreher himself. The one about religious participation struck him so profoundly that he dedicated a whole post to it.
Rod’s post bemoans the lack of religious intensity. But scroll down. A commenter named Sam M (me) says look at the map. There are only a small handful of counties with intense religious participation east of, say, Indiana. You can see it quite easily. A blood red county in a sea of beige in western PA. That’s Elk County. The links to the interactive version are broken at the Washington Post’s site, but I preserved the data about Elk County in the comment. Out of 3,143 counties in the US, Elk County ranked 101 in terms of religious participation–meaning the number of people who actually practice the faith they profess to follow. That puts us in the top 3.3 percent nationally, and in a league with intensely Mormon and evangelical regions in Texas and Utah.
So there is no need to guess. The data say Elk County has a crazily high number of Catholics, and a tremendously high percentage of them actually practice their faith. I would also invite Furth to ground truth the data a little. One of the kids on my boy’s peewee football team is from a family of ten children. We will soon welcome our eighth. Within a five minute walk of my house are families with six, seven, ten, eight and eight. And many more with three to five. Maybe it’s like that in Arlington. I don’t know. I don’t live there. I doubt I could afford a house big enough if I did.
I get a little more nervous when we turn to the economy, because of course Dr. Furth is an economist. But it’s here where I find his analysis most perplexing. I claim that Elk County has a thriving middle class, which is definitely reachable for people who hold one of the many industrial jobs on offer. And I claim that people who hold these jobs are respected, and that their children will have plenty of opportunity to become whatever they want to be in life. Which is really a claim about class and mobility. Furth makes no effort to engage with that claim, except to point to a few basic metrics such as the unemployment rate and average income.
He says, “Unemployment, loosely estimated at 6.7 percent, is substantially higher than in Pittsburgh or metropolitan Philadelphia, but typical of rural Pennsylvania. Elk County’s population is declining – which might explain why factories are having difficulty finding labor.” Furth’s analysis might have benefited from picking up the phone and actually asking someone. The decline in population is almost ancillary to the employment crunch. Population is down, but the factories could have weathered those demographics because individual workers are dramatically more productive than they were 20 or 30 years ago. These are world-class people. There is a good chance that the Michael Jordan of machinists lives here. The Albert Einstein of tool and die makers, too. That’s why they get paid a lot.
Instead, culture is a large part of the problem. I started high school in 1987. Know what happened in 1986? The Homestead Works shut down in Pittsburgh, just a few hours away. Even three years before that we had movies like “All the Right Moves,” featuring a young Tom Cruise desperate to get out of his crappy western Pennsylvania mill town. We all knew, because our parents told us, that if we could get out, we should. A life of riches and independence awaited all those who went to college. So guess what? We did. We left. The problem now is that the guy who was a 40 year old tool and die maker in 1987 is now getting ready to retire and there’s nobody to replace him.
Moreover, there is the issue of work ethic. We are not nearly as bad as the community highlighted in Hillbilly Elegy, thank God. But finding people who can pass a drug test and show up beyond the first paycheck is becoming a challenge. Why? Because many of the people who would have been great at these jobs were steered to college and told that working in a plant amounted to failure. That was a terrible mistake. Which is why local industrialists are making long term plans to steer our best and brightest back into industry, but also find people to relocate.
Again, I am not an economist on par with Furth, so it would be really useful if some highly respected economists would do a county-by-county study that highlighted all the issues related to social mobility that I have been talking about.
Oh look. Someone did. That’s a huge New York Times article discussing a major study the paper identifies as, “the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States.” It was done by some guys at Harvard and UC Berkeley, one of whom is Raj Chetty, recently named “the country’s best academic economist under the age of 40.” So no. I am not an economist. But he is.
The study indicates that Pennsylvania is actually one of the top states in terms of income mobility, with urban areas such as Pittsburgh ranking very high. But the study wasn’t limited to urban areas. The Keystone Research Center helpfully jumped into the study to see how all regions of the state ranked on three measures of mobility, and on the percentage of families achieving middle class status. Take it away, Keystone!
St. Marys stands out among all the Pennsylvania regions on all three of our upward mobility measures. The chance of a St. Marys child in the bottom fifth rising to the top fifth is 12.9%. The average income percentile of St. Marys children who grow up at the 10th percentile is 44. And St. Marys children whose parents’ income were in the bottom half of the distribution have an average income percentile as adults of 48.4 — very nearly the U.S. median. Appendix Table A1also shows that St. Marys has a stunningly large middle class — 70% of children in St. Marys grew up in households with incomes between the U.S. 25th percentile and the U.S. 75th percentile.
As a matter of fact, the St. Marys region led the state or tied for the lead in every category measured.
So. If you live in St. Marys there’s an astonishingly high chance that you will be in the middle class. On the off chance you are poor, you will have a much better chance of rising to national median than most places in the country. Notwithstanding Furth’s reliance on blunt, context-free analysis of unemployment data, I stand by my claims.
Of course, if it’s income he wants to talk about, we will. Furth seems confident that income in Elk County is on par with other rural counties. Let’s go to census data and measure Elk against neighboring counties, and also see what that income will get you in terms of housing:
Median Household Income Median Selected Monthly Owner Cost, with a Mortgage Median Gross Rent Elk $46,576 $962 $389 Cameron $41,157 $948 $374 McKean $42,913 $910 $368 Clearfield $41,510 $1,017 $407 Forest $36,037 $860 $322 Jefferson $42,295 $936 $364 AVERAGE $41,748 $939 $371
I am using median household income. That’s what the census most readily reports. Furth did average income. Maybe he has a rationale for that, but he didn’t explain it or provide links to the data. So going on what I have, we see that the cost of home ownership is slightly higher than average in Elk County, which would cost you $264 more per year. Rental, you’d spend an extra $216 a year, on average. Of course offsetting that is the median income, which is dramatically higher than average by $4,828. That’s 11.5 percent higher than the regional average. I doubt $4,828 would go very far in Arlington, Virginia, where the median value of owner occupied housing is $594,800, but it goes a very long way in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Now, regarding Furth’s analysis of social measures, he admits that measures of promiscuity look pretty good. And he then goes into some discussion of drinking and drug use. But before we even get into that, I hope it’s not too indelicate for me, as a part of the tribe, to ask if Furth, uh… knows what a Catholic is? I mean, there are jokes about us, right? We make them ourselves. Nobody claims that we are Baptists or Mormons. Elk County has the third highest number of bars per capita off all the counties in Pennsylvania, and we recently were declared the binge-drinking capital of the state. There is clearly some pathology in that fact, and the social service directors will caution you not to view that statistic with a smirk. Of course many locals do. The standard for binge-drinking is five drinks or more in a sitting for men. It’s not uncommon to see some of the best, most Catholic people in the world have that many around a horseshoe pit. So how much of that is pathology and how much is German Catholicity? Hard to say.
But most interesting to me is Furth’s claim that, “There’s scant evidence that Elk County is a uniquely cohesive community with particularly strong institutions.” One measure of this, which he again fails to link for further analysis, is that, “The number of social associations per capita in Elk County is just a bit above average.” I really do wish he had been more forthcoming because I honestly don’t even know what “social associations per capita” means. Neither does Google. A search of that exact phrase turns up one hit, from a letter to the editor published in Luzerne County. Maybe it’s important. I’d be willing to think it might be. I await further guidance.
But more important on this front is the phrase that does all the heavy lifting in Furth’s piece: “Other than the cassocks, Elk County looks a lot like any other rural Pennsylvania county.”
Wait. Other than the cassocks? The cassocks are the whole point, when you are discussing whether a given community would be a good Benedict Option for Catholics. It’s like saying, yeah, other than that whole pilgrimage thing, Mecca isn’t such a great place for Muslims to visit. Or gee, what’s there for a Catholic to see in Rome, other than the Vatican? Not much in that art museum, apart from the art. That pizza place has the world’s best pizza at extremely reasonable prices. Other than that, it’s terrible.
While Kurth is busy looking into mysterious “social associations per capita,” I am saying, hey fella, uh… we have a Catholic school system that draws close to 20 percent of the local school population. The local parishes chip in upwards of a million dollars per year to ensure that the school is accessible to folks in our (astonishingly large!) middle class. We have a huge number of Catholics, and an incredibly large portion of them are active participants in their churches.
Then the economics. The rock bottom housing prices. The median income which is well above regional average. Which combined with the low housing process mean that your money goes a long way. And the fact that in a state that ranks near the top of the national heap in social mobility, St. Marys ranks highest in all measures put forward for analysis.
So yes suppose. Dr. Furth is correct that there is very little data to support the claim that Elk County is different. Except, you know, all the data that do.
And if you really doubt that there are industrial jobs, look and see for yourself. Dr. Furth has a research position. Subscribe to the St. Marys Daily Press. I just picked up a week’s worth of papers off my desk at random and here is list of the jobs offered:
Product Engineer. Production supervisor. Experienced die setters (offering $1000 sign on bonus). Maintenance technician ($1,000 sign on bonus). Entry level operator positions (plural in the original). Manufacturing engineer. Electrical engineer. Diesetters. Secondary machine attendants. Maintenance mechanics and electricians. Quality engineers. Manufacturing engineers. Manufacturing planner and customer service rep.
Actually, that’s not a week’s worth. It’s one single day in late September.
This past Monday? Quality inspector. Immediate openings: Entry level labor. Production planner. Powdered metal sales and marketing manager. CNC set up. Experienced mold set ups and operators.
All this ignores the ads for teachers, nurses, speech pathologists, block layers, PT floral designer, Mechanic. Etc.
By all means, if Dr. Furth believes this is an illusion based on homerism and that a kid with a high school diploma and a few hundred dollars in his pocket—or a BenOp Christian looking to relocate–is just as likely to find a middle class life in Arlington, VA, as he is in Elk County, he should advise people according to his analysis. Me? I would suggest such a person move here instead.
About 30 people have already contacted me about doing just that.
I’m working on it!
This is a great discussion. Thanks to both men for it. If Dr. Furth wants to respond in kind, I’ll publish it here. Watch this space.
Liberty University chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. spiked a column in the student newspaper that was critical of Donald Trump. That’s pretty shocking. If Falwell had spiked a column because it advocated something against the university’s understanding of Christian doctrine (e.g., a column defending abortion rights), it may or may not have been defensible, but it would have been at least understandable. If Falwell had spiked a column critical of him personally, it may or may not have been defensible, depending on the nature of the criticism, but again, it would at least have been understandable.
But this is completely indefensible. The Daily Beast published student Joel Schmeig’s column, written from the point of view of an athlete, contending that what Donald Trump said about women is not “locker room talk,” but something much more sinister. The column ends like this:
Ladies, please hear me when I say the words spoken by Trump are not normal. That is not what decent men talk about. Not even in high school. You mean so much more than that, and you deserve so much better than that.
Understand: the chancellor of Liberty University refuses to let this completely normal statement, especially coming from a Christian student, be published in the campus newspaper, because it criticizes his preferred political candidate. Unbelievable.
In other news from Christian academia, the priest who runs DePaul University, which is Catholic, has banned from campus a poster that says, “Unborn Lives Matter”:
Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider indicated to the university community on Friday in a letter that the “Unborn Lives Matter” message constituted “bigotry” occurring “under the cover of free speech,” The Daily Wire reports.
The College Republicans followed protocol in submitting the design for approval to promote the group, its pro-life views, and its meeting times before hanging the posters on campus.
However, the request made its way to Father Holtschneider, who responded that the administration would protect the university community from the pro-life message’s bigotry, the report said, and that the pro-life poster “provokes” members of the controversial Black Lives Matter political movement, the message of which is allowed on campus.
“By our nature, we are committed to developing arguments and exploring important issues that can be steeped in controversy and, oftentimes, emotion,” Father Holtschneider’s letter said. “Yet there will be times when some forms of speech challenge our grounding in Catholic and Vincentian values. When that happens, you will see us refuse to allow members of our community to be subjected to bigotry that occurs under the cover of free speech.”
So now it’s anti-Catholic to say “Unborn Lives Matter” on the campus of America’s largest Catholic university. Because … black lives are more important than the lives of the unborn? Really, Father Holtschneider? More to the point, one is not allowed to make this statement on campus, because it’s “bigotry”? Since when does Black Lives Matter get a veto on what can and cannot be said on campus?
Meanwhile, James Madison University has distributed a list of Things You Cannot Say On Campus — this, to make campus “safe and inclusive.” They include:
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“I don’t think of you as …”
“The same thing happens to me too.”
Message to students: don’t even try to express empathy!
“I don’t see color” or “I’m color blind.”
Message to students: don’t deny your guilt!
“It is so much better than it used to be. Just be patient.”
Message to students: don’t recognize social progress; things are still horrible!
“She/he is a good person. She/he didn’t mean anything by it.”
Message to students: don’t defend the guilty!
When people of faith say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Message to religious students: you are incapable of love if you do not affirm behavior or desire that your religion calls sinful
When white men say, “We are the ones being discriminated against now!”
Message to students: it is impossible to discriminate against white men, and it is blasphemy to assert otherwise
“I don’t see difference. We are all part of the same race, the human race.”
Message to students: believing in the shared humanity of all people is bigotry
“Here’s another book on political correctness.”
Message to students: political correctness does not exist; to say it does makes this campus unsafe, exclusive, and will not be tolerated
This kind of thing trains students to be timid, silent, fearful, and conformist. Parents should be wary about sending their kids to colleges that will cripple their minds like this, and put their kids at risk of stepping on a p.c. land mine for violating orthodoxy, and blowing up their college career.
Happily, the scholars at Heterodox Academy are out today with a list of the Top 150 Colleges In America, according to their tolerance for free speech and viewpoint diversity. Excerpt:
Our guide to colleges helps you evaluate schools on this question by integrating these four sources of information:
- Endorsed Chicago: Whether the university has endorsed the Chicago Principles on free expression
- FIRE Rating: Whether the school’s speech codes foster or infringe upon free speech. As rated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
- ISI Rating: Is the school a reasonably welcoming place for conservative and libertarian students? Obtained from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) guide to Choosing the Right College. (We presume that open-minded progressive students would prefer not to attend a school at which students who are not on the left feel unwelcome, and are less likely to speak up.)
- Relevant Events Since 2014: Events on campus that indicate a commitment by faculty, administration, and/or students to protect or restrict free inquiry and viewpoint diversity. We ignore events that involve just a few students or professors and focus on those indicating broader sentiment, norms, or policy.
Read the whole thing. It’s important.
This is extraordinary. The Society of Biblical Literature describes itself like this:
Mission, Visions, and Values
The following Mission Statement and Strategic Vision Statements were adopted by the SBL Council May 16, 2004, and revised October 23, 2011.
Foster Biblical Scholarship
Strategic Vision Statement:
Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines.* As an international organization, the Society offers its members opportunities for mutual support, intellectual growth, and professional development through the following:
- Advancing academic study of biblical texts and their contexts as well as of the traditions and contexts of biblical interpretation
- Collaborating with educational institutions and other appropriate organizations to support biblical scholarship and teaching
- Developing resources for diverse audiences, including students, religious communities, and the general public
- Facilitating broad and open discussion from a variety of critical perspectives
- Organizing congresses for scholarly exchange
- Publishing biblical scholarship
- Promoting cooperation across global boundaries
Here are what the SBL says are its “core values,” in a statement revised in 2011:
Openness to Change
Respect for Diversity
You might wonder why an academic organization devoted to Biblical scholarship holds as its core values “respect for diversity,” “openness to change,” “inclusivity,” and “tolerance”? Isn’t this just one of those typically euphemistic liberal ways of saying, “No Biblical scholars who don’t accept progressive views on LGBT issues allowed”?
Why yes, apparently, it is. SBL has reportedly banned InterVarsity Press from having a booth at the 2017 SBL convention in Boston because of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s recent decision to hold firmly to orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality, and to ask employees who dissent to resign.
Rev. Dr. Michael F. Bird, an Australian academic, writes that he saw the letter that SBL president John Kutsko sent to IVP informing them of the society’s decision. Dr. Bird responded with an open letter to Kutsko asking him to reconsider. Excerpt:
Fifth, and somewhat baffling, is what you wrote to IVP. You said that SBL was committed to: “a variety of critical perspectives … diversity of participation and unhindered critical discourse … free inquiry and expression.” John, mate, I don’t want to be confrontational, but can you explain to me how does banning a publisher from the annual conference increase the diversity, free inquiry and expression of SBL? It does the opposite, it cabines diversity, it censures certain elements of belief, and inhibits free expression. Let me be clear, to ban IVP from the annual convention does not safeguard the academic freedom of SBL members, it amounts to censorship, which many of us are very, very sensitive about.
Sixth, I think it is worth remembering that some publishing houses are confessional, whether that is IVP, Prometheus, Liturgical Press, or Jewish Publishing Society, and they are within their rights to publish books in accordance with their beliefs and guidelines. I’ve been turned down by publishers for being too conservative and by others for being too liberal. What you are proposing creates a very dangerous precedent for confessional publishers who’s views do not accord with the ideology and predilections of the executive committee. I joined SBL to be part of a professional society where a variety of perspectives are exhibited in seminars and at the bookstalls. I’m not interested in being part of a professional society that is a shill for social progressives or a proxy for conservatives. SBL is a society that deals with the study of religious texts by people of all faiths and none, where there is no doctrinal Taliban at the door checking which publishers I’ve bought books from. I think I speak for many when I say that I rather we kept it that way.
This is, of course, an outrage, for exactly the reasons Dr. Bird mentions. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is going to pay a heavy price for its fidelity, and so, as we see in this latest development, is InterVarsity Press.
In a related development, the Big 12 college football conference has decided not to invite Brigham Young University to join in the event of an expansion. More:
Months ago, BYU was viewed as the frontrunner in any Big 12 expansion scenario. With a passionate national fan base, strong football tradition, top-35 TV market in Salt Lake City and solid academic credentials, BYU checked every box of the criteria the Big 12 said it would be analyzing.
But the LGBT community’s opposition to BYU because of its honor code has turned BYU’s candidacy “toxic,” as one Big 12 insider characterized it.
“Their appeal doesn’t outweigh the baggage, even though the appeal is great,” another said.
Earlier this month, Iowa State’s student government passed a resolution opposing a BYU Big 12 invite, noting that “BYU’s discriminatory policies and practices are inconsistent with the values of the Big 12.”
BYU, as you know, is a Mormon university, and administers itself according to Mormon belief. But now, No Mormons Need Apply to the Big 12, because the Big 12 is bigoted against religious institutions who are conservative on sexuality.
Christian colleges and universities are very soon going to be facing a question: Are your athletic programs more important to you than your Christian identity? They won’t be allowed to have both.
As for the SBL situation, it’s a harbinger of further blacklisting to come in academia around the LGBT issue. If the Society of Biblical Literature is beginning to shun Christians for upholding Christian orthodoxy regarding homosexuality, it is an unmistakable sign that we are heading towards banning traditional Christians from academia. SBL is saying that the nation’s largest Christian publisher cannot conduct commerce in its marketplace without having an LGBT seal of approval. Let those with eyes to see, see.
If you take a look at this amazing four-minute clip, you’ll hear from three of the Norcia monks quoted in The Benedict Option. Watching it, I thought of the words St. Francis of Assisi heard from God early in his own Christian journey: “Francis, rebuild my church.” Francis thought God was talking about a dilapidated church building, but God really meant renewing the entire church.
As you know, I’m not a Catholic, but I deeply believe God is working through the monks of Norcia to renew the entire church in the West — Catholic, Protestant, and what few Orthodox we have. We Protestants and Orthodox can’t walk in exactly the same path as these Catholic monks, if you follow me here, but we can walk alongside them on the pilgrim’s path, in the same direction. It makes me so happy to base this book in large part on the Christian witness of these monks and the life they live in community in Norcia. I’m only sorry that The Benedict Option is not in bookstores right now, so more people can read and understand how vital the work of the Benedictines of Norcia is to all Christians in the West — and in turn, give whatever they can to the earthquake rebuilding fund.
But that’s coming in March. In the meantime, give what you can out of your own treasure. Believe me, you will be building up a treasure for all the church, a refuge and a lighthouse in the new Dark Age.
All of the dread and loathing I’d always felt about the limiting script of traditional masculine norms came flooding back. I was faced with one of my biggest fears about parenthood: having a son.
The common wisdom, as research verifies, is that most men want sons. That’s starting to shift. Some men, like me, fear becoming fathers to sons.
At the website for the NPR radio show “On Being,” the writer Courtney E. Martin observes of many younger middle- and upper-middle-class fathers-to-be, “I’ve noticed a fascinating trend: They seem to disproportionately desire having a girl instead of a boy.” An informal Facebook survey she took yielded these results: “I wanted a girl mainly because I felt it was harder to be a boy in today’s society. If I have a boy I will embrace the challenge of raising a boy…who can learn the power of vulnerability even as male culture tries to make him see it as weakness. But, frankly, I hope that when I have a second child, it’ll be another girl.’” This was emblematic of a lot of the responses, which revealed that men felt more confident, or “better equipped,” co-parenting “a strong, confident daughter.”
Ms. Martin says that her own husband was relieved to have daughters instead of sons. He says: “‘I haven’t felt like I fit into a lot of the social norms around masculinity…. I’m much more interested in the challenge of helping a girl or young woman transcend sexist conditions. It feels more possible and more important, in some ways.”
“More possible and more important”? More:
A blogger on Vice, Chelsea G. Summers, thrills at how “misandry” — hatred of men — has become “chic.” She gushes that, in addition to a political agenda, this blanket antipathy promises some “great pop culture.” This has manifested itself, among other ways, through blogs and online essays and tweets that pillory and mock the growing trend of men crying — which, I know from my own and other men’s experience, can be the single act that most liberates and heals a painful past that devalues masculine sensitivity. Paradoxically, for some men, the third-wave feminism they embrace strong-arms them into muting the very sensitivity and empathy that opened their eyes to women’s plight.
Is it any wonder that some of us want little, if anything, to do with raising boys? The subtext bombarding us from many sides ultimately encourages us to abandon them, even as they founder beneath the chop of a changing world for which they lack the buoyancy. Yet men like me abdicate our responsibility by letting other men — the ones who don’t always encourage the broader, deeper humanity within males — raise boys. And we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to heal old wounds.
Dang, it’s enough to make you want to join the military were men can be old-fashioned men, or something. Except now, women can be men there too, and the military will pay for the operation. And, well, look:
— CNN (@CNN) October 18, 2016
What’s going on here? C.S. Lewis was on to it ages ago: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
The kids who show up at Kathy and David’s have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger, abuse, sexual assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand — to a sibling, friend or parent.
It’s anomalous for them to have a bed at home. One 21-year-old woman came to dinner last week and said this was the first time she’d been around a family table since she was 11.
And yet by some miracle, hostile soil has produced charismatic flowers. Thursday dinner is the big social occasion of the week. Kids come from around the city. Spicy chicken and black rice are served. Cellphones are banned (“Be in the now,” Kathy says).
The kids call Kathy and David “Momma” and “Dad,” are unfailingly polite, clear the dishes, turn toward one another’s love like plants toward the sun and burst with big glowing personalities. Birthdays and graduations are celebrated. Songs are performed.
I started going to dinner there about two years ago, hungry for something beyond food. Each meal we go around the table, and everybody has to say something nobody else knows about them.
Each meal we demonstrate our commitment to care for one another. I took my daughter once and on the way out she said, “That’s the warmest place I can ever imagine.”
Bill Milliken, a veteran youth activist, is often asked which programs turn around kids’ lives. “I still haven’t seen one program change one kid’s life,” he says. “What changes people is relationships. Somebody willing to walk through the shadow of the valley of adolescence with them.”
Souls are not saved in bundles. Love is the necessary force.
The problems facing this country are deeper than the labor participation rate and ISIS. It’s a crisis of solidarity, a crisis of segmentation, spiritual degradation and intimacy.
Read the whole thing. It will give you a lift amid all the awful news from the campaign trail. And to learn more about AOKDC, the nonprofit organization Kathy and David started to help support and expand their work with these kids, go to this page. It’s amazing what they do. And all it took was a willingness to do it, and to keep doing it. No big plans, just acting.
See, this is the kind of thing I mean when I talk about the Benedict Option: things like what Kathy and David are doing. They obviously don’t need a theory (“the Benedict Option™”) to do this stuff. But it is an example of politics that aren’t politics as we customarily think of it. From the manuscript of The Benedict Option:
What kind of politics should we pursue in the Benedict Option? If we broaden our political vision to include culture, we find that opportunities for action and service are boundless. Christian philosopher Scott Moore says that we err when we speak of politics as mere statecraft.
“Politics is about how we order our lives together in the polis, whether that is a city, community or even a family,” writes Moore. “It is about how we live together, how we recognize and preserve that which is most important, how we cultivate friendships and educate our children, how we learn to think and talk about what kind of life really is the good life.”
That’s it, right there. This is what Vaclav Havel called “antipolitical politics,” a concept he developed out of the experience of powerlessness Czech dissidents felt under communism. They could do nothing in the realm of politics per se — so Havel and his circles began to think of “politics” in the sense that Scott Moore mentions. If they could do nothing about changing the communist system, at least they could do whatever they could, in community, to keep the communist system from changing them. Again, a passage from The Benedict Option:
“A better system will not automatically ensure a better life,” Havel goes on. “In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.” [Emphasis mine.]
The answer, then, is to create and support “parallel structures” in which the truth can be lived in community. Isn’t this a form of escapism, a retreat into a ghetto? Not at all, says Havel; a countercultural community that abdicated its responsibility to reach out to help others would end up being a “more sophisticated version of ‘living within a lie.’”
Obviously we conservative Christians aren’t living under totalitarianism, and we still retain the ability to act in customary political ways — and we should. But we are much less powerful in that sense than we used to be, and our weakness is going to get much worse in the near future, no matter which candidate wins in November. Because we lost the culture war, we have lost the political war, and that’s something we have to accept.
But that does not mean we give up! It means we keep fighting politically, but in a different way. If we ever want a better political system (meaning one in which the laws and practices of our democracy are more reflective of truth and justice), we have to create better lives — that is, we have to create communities that embrace practices that cultivate Christian virtues, and increase caritas within us.
I’m strongly convinced that the most important fight for American Christians now in the realm of conventional politics is the one for religious liberty. We have to preserve as much as we can the private spaces within which to build these communities. But come what may on that front, we still have to do it. If the Czechs did these things under communist totalitarianism, what right do we have to give up under post-Christian liberal democracy?
The long-term hope I have is that Ben Op communities — churches, Christian schools, and the like — will serve a role akin to monasteries of the early Middle Ages: beacons of light in a darkening time. I don’t know if Kathy and David, the couple in David Brooks’s piece, are Christians, much less if they are conservatives. But what they’re doing by establishing their home as a refuge for kids walking around wounded from the disorders of our time and place, and making a community from them, is a form of antipolitical politics. It pushes back hard against the forces of alienation, isolation, and atomization that characterize our culture.
There are hard limits to what orthodox Christians can do through politics in the public square, but many fewer limits to what one can do in the realm of antipolitics. At this point, the greatest limit is our creativity and willingness to try. And here’s the thing: if orthodox Christians don’t start doing things like this for ourselves, for our own kids, and for others, we aren’t going to make it. We can’t stop the pulverizing wave of post-Christian modernity, but we can hope to ride it out intact. And if we build communities, even ones as small as Kathy’s and David’s, that serve as refuges of love for those stranded and searching in the present Dark Age, then we Christians will attract all kinds of people who want the peace that we have. That’s how the early church did it, right?
And if we don’t establish communities like this, we may lose our peace, or never find it to begin with. We will sit around perpetually anxious as the remains of Christian civilization fall down around us. Trust me, I know from being anxious about this stuff!
Hey, I have been granted an extension of a few hours to do very, very last minute polishing on the Benedict Option book manuscript. While I’m away with my head buried in my laptop, I want to throw this question out there that I’ve been thinking about since a comment appeared here over the weekend.
One of the conservative Catholic commenters on this blog wrote that he wishes we had a Religious Right run by Catholics, because Evangelicals are so dumb they really messed it up. I pointed out in reply that if you were depending on Catholics to run the Religious Right, we wouldn’t have much of one; on key culture war issues, Evangelicals are better Catholics that Catholics.
I’m serious. The Catholic Church is against abortion. Look at these polling results from Pew:
The Catholic Church says that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage is wrong. But the most recent Pew poll found only 27 percent of white Evangelicals approving of gay marriage, versus 58 percent of Catholics doing so.
Here’s something I have never figured out. In theory, Catholics ought to be a lot more theologically conservative on such matters. They have a clear teaching proclaimed by a clear church authority, with a deep Biblical theology behind it. And yet, on the whole, it doesn’t seem to matter to lay Catholics. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have the Bible, but no binding interpretive authority to keep them from diverging. Yet, on these issues, they are more morally conservative than Catholics — even by Catholic standards.
Why is this? I’m asking in a serious way. Any of you have a theory? I’m not going to publish gratuitous Catholic bashing or Evangelical bashing in the comments.
Hillsborough police are investigating an apparent firebombing of the Orange County Republican headquarters, an incident that one state GOP official called an act of “political terrorism.”
Police say the incident occurred when a bottle of flammable liquid was thrown through the front window of the office on Ja-Max Dr.
“The office itself is a total loss,” said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of state GOP. “The only thing important to us is that nobody was killed, and they very well could have been.”
Police said the words, “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else” were spray painted on the side of an adjacent building.
“This highly disturbing act goes far beyond vandalizing property; it willfully threatens our community’s safety via fire, and its hateful message undermines decency, respect and integrity in civic participation,” Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said in a statement.
I tend to be skeptical as a precautionary measure when things like this happen, simply because the left has a bad habit of staging this kind of thing to get sympathy. It might be the case that some wiseguys on the Right have done this to draw some of the media attention away from Trump. Or not. But I won’t be surprised at all if it turns out to have been a genuine attack by leftists. As reader Noah172 rightly points out, the majority of election-related physical violence in this campaign season has come from anti-Trump nasties beating up Trump supporters.
Note well that Orange County contains Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina, and a liberal bastion in the state.
UPDATE: This is 100 percent accurate, for the same reason that if Brian Ogle had been a black teenager beaten up by four white thugs for his Black Lives Matter activism, we would have been in the thick of the National Conversation™ (in case you didn’t see it, the town’s police chief said that the four suspects made a point of traveling to the town to beat Ogle up because they didn’t like what the Blue Lives Matter supporter said on Facebook). Anyway, this:
If the parties were reversed in the NC firebombing, we’d be gearing up for a big national conversation about dangerous rhetoric.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 16, 2016
UPDATE.2: This is beautiful. Democrats raised $13,000 on GoFundMe to get the firebombed GOP headquarters open again. That’s the America I love. David Weinberger of Brookline, Mass., started the page. He writes on it:
On October 16, a North Carolina headquarters of the Republican Party was firebombed , and an abhorrent threat was painted on its outside wall
As Democrats, we are starting this campaign to enable the Orange County, North Carolina Republican office to re-open as soon as possible.
Until an investigation is undertaken, we cannot know who did this or why. No matter the result, this is not how Americans resolve their differences. We talk, we argue, sometimes we march, and most of all we vote. We do not resort to violence by individuals or by mobs.
So, let’s all pitch in , no matter what your party affiliation, in and get that office open again quickly.
Less than 40 mins after going public, we met our goal and then some! Thank you all for showing that Americans are thirsty for civility and decency, and that we love our democracy above all our differences.
Go, David Weinberger, go! And thank you to all the patriotic and big-hearted Democrats who stepped up.
If you go to the page and read the comments, you’ll see lots of them that are like balm in Gilead during this detestable campaign. But there are a few like these from cretins on the left and the right who are unwilling to let a good deed go unpunished:
This blog’s unfailingly superb commenter Edward Hamilton writes:
Neoconservative intellectuals, 2003: We must immediately depose Hussein’s Baathist regime. We’re pretty sure they have been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. We will discover the evidence of this after invading. Also, the war will mostly pay for itself when we install an oil-rich West-friendly democratic regime.
Neoconservative inellectuals, 2004: OK, no sign of the WMDs. But as long as we’re here, let’s sink half a trillion of your dollars into creating that democratic state, which we’re sure will pay off in the long run and totally not collapse back into perpetual civil war with Islamic radicals. Also, anyone who disagrees with this is an unpatriotic traitor.
Investment banks, 2006: Please keep interest rates permanently low, so we can leverage ourselves at ridiculous ratios using borrowed money and hedge our investments in ways that will never ever go wrong.
Investment banks, 2008: Whoops! Please cough up hundreds of billions of public dollars immediately to keep the financial world from descending into anarchy. Also, we’ll need those interest rates to stay low forever, ideally low enough to double corporate profits as a percentage of GDP and allow us to go back to being even more filthy rich than we were before. By the way, we still expect our alums to have major roles in the new Obama cabinet. Thanks!
Social liberals, 2004: Why do you keep passing these ridiculous ballot initiatives? No one is proposing national gay marriage, you are just doing this to be spiteful. America is Jesusland on the brink of total theocracy, and we just want enough principled federalism to give a few deep-blue states the freedom to dissent from your religious tyrrany.
Social liberals, 2012: Welcome to the wrong side of history. Please comply with our non-negotiable request to reject several millennia of your religious traditions and adopt some views about sexual morality that we literally didn’t embrace until five minutes ago. Should you fail to comply, you will be permanently barred from all participation in public life. Oh yeah, since these issues are far to important to be trusted to the voting whims of cretins like you, we’ve just invalidated all those ballot initiatives you passed.
The non-Fox media, 2012: Romney may look innocent and guileless, but he is actually a vile racist who hates the poor, wants to stuff women into binders, and loves torturing dogs.
Every urban elite, 2014: Stop whining about your lost jobs that were outsourced to Asia. They are never coming back, plus they are helping important people like us get stupidly rich by lowering our labor costs. Instead, abandon the dying towns where your last six generations of ancestors have lived, move to big cities where your accumulated life savings will get you the downpayment on a two-bedroom apartment, move your lazy stay-at-home moms into the workforce, and shoulder tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get a proper STEM education. We’re pretty sure these new high-skill jobs will be totally immune to replacement by foreign tech workers from rapidly modernizing countries like China and India (or automation). What are the odds of that happening to multiple sectors of the same economy within a century, right?
All the above groups, 2016: Have you taken leave of your sanity? Why would you trust an obvious charlatan with a third-grade vocabulary rather than sensible centrists like us? He’s an extinction-level event. All of these attacks on neoconservatives, the corporate media, social liberals, and investment bankers are just Hitler-ish dog whistling with a horrifying subtext. You have to trust us, this is important. You have to trust us!
Why don’t you trust us?