Rod Dreher

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My grandmother died this afternoon. It was a mercy. She was in her late 80s, and had been in a nursing home suffering from dementia and other ailments for years. I went to see her yesterday for what I knew would be the last time. She was in a coma. There was nothing to say except prayers. The time I saw her before that was in the hospital a couple of months ago, when we didn’t think she was going to make it. She wasn’t sure who I was, but she begged me to take her back home to Starhill. She said she would rather go to Hell than back to that nursing home.

The home was not a bad place. She just was tired of being there. I don’t blame her.

My grandmother — she was my mom’s mom — was not particularly close to Ruthie and me. It was a complicated family story, and a sad one. But neither was there any hostility. I was cleaning the church in Starhill when Mama called me from the nursing home in an eastern suburb of Baton Rouge with the news. I prayed for my grandmother, and finished my work. There will be a baby boy’s baptism tomorrow in Starhill, and I’m standing godfather. Life moves on.

Driving home from church, I passed by the Starhill Cemetery, where my grandmother will be laid to rest next week, next to my grandfather and her daughter, my Aunt Julia, who died of cancer at age 42, just like my sister did. My grandmother — Uncle Jimmy’s sister — was a plain country lady who had a hard life. Burying a daughter was the worst of it, no doubt, but not the whole of it.

When I was a kid, the only reason why we would come down Audubon Lane is to go visit her and my grandfather. Not too many people lived on Audubon Lane in those days. That has changed a lot in 50 years. Now I’m one of the people who live along Audubon Lane. The house where my grandparents made their home has been swallowed up by trees. Life moves on.

Driving up Audubon Lane this afternoon, praying for my grandmother’s soul, and thinking about my happiest memory of her, I remembered her divinity. Have you ever heard of divinity? Here’s a recipe. It’s a traditional Southern candy made from sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, pecans, and egg whites. If fudge were made out of clouds, it would be divinity. I can’t remember the last time I had it. Does anybody make divinity anymore?

My grandmother made it from time to time when I was little. I can remember sitting on a stool in her kitchen once when I was very small, maybe five years old, watching her dropping the hot, sticky nuggets of divinity onto wax paper spread out on the table. Before long they would be cool enough to eat. Nothing else tasted like divinity. It was so pillowy and sweet. Back then, I was too little to know what the word “divinity” meant; to my ears, it sounded magical. It was what that impossibly delicious candy Mawmaw made was called. Divinity was the candy, and the candy was divinity, and Mawmaw made it, nobody else.


Divinity is traditionally snow white (see the photo above), but my grandmother sometimes added a little food coloring to her batches, which made them turn out in bright pastels. Decades later, when I first saw Wayne Thiebaud’s gorgeous paintings of cakes, pies, and meringues, I was instantly captivated by them, for reasons I have never been able to explain. Today I learned why. They reminded me of Mawmaw’s divinity.

I remember where I was the first time I saw her pastel divinity. She brought it over to our house in a repurposed fruitcake tin, lined with wax paper. She knew Ruthie and I loved divinity. When I opened the tin, instead of the usual white candy, there they were, pink, pale green, sky blue, lemon yellow. It was breathtaking, as if someone had given us a box full of colored Christmas tree lights that you could eat, and that tasted sweet in a way that nothing else tasted sweet. If you drank a sip of Coke after eating a piece of divinity, it foamed up in your mouth (the egg whites), and nothing else did that but divinity.

The next time Mawmaw made her pastel divinity, I was sitting on that stool, watching her push chunks of wet divinity off of one spoon onto another, onto the wax paper. By the time she finished, she had covered half the dining table with rows and rows of pastel divinity candies, cooling into stiff peaks and whorls, mesmerizing a little boy with their colors, their shapes, the harmonies and lines, and the promise that if put one in my mouth, the taste would infuse me with the same bright candied pleasure. They were just like a Wayne Thiebaud painting, I now realize, but you could eat them, and they were created not by a famous artist, but by my grandmother, a simple country lady who had a hard life. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that she made beautiful candy that no one else made, and that as a little boy, this candy made me as happy as anything else did.

The kitchen where she produced these nuggets of pure joy disappeared into the woods a long time ago. And now she is gone too, delivered at last from her many agonies, gone home, finally, like she wanted.

Helen Fletcher Howard died today. Once upon a time she colored my world with divinity.

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Trans Tyranny In Tacoma

Take a look at this clip, or as much of it as you can stand. You can’t see the audience (the camera was stationary, focused on the speakers), but boy, can you hear them. The reader who sent it says:

I hope you will take a look at this video when you get a chance. It records incredible footage of a panel discussion recorded yesterday in Tacoma, WA, where a fight is brewing over Initial 1515, the Just Want Privacy Campaign, which seeks to overturn the HRC law that says biological men can undress and shower next to females in all public and private places based solely upon gender identity in Washington State.

The women panelists are hectored, screamed at continuously, and basically harassed by the trans activists in the audience. I have never seen anything this uncivil and shocking at a public event — including college campus “trigger” events with Milo.

It’s hard to watch the first half hour or so, but women endure. They are so brave! This is a disheartening video, but also ultimately inspiring because of the bravery and encurance of the women on stage.

We have three weeks to gather 300K signatures here in Washington. If we can get 1515 on the ballot, I believe this video will be the best advertisement for the initiative — better than anything money can buy.

This is pure, uncut Social Justice Warriorism. You need to watch at least some of this, to see the kind of bullying people face for simply daring to stand up, peaceably, to the LGBT juggernaut. I don’t take a position on this initiative, because to do so could violate TAC’s not-for-profit status, but I very much take a position on the danger to democracy of unhinged mobs shouting down speakers. It is absolutely intolerable, and any polity that allows a mob to treat its peaceful citizens this way, no matter what their cause, is well on its way to tyranny.

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The Law School Trap

Noam Scheiber writes in The New York Times:

By most measures, John Acosta is a law school success story. He graduated from Valparaiso University Law School — a well-established regional school here in northwestern Indiana — in the top third of his class this past December, a semester ahead of schedule. He passed the bar exam on his first try in February.

Mr. Acosta, 39, is also a scrupulous networker who persuaded a former longtime prosecutor to join him in starting a defense and family law firm. A police officer for 11 years in Georgia, Mr. Acosta has a rare ability to get inside the head of a cop that should be of more than passing interest to would-be clients.

“I think John’s going to do fine,” said Andrew Lucas, a partner at the firm where Mr. Acosta rents office space. “He’s got other life skills that are attractive to people running into problems.”

Yet in financial terms, there is almost no way for Mr. Acosta to climb out of the crater he dug for himself in law school, when he borrowed over $200,000. The government will eventually forgive the loan — in 25 years — if he’s unable to repay it, as is likely on his small-town lawyer’s salary. But the Internal Revenue Service will probably treat the forgiven amount as income, leaving him what could easily be a $70,000 tax bill on the eve of retirement, and possibly much higher.

Mr. Acosta is just one of tens of thousands of recent law school graduates caught up in a broad transformation of the legal profession. While demand for other white-collar jobs has grown substantially since the start of the recession, law firms and corporations are finding they can make do with far fewer in-house lawyers than before.

Read the whole thing. I knew things were not great for law school grads these days, but damn, not that bad. It’s almost like they were holders of journalism degrees, or something.

UPDATE: Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago Law School cries foul, and provides evidence that actual peer-reviewed studies find that for most people, law school still makes financial sense.

UPDATE.2: A reader writes:

Your comments section keeps messing up on my tablet so I wanted to email this…

I graduated from a third tier law school in 2012 in the bottom ten of my class. Not ten percent, bottom ten. There were no plum job offers for me, obviously. And my student debt upon graduation was easily in the $200,000 range. If it wasn’t for income -based repayment I would’ve explored bankruptcy years ago. (NB: Student loans are virtually impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.)

But here’s the funny thing…I did pass the bar on my first try, and I got an entry level job in an industry where my law license is definitely an advantage. I work 40 hours a week, enjoy full benefits, and get two weeks paid vacation plus accrued sick time. And four years out of law school I make a salary that’s right around where it is for the rest of my classmates.

The vast majority of my classmates (~75%) had to hang out their own shingle right after graduation and become solo practitioners. They hit the ground running doing DUIs and divorces for 80 hours a week. For the most part they’re doing the same thing four years later, unless they got lucky and caught a personal injury case or two (if you can call that luck). Even the small handful of students who got big law firm jobs don’t enjoy the benefits or normal work hours that I do.

The worst story I know of was a classmate who graduated in the top 10% of my class and had to take a job and the mall and donate plasma to make ends meet. That’s the extreme case, but I know several classmates who bartend and substitute teach just to pay the bills.

I would do it all over again for the sole reason that I met my wife. But for the 99% of students who dream of an upper-middle class lifestyle or becoming the next Jack McCoy, they’re falling for a lie.

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Department Of Defense Diversity

A reader who works for the Department of Defense, reacting to my post from earlier today about the State Department’s instructing Fulbright scholars in gender ideology, says this memo was sent around this morning to thousands of employees of that particular agency:

This [meeting] will focus on the importance of being able to move from tolerance and acceptance to embracing diversity. We have all observed and been on the receiving end of each of these different levels of human interaction. We can state with absolute certainty the distinction between being tolerated and being embraced, for instance. There are confidence impacts. There are social impacts. There are mission impacts. The panel for this Coffee and Conversations will talk about the importance of embracing each other, regardless of our differences. [emphasis mine] They will also share experiences and insights into where they have seen this done well and where they have seen it done wrong.

The reader adds:

The announcement then goes on to list the panelists and remarks that they will join together “in discussing how we can be better champions of diversity and help create a more inclusive workplace.”

The proselytizing goes well-beyond the State Department.

It used to be that you were being asked to tolerate, which I think most of us, whatever our personal view on homosexuality and transgenderism, can agree is a reasonable request, especially in the workplace. Now you are being strongly nudged by your employer to affirm, or embrace. Notice the language in the memo, which implies that if you don’t affirm, then you are harming the mission (= doing a subpar job). You know what happens to people who harm the mission.

I’ve written before about a Christian friend who works at a senior level within a major corporation. He has ignored many company-wide prompts from the Human Resources department urging employees to declare themselves LGBT “allies,” because he believes having to make that declaration would violate his conscience. He fears the day when his superiors come to him and tell him that his failure to positively affirm his allyship means he creates a risk for a hostile work environment, and they fire him.

Well, the Defense Department is now laying the groundwork for the same thing among its employees. Think that’s alarmist? Let’s say that you are a religious believer and Pentagon employee and are perfectly prepared to be tolerant, but cannot “embrace,” or affirm, homosexuality or transgenderism. How would you feel receiving a memo from your supervisors telling you that refusing to “embrace diversity” — and we know what that is code for — amounts to creating negative “mission impact”? How secure would you feel that your employment would not eventually depend on violating your religious conscience?

The reader adds that as this is Gay Pride Month, there’s an endless loop of LGBT history and progress playing on TV screens in all the lobbies. And:

A friend of mine is keeping track of the number of emails we get regarding various events for the month (or just outright propaganda), and I think we’re in the dozens.

So, if embracing and affirming (as distinct from mere tolerating) is seen by the Pentagon as necessary for maximal “mission impact,” will it also be the case that armed US combatants have to assent in the same way as part of their mission? Call this alarmist if you like, but the handwriting is on the wall. At some point, this kind of thing will be the pinch of incense that Christians will be required to burn if they want to serve in the military, even in a civilian capacity.

Relatedly, two retired US Army officers, both Christians (one an Orthodox priest), have called for Christian resistance if Congress and the president decide to compel young American women to register for the draft. Excerpt:

If the U.S. Congress and President Obama collude this year to require all young women in America to register with Selective Service, there will be no need to wait for an exigency that might compel the federal government to reinstate the military draft. The moral abasement of the U.S. armed forces would, in principle, already be complete. With that scenario in view, we propose that traditional Christians consider an uncharacteristically radical, proactive course of action.

As retired U.S. military officers, we recall with great joy the opportunity to serve our fellow Americans by responding, freely and without reservation, to the call to military duty. During our respective careers each of us had a distinct role in the adjudication of requests of soldiers or sailors to be discharged from military service as “conscientious objectors”—one as a chaplain tasked with ascertaining the sincerity and moral consistency of each applicant’s convictions, and one as a commanding officer to forward up the chain of command his decision for or against an applicant’s claim. The criterion for CO status is straightforward: “A firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief.”

If our federal government mandates that young women, without exception, register with Selective Service against their will, with a foreseeable possibility of conscription into the profession of arms, there will be fresh justification for conscientious objection—on both moral and religious grounds—by men as well as women to refuse to bear arms in a military force opposed to the divine and natural order of creation itself. For the sake of moral integrity, and for the providential welfare of this “one nation under God,” we are dedicated to stand with such women and men. And we earnestly appeal to all Christian authorities to acknowledge the enormity of this national crisis and to take the same stand.

Very, very quickly, traditional Christians are going to have to rethink, and rethink radically, their relationship with the State. You can do it now or you can do it later, but you’re going to have to do it.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

I can tell you as a government employee the LGBTQ appreciation is across the entire spectrum of agencies and offices this month.

There have been numerous speakers and events in nearly every building I have walked into in DC. This stuff is literally everywhere. The walls are covered with propaganda posters and affirmations, etc. It’s unavoidable.

And of course, it is all loaded with assumptions, and no one dares question whether:

1.) Any of those assumptions are worthy of questioning

2). If they government should be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least) on a month’s worth of “pride” materials and expenses, to say nothing of the time an expense of all the employees actually attending these events during the workday (on the public dime)?

At the same time, I can also tell you “iteration” with or “commitment” to diversity is not part of many government agencies annual employee reviews. In other words, you can be negatively reviewed for [failing to do] precisely what you are talking about.

There is an entire industry of consultants brought into to run these things, set them up and proffer what must be done. The HR departments are hook, line and sinker all for this, as HR always is. Bathrooms in many federal buildings have also already been changed.

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Millions Of Catholic Bastards

No, I have not become an Ulsterman. The headline is the implication of Pope Francis’s astonishing words at a press conference. [UPDATE: Not really; see below. — RD]The only major public figure who has less discipline in speaking is Donald Trump. Excerpts:

Pope Francis said Thursday that the great majority of sacramental marriages today are not valid, because couples do not enter into them with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment.

“We live in a culture of the provisional,” the Pope said in impromptu remarks June 16. After addressing the Diocese of Rome’s pastoral congress, he held a question-and-answer session.

A layman asked about the “crisis of marriage” and how Catholics can help educate youth in love, help them learn about sacramental marriage, and help them overcome “their resistance, delusions and fears.”

The Pope answered from his own experience.

“I heard a bishop say some months ago that he met a boy that had finished his university studies, and said ‘I want to become a priest, but only for 10 years.’ It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life,” he said.

“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say “yes, for the rest of my life!” but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

Just to be clear: the pope is saying that the “great majority” of people married inside the Catholic Church are not really married, because one or both spouses entered into the marriage covenant without the right intentions.

This is the Pope talking.

And it’s not going over well. Here’s part of a tweetstorm from Ross Douthat:

Reuters reports:

Edward Peters, a U.S. canon lawyer who has been an adviser to the Vatican, wrote that the pope’s words were “very bad” because they could spur couples in difficult marriages to “give up now” instead of trying to overcome problems.

The Catholic Church teaches that a marriage can be ended only by death or an annulment — a Church ruling it was not valid in the first place because it lacked prerequisites such as free will and psychological maturity.

“The crisis of marriage is due to the fact that people don’t know what the sacrament is, the beauty of the sacrament, they don’t know that it is indissoluble, that it is for your entire life,” the pope said.

“There are girls and boys who have purity and a great love, but they are few,” he said, adding that many young people had a materialistic and superficial approach to their wedding day, such as an obsession with choosing the right gown, the right church and the right restaurant.

He said the Church needed better marriage preparation programs.

Conservatives also chided Francis for saying at the same meeting that priests should not pressure couples who were co-habitating if they were not ready to get married. He said the priests should “let fidelity ripen”.

That’s right, kids: the Pope says it may be a better idea for you to keep shacking up.

Reuters also reports that in the official transcript of the Pope’s remarks, the Vatican changed the words “great majority of our marriages” to “some of our marriages”.

In 2014, Benedict Nguyen, a canon lawyer, gave an interview to the National Catholic Register about conditions for marriage annulments. Excerpt:

However, the third category of grounds for annulment — and the most involved processes for tribunals — are marriages involving consent, where one or both of the spouses did not intend to embrace all the goods of marriage: permanence, exclusivity or openness to children, for example.

“There’s plenty of people out there who believe in divorce, but they say, ‘Oh, but that’s not going to happen to us.’ Well, that’s presumably a valid marriage with valid consent,” he said. “But if somebody says, ‘I believe in divorce and in terminating this marriage if it comes to that,’ well, that casts some serious doubts on the consent.”

This would seem to indicate that Catholics who enter a marriage believing that if it doesn’t work out, they can always divorce, are in fact not validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. But is it true that the “great majority” of Catholics married today stood before God and made their marriage vows thinking that it might not last forever? How would the Pope know? Why would make such a sweeping pronouncement, being Pope and all? Why would he encourage Catholics living together outside of marriage to remain that way for a while longer?

Catholic readers, help me out here.

(UPDATE: I know that children resulting from a marriage later annulled as invalid are not, canonically speaking, illegitimate. I even looked it up before I posted this morning. The headline was too delicious to pass up using. But I should have indicated in the initial post that I knew it wasn’t literally true — even though I have never, even in my Catholic days, been able to understand why it isn’t true, as a matter of logic. — RD)

They don’t make popes like they used to, alas. I miss this guy:

UPDATE: Matthew Schmitz highlights the weirdness of what Francis said:

What about people with less [theological] education, who haven’t staged performances of The Jeweler’s Shop, read Heart of the World, or participated in a Theology of the Body discussion group? The poorly educated and the poor are unlikely to have the time or ability to get up to speed on sacramental theology. If the sincere exchange of vows doesn’t make their marriage valid, what does? Must all sacramentally valid marriages resemble my friends’, beginning only after a few years of theological study, during a Mass set to music by Mozart?

Even in the United States, where 60 percent of all annulments are handed out, only 28 percent of Catholic marriages end in divorce. By the pope’s strange reckoning, a great number of Catholic marriages that last for life are shams.

Catholic theologians may object to this view, but they’re not the ones targeted by it. According to Francis, their marriages are probably valid, while those entered into by the rest of us probably aren’t.

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Will You Miss Garrison Keillor?

Gloomy Garrison Keillor goes into retirement (Becky McCray/Shutterstock)
Gloomy Garrison Keillor goes into retirement (Becky McCray/Shutterstock)

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Garrison Keillor, the creator and star of A Prairie Home Companion, is retiring from the show he’s been at the center of for decades. I read the news when it was announced, and thought about how I haven’t listened to PHC in years. I used to be a big fan, but there came a point — I can’t say when — at which Keillor and his show just ran out of gas. Guy Noir, the Lives of the Cowboys, even the tales of Lake Wobegon — all of them had the air of an old, battered recliner, the worn thin covering of which the springs had burst through, deflating the thing.

The link above will take you to a NYT profile of Keillor at the end of his PHC career. Part of it asks the question: Did Garrison Keillor stay too long? Excerpt:

There is debate about whether Mr. Keillor should have exited a while ago. His weekly radio audience peaked 10 years ago, at 4.1 million, and has since dropped to 3.2 million. While that does not include listeners on Sirius XM, or the show’s three million monthly digital requests, many stations have dropped their Sunday repeat broadcast of his show.

“Prairie Home” captured a time, before tweets and Facebook posts, when people talked more over fence posts and pots of coffee but nowadays feels increasingly removed from many listeners’ lives.

“A lot of the conversation has been: ‘Did Garrison wait too long? Should Garrison have done this years ago?’” said Eric Nuzum, former vice president for programming at NPR. “The problem of ‘Prairie Home Companion’ is it’s part of public radio’s past, not their future,” Mr. Nuzum said. (American Public Media distributes “Prairie Home”; NPR member stations air programs from APM as well as from other distributors.)

That’s still a huge audience. Creatively, he was spent a long time ago. But then, the Rolling Stones have been for decades, but they still fill stadiums. Still, they’re a nostalgia act by now, and so is Keillor.

The profile is worth reading because it reveals what a weird, misanthropic guy Keillor is. Excerpts:

Margaret Moos Pick, Mr. Keillor’s early producer and former longtime girlfriend, said his Lake Wobegon monologues put him into something like a state of hypnosis. In them, he could lose himself.

“I don’t think he’s necessarily a happy man,” Mr. Angell [Roger Angell, his editor at The New Yorker] said, “But the time he is happy is when he is doing his monologue.”


Curiously, Mr. Keillor has always found it difficult spending so much time with the strong, good-looking, above average people of Lake Wobegon, which he based on his relatives, past and present.

In “The Keillor Reader” (2014), he complained bitterly about “their industriousness, their infernal humility, their schoolmarmish sincerity, their earnest interest in you, their clichés falling like clockwork — it can be tiring to be around.”

Speaking on his porch, Mr. Keillor said of Lake Wobegonians, i.e., his relatives, “I am frustrated by them in real life.” They were too controlled by good manners, he said, and “have a very hard time breaking through.”

So why devote so much of his professional life ruminating about them? “It’s the people I think I know,” he replied.

Will he miss them, and the weekly jolt of the show?

“No,” he replied. “No.”

I was disabused of my illusions about Garrison Keillor when I read his 2004 nonfiction book Homegrown Democrat. Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon Days was one of my favorite books of the early 1990s, and I thought I was going to read a book extolling liberal politics, written in the same avuncular, down-home spirit.

Boy, was I wrong. Homegrown Democrat is dark, bitter, and biting. Everybody knows Garrison Keillor is a liberal, but it was a shock to realize that underneath his genial, humane public radio persona, he’s a small, spiteful man. I didn’t see it coming. It was like sitting down at the Chatterbox Cafe over a piece of rhubarb pie, and discovering with the first bite that they spiked the thing with vinegar.

Anyway, I hope he finds peace and happiness in his retirement, and I thank him for the happy memories.

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Missionaries For Post-Christian America

'Hi! We're here as American cultural ambassadors, and we'd like to talk to you about your cisgendered privilege.' (Chadchai Rangubpai/Shutterstock)
'Hi! We're here as American cultural ambassadors, and we'd like to talk to you about your cisgendered privilege.' (Chadchai Rangubpai/Shutterstock)

The Fulbright scholarships are prestigious awards, funded by Congress, to hundreds of US academics and others to provide opportunities for study abroad. It is administered by the US State Department. A reader recently underwent a short course preparing incoming Fulbright scholars for their overseas deployment. He is going to study in a developing country. He tells me he was shocked by the instruction in gender ideology his group was put through as part of their briefing. They were instructed, he said to think about how they can be “an ally” to sexual minorities abroad.

He reports that his group sat through a speech about how backwards most foreign cultures are on sex and gender, and how they would all be ambassadors for cultural change in those benighted societies. Said the reader, “Any sensitivity toward differing cultural norms was couched entirely in pragmatic terms, relating, for example, to personal safety.”

He is a scholar with extensive experience living in the developing world, and this offended him. “The truly insane part, as I see it, is that this is a cultural exchange program. Ostensibly we are supposed to be fostering mutual understanding. [But] the message was clear: we are the tip of the spear of American cultural imperialism, and we are going to change these backwards traditional cultures whether they like it or not.”

He sent images of the handouts he and his fellow Fulbright scholars received. For example:

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 10.27.23 PM


Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 10.28.45 PM

And this:

identity wheel copy

What any of this has to do with going to work as a scholar in foreign countries around the world is not clear to me. I am told that the gender ideology component is a new feature of Fulbright prep, and was not there as recently as 2014. Writes the reader:

While the Fulbright program has a lot of stakeholders, including foreign governments and private nonprofits, it gets about 60% of its funding from Congress via the State Department, and it is managed overall by one of the Bureaus at State, which has its seal on the program schedule. They’re careful to keep pointing out that we (as grantees) are not employees of State per se, but even so this is de facto a program being funded and administered by the federal government. Social justice gender identity ideology is now the official policy of the U.S. government, and receiving indoctrination in it is now mandatory for people receiving the most prestigious—Congressionally funded—foreign research grant in the US.

He’s right that it’s official US government foreign policy under Obama; see this publication by the State Department.

In this 2012 interview, Tara Sonenshine, then the Undersecretary of State in charge of public diplomacy, explained the new policies under the Obama Administration. Excerpt:

NCRM QUESTION: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made “people to people diplomacy” a top priority. And she pronounced that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights”. How do you see doing your job in support of these strategies and principles with the LGBT community both here in the US and abroad?

ANSWER: Using social media and personal engagement can amplify messages. U.S. Embassies and consulates worldwide are declaring support for the human rights of LGBT people through innovative public diplomacy, including: publishing op-eds; speaking on radio programs; using social media; hosting film screenings and performances; hosting panel discussions and round tables; and actively participating in local events. The Department supported this outreach by posting approximately 100 articles, texts, and transcripts amplifying remarks by senior administration officials and important events related to LGBT.

In addition, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is poised to issue two new policies to advance LGBT rights: (1) the ECA Bureau-wide diversity statement-which lists groups of underrepresented individuals encouraged to participate in its exchange programs-is about to expand to include LGBT persons; and (2) the Fulbright scholars program will begin offering the same benefits to committed same-sex partners that are currently being offered to other dependents. ECA exchange programs offer LGBT persons who work on LGBT-related issues from around the world opportunities to meet and collaborate with their American professional counterparts. In particular, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), has already brought groups to the United States focusing on issues important to the LGBT community and has planned future projects on LGBT-related topics. Other IVLPs already incorporate meetings with LGBT advocacy groups on programs that cover human rights, civic participation and gender issues.

According to the official requirements for Fulbright applicants for both teaching positions, have to provide statements answering these questions (among others):

  • What experiences have prepared you to teach in this country? Experiences that indicate your collegiality, adaptability, cultural sensitivity, ability to serve as a cultural ambassador.
  • How you will adapt your materials to the culture and language of the host country?

So now the Fulbright scholars, though not formally State Department employees or agents, are being prepared by our government and encouraged to go to foreign countries as Social Justice Warriors “cultural ambassadors” of gender ideology, via “people to people diplomacy.” Some forms of cultural imperialism are laudable, it seems.

Will Fulbright scholars do this? Who knows? But this is what the State Department now wants them to be prepared to do: aid in the fight against heterosexism, transphobia, and the rest around the world. Our government wants them to be missionaries for post-Christian America, apostles of liquid modernity.

UPDATE: Think of it this way. Many Fulbright scholars teach and/or do research in countries that lack full religious liberty in the Western sense. Is the State Department briefing those headed out on Fulbrights on the basics of religious liberty, and encouraging them to be allies of those in country who are advocating for religious liberty? Somehow, I doubt this is happening — and, as someone who strongly believes in religious liberty, I don’t think it should happen at the level of Fulbright scholars. Or take freedom of speech and the press. Those are hugely important American values, but I don’t think Fulbright scholars going to countries where these are restricted should be encouraged by the US government to agitate, or to help local activists agitate, for expanded free speech and free press rights. And so forth. It’s just a terrible idea to politicize the Fulbrights this way. But these crusaders can’t help themselves.

UPDATE.2: The reader who alerted me to this comments:

I am the guy who sent these (poorly scanned because all I had was my phone) handouts to Rod.

What I would like to emphasize is that these SJW ideology sessions took fully 1/3 of our day. This was time that could have been spent talking about the religion or culture or history of the regions we’re going to–many Fulbrighters have never been to the country they’ll be doing their research in, and could absolutely use a primer. Yet the State Department decided it was more important to stick self-described LGBT activists on a stage than it was to give people a meaningfully informative orientation about the region.

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The Weight Of Home

Ulysses (Odysseus) returning to Ithaca (Maria Yfanti /
Ulysses (Odysseus) returning to Ithaca (Maria Yfanti /

I was thinking earlier today about Canto 26 of Dante’s Inferno. It’s the one in which the pilgrim Dante meets Ulysses (Odysseus), damned for using his silver tongue to lead his crew past forbidden boundaries, where they and their boat were swallowed by a whirlpool and died. His crew just wants to go back home to Ithaca to rest, but the poet Dante gives Ulysses a great little speech in which he rallies them to do his bidding. Ulysses portrays the journey as a noble quest, and says that undertaking satisfies what is most noble in the human spirit.

In truth, Ulysses just wants to go see what’s on the other side of the forbidden line, and tells his crew what they need to hear to convince them to join him in satisfying his curiosity. Hence his damnation.

That is a valid interpretation, but today I read an alternative view that is also compelling, and gave me a lot to think about (the Commedia works that way; there are layers and layers of meaning embedded within it). Writing in the Paris Review, Alexander Aciman focuses on the restlessness and dissatisfaction with Ithaca, his home, as the genesis of his doomed quest. If you read The Odyssey, you’ll know that the entire poem is about the long, diverting journey that Odysseus (Ulysses) makes back to his home after the Trojan War. Home — Ithaca — was his goal, but in Dante’s poem, Ulysses was not satisfied to rest there. Aciman understands Dante’s Ulysses in light of a poem by the modern poet C.P. Cavafy. Excerpt:

Cavafy tells Ulysses not to rush. Ithaca is home, but it isn’t; its real gift is that it isn’t where we are now—and every waypoint and every island that stands before Ithaca is part of what Ithaca has to offer. Dante’s Ulysses arrived home too soon, and asked too much of the tiny Greek isle. Dissatisfied, he took off again. Ithaca is a purpose but not a goal—Dante’s Ulysses lost his Ithaca when he arrived in Ithaca. The difference between Cavafy and Dante is that the former is speaking to a still-wandering hero, and the latter writes as a Ulysses who had already set off a second time.

Reading Cavafy beside Dante’s text is tragic—in this light, Cavafy’s poem is no longer a piece of advice, but a lament and a cautionary tale. We, too, may one day despair upon reaching Ithaca. What if, like Ulysses, we spent far too little time at sea, and we finally arrive at Ithaca only to find it has nothing left to offer?

But did Ulysses really spend far too little time at sea? Maybe he was simply incapable of being at home anywhere. Ulysses held up Ithaca as the fixed point he used as navigation — that is, the meaning of his journeys, and everything he saw, only made sense in light of his ultimate destination, Ithaca: home. Do you follow?

I do. All of the places I lived and visited in my younger life were made special in part because they contrasted with what I had been given by my home. Cavafy tells us that the gift of travel, of being Elsewhere, only makes sense because we come from somewhere else, and we long to return there. That is, even if we don’t want to return to our literal home, we do long for a place we can truly call home, a place of rest, of stillness, of permanence.

A Christian should read this eschatologically. That is, our pilgrim journey in the mortal life only makes sense if we believe that we are going to our true and only home in the afterlife. Or, to be more metaphysical about it, the goodness of this world is guaranteed by the next one, by transcendence. But we cannot storm heaven on our own power. In Dante, Ulysses’ sin included hubris; the captain wanted to get to heaven (or rather, its antechamber, the island mountain of Purgatory) on his own terms, not those ordained by God. Hence his damnation.

The Cavafy poem, in light of Canto 26, gave me something to think about with regard to my own troubled relationship with home (or, Home). If you read How Dante Can Save Your Life, you know the story, but bear with me here. I left home and returned too early, in my mid-20s, and left again. I returned later in life, after my sister died, and found to my shock that home was not what I expected. And this is my fault, in part, because I expected more of Ithaca than it could ever give.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t get back in my boat and set sail again, away from Ithaca. I stayed, not because I necessarily wanted to, or because it was easy, but because I had no choice. I couldn’t put my wife and kids through another move, and as difficult as it was, the struggle with my dad and others, I had a filial duty to be here with him until the end.

I wouldn’t have sailed to my damnation like Ulysses if I had left here. Or wouldn’t I have? I realized in retrospect, from a place of rest and healing, that if I had set sail again, I never would have set out on the inner quest necessary to mature. I never would have done battle with the hidden dragons lodged in the recesses of my own heart, I would never have been given the gift of spending the last week of my father’s life on earth at his bedside, and finding real and lasting peace — for me, the Grail. Had I not stayed unhappily in Ithaca, because that was my duty to my wife, children, and parents, I would have been at sea for the rest of my life … and would not have understood why.

What’s more, if I had not had my eyes on the true Ithaca — Paradise, unity with God — I would not have had the strength and sense of purpose to endure the trials of repatriation to the mortal Ithaca. I am working on a book now that, like all my books, is really about Ithaca. It has nothing at all to do with Louisiana, or me, but it’s about Ithaca. I get that now. I get what Cavafy means in the final lines of his poem:

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.




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Debating Orlando’s Meaning

I’m one of four contributors to today’s NYT Room For Debate feature. The topic:

But is it fair to say that people share any blame for Saturday night’s attack because they oppose L.G.B.T. equality for religious reasons? And while the media is focused on the role that Muslim anti-gay rhetoric may have played in this slaughter, do conservative Christians need to accept greater civil rights for L.G.B.T people in order to create a less hurtful atmosphere in the United States?

From my contribution:

Whatever made the radical Muslim Omar Mateen murder 49 innocents, connecting that atrocity to Christians (and Republicans) is shameless opportunism. It renders reasoned debate impossible, and turns cultural politics into a crusade against infidels.

Waving a blood-soaked rainbow flag to rally anti-Christian scapegoating for political advantage is repulsive and dangerous. But to holy warriors, restraint looks like cowardice and acknowledging moral complexity denies the narcotic pleasures of ardent purity.

This won’t end well. Wars of religion never do.

From Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly:

I believe I’m called to engage those with whom I disagree, including L.G.B.T. advocates, sit down with them, if possible, and when feasible, work toward the common good without compromising our core principles.

But as a Christian, I don’t have the luxury or authority to slice and dice (though some try) and adhere to only those passages of the Bible that are culturally acceptable. From beginning to end, I believe the Bible is the infallible word of God and I accept it in whole, not in part. As such, I believe the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin.

Does that mean I condemn gay people because of their sin? Of course not. I’m a sinner, too. But as a Christian, I’m a recipient of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, who I believe died for my sins.

From Christian LGBT advocate Julie Rodgers, who is lesbian:

It’s no surprise, then, that subtle disdain for L.G.B.T. people would eventually be expressed more overtly. In the case of the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, it was devastating. The Christians I know were grieved by the massacre and they want to know how to help. The best thing they can do is repent for the ways they’ve helped create a culture that devalues L.G.B.T. people made in the image of God, and then begin to tell a better story about us in their circles. If everyone grew up hearing that God delights in gay people and we have gifts to nourish our communities, I do not think we would be targeted for violence or discrimination.

From liberal Evangelical theologian David Gushee:

A typical evangelical in the United States today has moved to a rejection of such hate speech or of any violence toward L.G.B.T. people, but not to a place of acceptance of gay marriages, or of L.G.B.T. people in religious leadership. Hateful statements obviously create a threatening environment for L.G.B.T. people, but even polite half-acceptance leaves L.G.B.T. people in a demeaning second-class position.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing. It gives a pretty good snapshot of the chasm between us. What I see here is irreconcilable differences, regrettably.

Daly and I both condemn the violence, but insist that orthodox Christians cannot change our theology to fit the times. And we assert that it is wrong to demonize us for the actions of this Muslim terrorist.

Rodgers insists that somehow, conservative Christian rejection of homosexuality is connected to the Orlando mass murder. It’s pretty clear that nothing will satisfy her short of Christians giving up their theological convictions on homosexuality. Gushee doesn’t even make an argument, but simply goes on record with sympathy for LGBTs, and none for his fellow Evangelicals, expressing skepticism of their claim that the advance of gay rights comes at the loss of religious liberty.

Somehow, we have to live together. Somehow.

Note that both Daly and I recognize that it’s wrong to treat gay people cruelly. Daly says, “People are not an issue to be solved; they’re to be loved and cared for in grace and truth.” But Gushee and Rodgers concede nothing to their fellow believers.

Gushee and Rodgers’ side has the upper hand in this culture, and will likely have it for the rest of our lives. I believe they will use every lever possible to punish Christians for holding to Christian orthodoxy, and they will have the full weight of the law, academia, the media, the political establishment behind them. That’s not fearmongering; it’s just a fact. The challenge ahead for orthodox Christians is to stand firm in the truth without yielding to the temptation to hate.

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Trump Campaign Dumpster Fire

GOP chairman Reince Priebus, hard at work (TFoxFoto/
GOP chairman Reince Priebus, hard at work (TFoxFoto/

Look, even people who think Donald Trump has good ideas and will make America great again have to admit that their boy is his own worst enemy. He’s going to take the Republican Party down with him, too. From Politico:

While Trump had promised Priebus that he would call two dozen top GOP donors, when RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh recently presented Trump with a list of more than 20 donors, he called only three before stopping, according to two sources familiar with the situation. It’s unclear whether he resumed the donor calls later.

This is a big deal. Hillary Clinton is expected to raise over a billion dollars.

Talking Points Memo has more, in the wake of Trump’s disastrous new poll numbers:

But it’s not just specific proposals that are costing Trump general election support. It’s the whole way he goes about campaigning, or as Usher put it, his tendency to be “reactive” rather than exhibit message discipline.

“The biggest issue for him is not only is he reluctant to change the topic from ones that are weak for him, he doesn’t really care to change the topic, he would rather litigate everything,” Usher said.

His penchant for personal insults, tirades, and derogatory language never seemed to hurt him in the primary election. His polling numbers actually went up after he attacked Sen. John McCain’s record as a prisoner of war and after he hurled a whole litany of slurs at Fox News host Megyn Kelly, including one about “blood coming out of her wherever.”

Since claiming the top of the GOP ticket, Trump kicked off a similar cycle of controversy by launching a racially-tinged smear campaign against a federal judge. In this week’s Bloomberg poll, 55 percent of likely voters said Trump’s claims about the judge bothered them “a lot” and only 26 percent said they were bothered not at all by the claims.

“It’s not just that it bothers them, but that it bothers them a lot, so that’s actually higher than the 51 percent who were bothered by the Muslim ban,” Selzer said.

Trump’s gonna Trump, no matter what. No way that guy’s going to learn how to be a different person now. Josh Marshall is onto something about how Trump’s slide in the polls is entirely self-inflicted:

What’s most telling about this is that so little has been due to bad luck or news events out of Trump’s control. With the partial exception of the release of the Trump University documents, it’s been almost entirely from Trump himself. A month ago Republican elected officials were unenthusiastically but resolutely rallying around Trump. Since then they’ve slowly been reduced to a public and political version of a family dealing with a hopeless addict or a degenerate gambler. They keep saying, insisting he’ll change, only to have him provide more evidence he can’t, won’t and has no intention to. Their very indulgence seems to prompt more unbridled behavior.

The disgraceful way Trump handled the hours after the Orlando atrocity seems to have confirmed for many Republicans that Trump will never change or pivot or whatever other phrase we’re now using. It’s not an act. It’s him. How this couldn’t have been clear months ago is a topic for the psychology of denial and wishful thinking. But now it seems clear.


The question is how long this can last. Pretty much daily, major Republican leaders don’t just disagree with Trump but denounce him in pretty round terms, even as they remain at least nominal endorsers of his candidacy and accept him as the leader of their party. That is entirely unprecedented in modern American political history.

It’s incredible when you think about it for more than two seconds. If you’re a Republican, you wake up in the morning not knowing what your party’s presumptive presidential candidate is going to say, except that it’s likely to be inflammatory and crazy.

And it’s only June!

It’s always important to read Scott Adams’s blog, because he seems to understand the method behind Trump’s madness better than the rest of us. For example:

As I have said several times in this blog, Trump often uses confirmation bias in his influence. He creates a mental framework for us to view our world and then waits for future events to fill in the details.

For example:

1. Trump knew his “Crooked Hillary” nickname would be reinforced by a continuous trickle of new revelations about Clinton’s misdeeds. We will hear more about Clinton’s email scandal, and more about foreign money buying influence, for example. True or not, the allegations will fit the “crooked” label and reinforce it.

2. Trump’s “Lyin’ Ted” label was also a trap for confirmation bias. Every time you heard Cruz say something that you doubted, the Lyin’ Ted label jumped into your head.

3. Trump knew there would be more radical Islamic terror attacks either here or abroad before election day. Every attack makes Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigration from selected countries seem more reasonable and more prescient.

One of the reasons this form of persuasion is so effective is that it allows people to talk themselves into your point of view over time. People don’t like it when you try to change their minds in person, and almost everyone will resist such an attempt. But if people believe they are evolving in their own thinking – totally independently – they give themselves permission to change.

But Trump’s poll numbers are going to have to pick up to make this theory plausible. Who knows, maybe it will happen. If, as a Trump-hating friend of mine suggested the other day, ISIS will launch a bloody fall campaign of terrorism that will turn the American people to Trump, well, all bets are off.

Still, Trump supporters need to step out of the hive and take a good look at how their candidate is sabotaging his own campaign, and making it more likely that Hillary Clinton will be elected. As soon as I post this, I’ll have readers blaming me for aiding and abetting Hillary’s campaign by criticizing Trump. That’s exactly the kind of mindset that causes Trump never to check himself.

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