Politicians on both sides speak to national church gatherings all the time. You know that, right? It’s not unusual for the Southern Baptist Convention to have invited Vice President Mike Pence to address their annual meeting today.
Some Baptists said in advance that it was a bad idea. For one, the role of Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, one of the biggest and most powerful church in the SBC, as a chief spiritual adviser for Donald Trump has been controversial within church circles. Many younger Southern Baptists — conservatives, not liberals — are tired of the denomination’s close association with the Republican Party. Plus, Trump’s history of treating women crudely does not sit well with many in the SBC, which has been stricken by a sex abuse scandal that has taken out its most accomplished conservative leader, Paige Patterson. (N.B., Patterson was not personally accused of abuse, but of handling it very badly.)
Nevertheless, Pence came. This would have been a perfect occasion for the vice president to deliver a policy speech on the importance of protecting religious liberty — an issue that matters to Southern Baptists more than just about anybody.
Nope. Most of the speech — which you can watch here — was pure political #MAGA. “Under President Donald Trump, America is back, and we’re just getting started!” he said, in a typical line.
When Pence did bring up religious liberty, he spoke passionately about how the administration is dedicated to getting rid of the Johnson Amendment, a provision of the tax code forbidding non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing particular candidates.
“We will not rest until it is repealed!” Pence thundered. The tepid applause indicates how low on the priority list the Johnson Amendment is for most Christians, even those who are really engaged on the religious liberty issue. It only really matters to the machers of Conservative Christianity, Inc.
Pence mentioned abortion and persecuted Christians abroad, but explicitly in context of how Christians have never had it so good as they do under Trump. It was a repulsive speech, quite frankly, despite some good non-political material at the end, added almost as an afterthought.
The Southern Baptists are not theologically liberal, mind you. For Southern Baptists hoping to escape their “Republican Party At Prayer” image, and refocus their denomination on religious mission, the Pence speech was a huge setback.
UPDATE: I know these guys. They’re conservatives.
That it happened was bad enough. That it was essentially a stump speech was unbearable.
— Denny Burk (@DennyBurk) June 13, 2018
If you care about queer people ― or you yourself are queer ― you have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever. It’s really that straightforward.
If you’re arguing there are other (arguably bigger) fish (or, in this case, chicken) to fry, you may not be wrong. However, I think you’re underestimating my (and probably your) ability to be angry about ― and take action against ― more than one target at once. Just because Chick-fil-A may not be as “bad” (in your view) as the Trump administration (or countless other folks or corporations), that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge Chick-fil-A on its anti-queer stance while continuing to call out and work against other offensive and/or dangerous entities.
Any effort or energy you dedicate to not filling Chick-fil-A’s queerphobic coffers does not compromise your ability to simultaneously do the same with other opponents. Surely, like me, you have enough ― and are, sadly, constantly generating more ― outrage to spread around whenever and wherever it may be needed.
Well. For people who like opinions, that’s one. Noah Michelson is not the kind of person any of us should want to be.
Meanwhile, this post from 2016 is making the rounds again on Facebook. The author is Joey Mustain:
I took Stella to Chick-fil-A today. It’s our normal daddy/daughter spot. It’s clean, so good, and the playground has a tractor beam on her the moment she sees it. When we finished eating and she’d worked up her dessert appetite playing with the other kids, we went back to trade in her toy for ice cream. She wanted to sit at a table to eat the cone (something we usually do in the truck), and I’m so glad she did.
We took a booth right next to the spot where you wait for your drink to be “refreshed,” and we had a front row seat to this beautiful scene: a homeless traveler had walked in and asked if they had any extra food. Mud was wet and caked on his well-traveled shoes. His hair was matted, and his beard wasn’t a statement as much as it was a necessity and a sign that he doesn’t get to shave as often as most of us do. People near him kept their distance, but that didn’t stop him from being kind. He spoke to people who reluctantly spoke back, and he smiled while he waited on a manager.
All I could pick up on of the conversation was the manager saying that he’d love to give him a full, warm meal–not just scraps or extras–, and the only thing he required was that the man let him pray with him. After the homeless man agreed, there was no waiting for things to die down, there was no scooting anyone to the side. As busy as they were, the manager stopped then and there, laid his hand on the man, and proceeded to pray.
I heard love in that prayer. The homeless man wasn’t some untouchable stain on business. He was the reason that store opened its doors this morning (or any morning).
I asked Stella to watch and she stared. She asked what was happening and when I told her, she bowed her head, too. I realized then and there that Chick-fil-A doesn’t simply do business for profits, they truly use business to minister. In a time when companies are trying to win in the market by neutralizing any possibility of offense, CFA is thriving because they unwaveringly cling to their principles and purpose. I love teaching my daughter life lessons, and I also love being there to watch other Christians teach her life lessons. Thank you, Chick-fil-A, for taking care of the latter today.
Here’s the photo. Live like this anonymous Chick-fil-A manager, not like Noah Michelson. Delicious chicken sandwiches washed down with the milk of human kindness tastes better than bile. And: Eat Mor Chikin.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Steve S. for reminding us of this:
Chick-fil-A hates gay people so much that the local franchise provided free food to those who were waiting to donate blood to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and they did all of this on a Sunday when Chick-fil-A usually is closed in observation of the Christian Sabbath.
And I am sure that that manager would have given that homeless man the food even if he had said that he doesn’t want to pray. But as Christians, we know that “man does not live on bread alone.” Why are people so threatened by prayer? And why do you presume that the homeless man was put-upon by this request? Maybe, just maybe, this was also received by him as a gift.
Rebecca Mead, for her sins, travels to the newest foodie travel destination: the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Iceland. Get your barf bag ready for these excerpts:
When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). The Faroese also preserve fish, though not with such familiar Nordic techniques as salting or smoking; the islands are so windswept that almost no trees grow, and as a result there’s little lumber available either to manufacture salt or to generate smoke. Instead, a catch is suspended from the eaves of a house, like wind chimes on a porch, where it dries and ferments. After it is sufficiently decomposed, a process that takes several weeks, it is boiled, then served alongside boiled potatoes. A condiment of fermented tallow, made from lamb intestines, is poured on top. This dish is as delicious to an islander as a crustacean freshly plucked from the clean waters of the North Atlantic might be to just about anyone other than a Faroese.
It’s a mystery why the islanders decline to eat a rich supply of foodstuffs that elsewhere would be considered delicacies. When I visited the archipelago recently, locals offered me several explanations. Many said that the Faroese are afraid of getting food poisoning from eating anything too raw or mollusky, a caution that has hardened into tradition. It’s as if, in the ancestral era, a Faroese had eaten a mussel and died, while, a thousand miles south, his Gallic equivalent had discovered that a mussel becomes a tasty morsel when steamed, especially if you have wine, garlic, and parsley at hand.
You know what they will eat? Fermented lamb! And that’s not all. Here, Mead talks about a restaurant called Koks and its chef, Poul Ziska, who is at the center of her story:
Under Ziska, Koks gleefully embraces the potentially disgusting aspects of Faroese cuisine. In the nineteenth century, a Danish physician named Peter Ludvig Panum wrote a treatise entitled “Observations Made During the Measles Epidemic on the Faroe Islands in the Year 1846,” which noted that the archipelago’s inhabitants regularly ate meat that was crawling with maggots. Panum’s writings made many Faroese feel embarrassed about their culinary traditions, but Ziska does not doubt the account’s accuracy. “If you ferment the meat and the weather goes wrong, then you get maggots in it,” he noted, cheerfully. “It’s a completely natural thing to happen to any meat. Back then, you couldn’t throw any meat away—it was too valuable. You had to eat it to survive. What we did back then—and still do today—is you cook the meat but add rice.” (Rice has been imported for centuries.) One dish that Ziska has served at Koks is a twist on his ancestors’ starvation-level fare: flatbread filled with cooked fermented lamb and topped with ground mealworms, which Ziska buys from a pet-food supplier on the Internet. “Maggots are a very good source of protein, and could potentially save the planet, but when I give them to diners I don’t present it in that much depth,” he told me. “I just tell that fun little story about the rice.” Diners at Koks tend not to be timid eaters; with rare exceptions, the mealworms go down the hatch.
Read the whole thing. It’s a good piece, but now I can tell you that there’s at least one place in this world that I will never visit. I make my travel decisions based in part on local cuisine. I told my wife this story. She said, “Is it haggis, things like that?” Ha! If only! Haggis sounds like cheesecake compared to this stuff.
I think I have a reputation on this blog as an adventurous eater. It’s not true. I actually have a very queasy stomach. In general, I’m not interested in organ meats (liver pâté being a big exception) and fermented things. “Fermented” means “rotting.” It’s not all bad. Cheese, for example, is nothing but fermented milk. Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented cabbage. I love them all. But mostly, I am not a risk-taker in the area of fermentation.
A while back, I watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode in which he visits Iceland, and eats fermented shark, a traditional dish that he called one of the worst things he’d ever eaten (also on the list: Namibian warthog rectum). Here’s a clip of Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern eating the stuff. That whole Bizarre Foods episode made me write Iceland off my bucket list. I’d love to see the country and meet its people, but man, I couldn’t handle the native cuisine.
How about you? Any foodie travel destinations appeal to you? For me, the most appealing, strictly in terms of cuisine, are Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Iceland and the Faroe Islands, not so much. I’ve never found much reason to think about South America (except Argentina for steak) and Africa (except Morocco for its spicy food) as places to go for their culinary offerings. Should I rethink that?
Aaron Renn is out with a new edition of his must-read e-mail newsletter, The Masculinist, which concerns problems related to men in the Christian church. Subscribe to it (it’s free) and read the archives here.
In the new issue, he has further reflections on the idea of singleness. N.B., Renn is an Evangelical Christian who lives in New York City and works for a think tank. That’s where he’s coming from. He writes:
After last month’s Masc #21, a pastor wrote to me asking how the church should respond to the “demographic crisis” it faces, namely the significant imbalance of female to male attendees in church. That makes it impossible for all Christian women to find Christian husbands and in this person’s view incentivizes some poor male behaviors such an unwillingness to commit.
This is a very fair question. At the macro level, the demographic crisis is real. It’s a problem. The most critical component of any solution is getting more men into church. That’s one of the things I would like to help accomplish with this newsletter. As I detailed in Masc #3, the church has long been actively hostile to men, so it’s no surprise men are staying away. And as my series on attraction is showing (stay tuned for the final installment, probably next month), the church is also giving men false information about relationships. Given the primal nature of our relations with the opposite sex, once Christian men discover that they’ve been fed falsehoods on this topic – which given the ever-increasing number of places you can find basic truth on the subject, including even from Jordan Peterson, will happen for a significant number of people at some point – this will severely discredit the faith for them.
At the micro-level, my focus in that piece was on big city churches. In those, there are vast numbers of singles, few of which appear to be aggressively seeking marriage. In other environments, such as some smaller city or suburban churches, the demographic problem can rear its head. There are places where the majority of people in church are married, and the singles can feel left out in the cold. Some of these singles, men and women, are less attractive, are socially awkward, etc. which adds complications. (I mentioned before a story about an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn who served as a matchmaker for awkward singles in that community, and how we really don’t have much like that going on).
So in some places I do think there is a legitimate demographic problem. So what do you do about it?
At the church level, we have to bring in more men. At the individual level we have to recognize the odds and act accordingly. Last month I told guys that they need to be aware that every year that goes by the supply of high quality marriage prospects goes down. I do think men need to step up and pursue marriage and commit, and think they should give serious thought to doing it sooner rather than later. For women, it’s even worse. It’s a game of musical chairs where several folks may not get a seat. The stone cold reality is that this environment is a big incentive to move fast to secure your place.
The problem is that the contemporary life scripts being sold by society explicitly discourage acting fast, and pooh-pooh the consequences of failing to land the plane to marriage and children. These scripts tell young women to pursue education, career, romantic excitement/sex, and personal cultivation first (e.g., travelling the world), then find a nice guy to settle down with later. I’ll mention again this passage from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s New York Times #1 best selling book Lean In: “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date [translation: have sex with] all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner.” In other words, spend time playing the field, then after having your fun, look for a real marriage candidate.
Renn talks about more details in this life script, including the idea that your life will be happier and more vivid if you don’t have children. More:
Some people who follow these scripts often don’t discover the reality until it’s too late. It reminds me of Proverbs 7 about the man seeking the adulteress that says he was “a young man lacking sense” who “hastens to the snare” because “he does not know it will cost him his life.” Only in this case it applies to women as well.
Back to our church demographics question. I wonder how many of these singles have been aggressively looking for marriage since say college? Some probably had, but from what I see around me plenty didn’t and instead were following this cultural life script.
The Washington Post writer gets it correct in this respect: people make choices. This is a free country and people can do anything they want. I fully support the right of both women and men in contemporary America to make their own. But are they making informed choices? Are church leaders handing out realtalk on life, marriage, and kids, or just a baptized version of the secular life script? Are pastors and those in spiritual leadership warning the people under their care about the possible future consequences of these scripts? When people do follow those scripts and the bad consequences come, are they willing to deliver bitter truths to people who don’t want to hear them, or will they instead only call on others to change to mitigate those consequences?
I’m not sure where you can find the entire new issue of The Masculinist, but again, the archives are here.
This makes me think. We hear a lot about how unfriendly churches are to singles, how they feel that the message they get is that they are somehow second-class citizens in a gathering geared towards families. Many of us recognize that churches need to do a better job of caring for singles, and that singleness can be a state of holiness to which some Christians are called. I wonder, though, in light of Renn’s writing, if there’s not greater wisdom in churches being communities that prod their members toward marriage — this, in contradiction to the broader cultural script.
The millennial generation’s breezy approach to sexual intimacy helped give rise to apps like Tinder and made phrases like “hooking up” and “friends with benefits” part of the lexicon.
But when it comes to serious lifelong relationships, new research suggests, millennials proceed with caution.
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies romance and a consultant to the dating site Match.com, has come up with the phrase “fast sex, slow love” to describe the juxtaposition of casual sexual liaisons and long-simmering committed relationships.
Young adults are not only marrying and having children later in life than previous generations, but taking more time to get to know each other before they tie the knot. Indeed, some spend the better part of a decade as friends or romantic partners before marrying, according to new research by eHarmony, another online dating site.
Julianne Simson, 24, and her boyfriend, Ian Donnelly, 25, are typical. They have been dating since they were in high school and have lived together in New York City since graduating from college, but are in no rush to get married.
Ms. Simson said she feels “too young” to be married. “I’m still figuring out so many things,” she said. “I’ll get married when my life is more in order.”
Here’s the thing: that’s not how real life works. If you’re like most people, you will never feel that your life is in sufficient order to get married, or have kids. I didn’t marry until I was 29, though I had been seeking marriage since not long after college. I was “ready to marry” in the sense that I was sick of being single, and wanted to get started on building a family, but did I somehow feel that I was “ready” for marriage in the same sense that one is “ready” for a long vacation (e.g., everything packed, passport updated, etc)? Of course not! It’s scary to take that leap of faith into marriage. Similarly when we had our first child.
You can only learn about marriage and child-raising by doing them. True, you can read books, you can follow a cultural script, you can benefit from the wisdom of elders; these are helpful. But there’s nothing like hands-on experience. You will make plenty of mistakes. You will look back and think, “I wish we had done that” and “how stupid we were to have done this.” That’s part of the journey. It always has been.
The Millennials have this thing — so did a lot of us Gen Xers — of wanting safety and assurance before committing. This is not their fault, necessarily. In a culture that gives us wide-open choices, and doesn’t nudge anyone toward making any particular choice, the pressure on one to make the right choice can feel overwhelming. We are formed from a young age by the broader culture to leave outs for ourself if the going gets rough. That, said Zygmunt Bauman, is the core characteristic of living in liquid modernity: living to keep your options open at all times. This is living life as a tourist, not a pilgrim.
Christianity has to proclaim to its people that life is a pilgrimage, not a vacation. A pilgrimage is a collective undertaking, one that has a particular destination, and that stops at meaningful points along the way. For most Christians, that will include marriage and family. But we live in an anti-familist culture — that is, one whose habits and values work against forming stable marriages and families. This is one area in which the church can’t afford to be anything other than countercultural.
My friend Mollie Hemingway, who writes for The Federalist, is a happily married mom. She works hard to introduce her single friends to each other, and to encourage them to seek marriage. She’s right to do that. When I was in DC recently, someone told me that the culture of the city is such that it’s easy to find yourself in your 40s, still living in a group house, and living pretty much like you did when you were in your 20s and first came to town. Is it really the case that DC people — the most educated and ambitious elites in the country — don’t yet have their lives “together” enough to get married? Please.
My friend Vincent Philip Muñoz, who teaches politics at Notre Dame, has a good National Review essay out critiquing Patrick Deneen, Adrian Vermeule, and, tangentially, Your Working Boy. Muñoz — a Catholic and a conservative — broadly agrees with Deneen et al. that we in the liberal democracies are in a serious and complex crisis, but he disagrees that this is the result of liberalism. (N.B., he means classical liberalism, not merely the philosophy of the Democratic Party).
Muñoz does a very good job summarizing fairly the core of the Deneenist critique — one he attributes to “radical Catholics.” He concludes:
The critics conclude that our current situation reigns because of our liberal founding principles, not despite them. If you want to understand the true character of America, the “radical” Catholics contend, just look to the Supreme Court’s plurality opinion in the abortion-rights case Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992): “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
Contra Deneen, Muñoz says the Casey “abomination” is not the logical result of the principles of the American Founding, but an aberration. Likewise, the moral crises we’re suffering from are not the fault of classical liberalism itself, but because of something extraneous to it. Muñoz concedes that the strongest claim the Deneenists make is
that American liberalism, whatever its original character, has produced a decadent and deplorable legal and moral culture. One might contend that even if the Founders accepted natural law, moral duties, and limits on rights, their account of freedom has proved to be too thin. It provides too much freedom for bourgeois, comfortable self-preservation, what moral theologian Servais Pinckaers calls “freedom for indifference,” and insufficient cultivation of “freedom for excellence.”
America is better characterized as an “experiment.” The Founders well understood that every generation would need to be taught to use its freedom well, which is why they sought to cultivate virtue through education and religion. (Thomas G. West in his excellent new book, The Political Theory of the American Founding, skillfully documents the Founders’ efforts.) They did not embrace Aristotle’s teachings that the purpose of politics is to make men virtuous and that law should be used to coercively habituate moral virtue, but they did understand that their constitutional republic would depend on virtue for its success. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People,” John Adams stated. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This is why America is an experiment: Can a free people remain sufficiently virtuous to maintain, and deserve to maintain, their freedom?
If we Americans are no longer sufficiently virtuous, the fault lies primarily with us, not our founding principles. Our political and economic institutions have never been perfect, but (aside from slavery and its legacies, perhaps) they have never been so corrupt that they have made virtuous living impossible. Original sin may make corruption probable, and political liberty may make it possible; but the causes of America’s problems lie primarily in the poor choices we have made.
That means the solution to our problem lies, to a large extent, in our choices. To choose well, we must regain both political wisdom and the character that befits a constitutional people. Reacquaintance with our actual liberal principles and a return to belief in the existence of an obligatory moral law are essential.
The latter may require a reemergence of religious belief, especially among the cultural elite where it has precipitously declined. The necessity of morality for liberal democracy, and of religion for morality, cannot be understated. As Tocqueville recognized, religion is the first of America’s political institutions. It teaches us to respect the equality of all individuals and provides the grounds for moderation and self-restraint, both individually and communally.
If I’m reading Muñoz correctly, then he’s saying simply that the moral soundness of liberalism depends on the moral and religious soundness of the people who live under it, well, this is not terribly controversial. John Adams said as much. Deneen’s claim is that liberalism was bound to get us to the Kennedy Moment (“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”). I don’t see that Muñoz has refuted that in this essay. Deneen wouldn’t deny that the Founders were religious men, of a sort, and that liberalism can be compatible with a moral, religious, cohesive polity. His argument is that at its core. liberalism, over time, cannot help but atomize the polity, because it is in its nature to do so.
In other words, Muñoz seems to be saying: It didn’t have to turn out this way. To which Deneen replies: Yes, it did.
It’s easier to see Deneen’s point when you realize that liberalism is not merely a political arrangement, but a more comprehensive way of looking at and living in the world. In this excerpt from an interview with The Nation, Deneen talks about liberalism in economics:
JH: Here’s a good line: “The economic system that simultaneously is both liberalism’s handmaiden and also its engine, like a Frankenstein monster, takes on a life of its own, and its processes and logic can no longer be controlled by people purportedly enjoying the greatest freedom in history.” How much does global capitalism factor into your critique of liberalism?
PD: I see it very much as the right hand of the liberal political project. I see these two systems as having grown up together. Every political worldview has an accompanying economic worldview.
Now, people debate whether we have capitalism or crony capitalism or statist capitalism. But essentially we have what, I think, is market ideology—the ideology that locates in the economic sphere a realm driven by private decision making—and this is the economic counterpart of the self-making self of the liberal political sphere.
I think we tend to have this narrative that capitalism is the opposite of statism. But you see that, so often in American history and in recent years, the growth of a global market has been driven by political processes. Our political order creates our market order.
Liberalism trains us to think of everything as a market. This has broad effects:
JH: So maybe it’s good that liberalism has helped people break traditional bonds, but perhaps only because those bonds are themselves weak or, otherwise, too restricting and oppressive—not bonds but shackles.
PD: I think you’ve stated a core understanding and ambition of the liberal order: of turning religious identity or family identity or one’s geographic identity into one option among many. I would go one step further, and here’s where I think you see the excess of liberalism. We begin to see the actual diminution of any of these particular forms of cultural identity. I think that one hallmark is this: As you move through recent generations, you find that the younger you are, the more likely you have no identifying markers. Now 50 percent of millennials identify with no religious tradition, are unlikely to marry, unlikely to have children, and show the lowest measurements of patriotism ever in American history. Say what you will: This might be a good thing. But I would say it’s potentially a bad thing to have a society of disaggregated, atomized individuals who, I’d argue, are not socialized to be sociable.
My fear is that, if things continue as they’re going, a highly atomized society is one that is very susceptible to the attractions of a despot. Someone who can offer a political identity that would prove attractive as the kind of flattening of our political, economic, and cultural life continues.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that most Americans today were religiously engaged. Would that have stopped the kind of liberal economics that have eviscerated communities? Or the other cultural developments that have deracinated modern people? I don’t see how. Whether the Founders realized what liberalism was capable of or not, the fact is that the deepest principles of liberalism are antithetical to the kind of virtues necessary to sustain liberalism. It’s a paradox.
And it’s a paradox that none of us can escape. I can’t speak for the others in Muñoz’s list, but I would be hard pressed to come up with a system I would rather live under than liberalism. Vermeule is a Catholic integralist, a system that is intellectually coherent, but that is totally unfeasible here, and unacceptable to non-Catholics (as well as many modern Catholics). Deneen, of course, doesn’t propose a post-liberal program, and acknowledges in his book that it is impossible to think past liberalism at the moment. The best we can do is work to shore up local connections and to ground ourselves. That’s my view as well.
And, I have to concede that liberalism, broadly understood, is what makes it possible for my family to educate our children in a countercultural way. People like me can lament the loss of social solidarity, but in the end, do we put our children in the same school as most of our neighbors? No, because we have a very different understanding of what education is and should be, as well as a meaningfully different understanding of moral order. I’m grateful for the liberties that give us the freedom to dissent, and I will fight for them.
I have to admit, though, that liberalism, as it is now practiced in America, gives me the right to be illiberal, and to live illiberally. At least for now. Recognizing that we are living under a paradox does not make one a hypocrite.
The “radical” Catholics’ misinterpretation of America is thus no mere academic matter. Their mistakes blind us to how our liberal principles offer a moral framework by which to support life. They are unable to appreciate the greatness of Lincoln or appropriate his moral wisdom and constitutional statesmanship. They preach local community and relationship to the past, but fail to understand their own community and eschew America’s own traditions and what is most noble about them.
In doing so, “radical” Catholicism alienates from the American experiment those who should be America’s most faithful friends, dispiriting young conservatives in particular. If liberalism was never attractive to begin with — if Casey is consistent with the Constitution — why fight for America? Why run for office or give one’s time or treasure to those who do? Why even vote and implicate oneself in an inevitably failing and corrupt political regime? The political alienation the “radical” Catholics foster cannot help but engender disdain for engaged citizenship and responsible patriotism among the young, religiously orthodox citizens that America most needs right now.
I see what he’s getting at, but I think this relies too much on abstraction. It’s not hard to see why liberalism was once attractive, and why it remains attractive in theory. In practice, though, the Casey decision is consistent with the Constitution, because the Supreme Court, the authoritative interpreters of the Constitution, have declared it so. Liberalism — politically, economically, and culturally — have produced a people that by all appearances believe that Justice Kennedy’s statement is true. I would love to see Pew poll Americans on their opinion about the Kennedy statement:
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
The liberals who founded America in the 18th century would not have agreed with that. But can anybody seriously claim that Justice Kennedy’s view is not consonant with what most Americans today believe? If defending classical liberalism from the liberals (in the left-wing sense of the term) means convincing the American people that Kennedy’s statement is not essentially true, then the battle for liberalism is lost. As Deneen points out in his Nation interview, liberalism has turned us all into “self-making selves.” The problem is, human beings can’t sustain a way of life as a herd of self-making selves. Even Christianity itself has become Self-Making Selves At Prayer (this is what Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is). If the ordinary source of transcendence has become so thoroughly immanent for most of those who look to it, what hope is there for our politics?
Think about it: Liberalism’s latest battle is to insist that we can make our own sex, male or female or somewhere in between. Before long the Court will be asked to decide if this is true, constitutionally. Whatever the Court decides will be the law of the land. Why, exactly, should young conservatives give themselves over to defending a system that by its very nature undermines (actively and passively) and even denies things they believe to be fundamental truths?
One conservative answer might be: because we have to do the best we can in the world as it is. You don’t have to affirm liberalism to serve on your town council, and to do your best to improve the world for your neighbors, using the liberties you have. Even after the Roman Empire fell in the West, people still showed up for work. I expect conservatives will keep doing the same thing here. This is why in The Benedict Option, I explicitly say that religious conservatives should stay involved in politics, to work for the common good and especially to protect religious liberty.
But we have to do this with clear eyes. I don’t see sufficient evidence to convince me that liberalism can be rescued from its unwinding. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have to face this difficult truth, and prepare themselves and their families for it. Liberal civilization has done the thing that the conservative thinker Eric Voegelin warned us not to do: immanentized the eschaton. That is, we have assumed all transcendence into ourselves. The Founders did not believe that, but the logical outworking of their principles had this effect. And here we are.
Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s well worth considering. For you conservative readers who believe that classical liberalism can be saved, I’m eager to know how you think that might be done, given the cultural realities of our post-Christian age.
The French Orthodox writer Jean-Claude Larchet reviews a new (French) book, How Our World Stopped Being Christian: Anatomy Of A Collapse, by historian Guillaume Cuchet. Cuchet specializes in Catholic history. The review is mostly a summary of Cuchet’s analysis, but Larchet ends like this:
Catholicism itself bears a heavy responsibility in the dechristianisation of France (and more broadly of Europe, because an analysis made for other countries would lead to identical conclusions). The aggiornamento realised by the Second Vatican Council, and which had proposed to face the challenges of the modern world, did nothing but adapt itself to the latter; thinking to bring the world to its side, it ended up giving in to the world, and despite wanting to be heard in the secular sphere, Catholicism has instead become secularised. Fearing to assert its identity, it became relativised to the point that a large number of faithful no longer found in it the signposts to which they had been accustomed or that they expected, and no longer saw the point of seeking in Catholicism what the world already offered them in a less roundabout way.
The Catholic authorities seek to minimise the collapse described in this book by various arguments (a large number of French remain Catholic and have their children baptised; religious practice is measured by commitments other than Mass attendance; quality has replaced quantity, etc.). Yet they struggle to convince. John Paul II is often presented as having engineered a recovery from the excesses that followed Vatican II, but it must be noted that Sunday religious observance in France declined from 14% at the time of his election to 5% at the time of his death in 2005. If it is true that living communities existing in cities can provide a false example (as was also the case with the few churches open during the Communist period in the Eastern Bloc, crowded on account of others being closed), as well as the spectacular gathering of young people during the World Youth Days, the French countryside nevertheless shows the reality of a dramatic desertification: the multiplication of disused churches (that is to say, churches no longer acting as place of worship); priests having the care of twenty or even thirty parishes and celebrating every Sunday a “regional” Mass for a small group of faithful, mostly elderly and sometimes coming from several dozen kilometres away; the disappearance of burials celebrated by priests due to the lack of available celebrants; the lack of contact between priests and faithful because of their mutual distance and the unavailability of the former, who are more occupied with clerical meetings than with pastoral visits …
The sad evolution of the post-conciliar Catholic Church, as described in Cuchet’s book, should serve as a warning to the Orthodox bishops and theologians who have dreamt and still dream of calling for a “Great Orthodox Council” similar to that by which the Catholic Church wanted to accomplish its aggiornamento, but whose main effect was to provoke its internal disintegration and the dramatic haemorrhage of a large number of its faithful.
The Orthodox priest who passed this article along to me said in his accompanying note that as a young Catholic who lived through the postconciliar collapse in the United States, he is determined to fight contemporary efforts within American Orthodoxy to modernize the faith. P
It is an old argument within Catholicism: the extent to which Vatican II caused the collapse, or the collapse would have happened anyway. I find it impossible to believe that if the Council had never happened, the Catholic Church in Europe (and in the West more broadly) would be doing well. But I also find it impossible to believe that the Council had nothing to do with the death rattles of European Catholicism, and its steep decline in the US. This segment from Larchet’s review seems to speak to this point:
Worried as early as December 1966 at seeing [death, judgment, heaven, and hell] disappear from teaching and preaching, the bishops of France noted: “Original sin […], as well as the Last Things and Judgment, are points of Catholic doctrine directly related to salvation in Jesus Christ and whose presentation to the faithful actually makes it difficult for many priests to teach them. We do not know how to talk about them.” Shortly before this, Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had noted that original sin had almost completely disappeared from contemporary preaching. Cuchet remarks that it was not only a pastoral and pedagogical problem of presenting dogma, but also that “in reality, it was indeed a problem of faith and doctrine, and a discomfort shared between the clergy and the faithful. Everything happened as if, quite suddenly, at the end of a whole work of underground preparation, whole parts of the ancient doctrine considered hitherto as being essential, such as judgment, hell, purgatory, the devil, had become unbelievable for the faithful and unthinkable for theologians.”
Something that tectonic doesn’t happen merely as the result of a church council. But the church council, I think, can be fairly said to have taken away much of what remained within the Church’s system that would have provided a means of resistance to the disease spreading within post-Christian societies.
As a former Catholic, now for almost as many years an Orthodox, it is striking to me the extent to which Orthodoxy has within it things that people speak of as strengths of preconciliar Catholicism — in particular, a much greater “vertical” sense (that is, a palpable sense of mysticism), and the traditional Christian ascetic practices (e.g., regular fasting). It is certainly debatable as to whether or not the relatively tiny number of Orthodox Christians in the US are more faithful than Christians in other communions. But if you do want to be faithful to the Way, the resources within Orthodoxy for weak Christians like me are unparalleled.
When I read about the way of life of preconciliar Catholicism, it’s startling to see present some of the things that we take for granted as Orthodox, and that Catholics used to have. The shock of the loss of these things — my God, those poor Catholics. What violence the mid-century Catholic fathers did to their people: to strip them of their traditions, and their defenses against the enemy, all for the sake of making peace with a world that hated what the Church stood for.
UPDATE: Not one minute after I posted this, I received an e-mail with an article claiming that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the eminent English Orthodox theologian, has come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Here is a link to the full article by Met. Kallistos, which is a foreword to an issue of a theological journal. As I read it, the headline of the first article goes too far. Met. Kallistos doesn’t explicitly endorse same-sex marriage, and he’s careful to say that he doesn’t agree with all of the articles in the journal (without saying which ones). This, I think, is a red flag:
Ah, dialogue. Whenever it has to do with Church teaching and modernist approaches to sexuality, you may be assured that it is a trap.
UPDATE: A French reader e-mails to say:
Just read your article on French Catholicism and I’d like to add my two cents. I don’t blame – entirely – Vatican II for the collapse of the Church in our country. It started much sooner, when the Church not only made its peace with the Republic, but embraced it even though it was actually trying to destroy Her. Even worse, what few notable Catholics remain here are as committed to “laïcité” and “republican values” as your average secularist, either out of genuine conviction or more often because it allows them to attack Muslims (the failure of conservative Christians in the West to realize that secularism, not islam, is their real enemy is a factor of never-ending amazement and frustration to me).
I for one am a democrat, not a republican – in the original, not American, meanings of these words. Unlike most of my fellow-compatriots I realize and admit that there are countries that are freer than ours and yet are not republics; conversely I don’t partake in what I regard as a paganist cult whose sacred cows are the Revolution, “laïcité”, the “Great Men” and “les acquis sociaux”. Neither should any Catholic with reasonable awareness of history and philosophy. The whole system was built against us and we should accept it – there is no other choice in the present context – but certainly not celebrate it. As French philosopher Pierre Manent put it, there was a civil war and not only we’ve lost but we have embraced our servitude – what you himself called “dhimmitude” in a previous email of yours. This is ridiculous.
The New York Times Magazine devoted its issue yesterday to “Love City: 24 Hours of Romance, Lust and Heartache in New York”. John Podhoretz, an Ur-New Yorker, commented:
Interesting that the “24 Hours of Love” issue of the NYTMagazine begins in at a sex party followed by a strip club. I know it’s 12 am and all but if this is what we are to understand Love is in 2018 we may not have to wonder at the suicide spike that has us all freaked out.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) June 9, 2018
The Times Magazine Love issue brings to us the sweet story of Hanna, a teenage daughter of a lady rabbi in Brooklyn, and her Beaux. No, I don’t mean the men competing for her heart. I mean Beaux (née Sophie), her lesbian lover. And there’s Harry, Hanna’s male lover. They are a throuple, our Hanna, Harry, and Beaux. The Times contributor Elizabeth Weil writes about them as if they were enchanted. We join them as Harry and Hanna leave synagogue services:
Two by two may have worked for Noah’s animals in the (heteronormative!) Bible, but these are people — specific, glorious, teenage people — and their hearts are much bigger than anyone could imagine. As congregants spilled into the temple foyer and wished one another “Shabbat shalom,” Beaux, Hanna’s girlfriend, appeared — her face tough, tender, searching, critical, defended and vulnerable all at once. She wore boots, baggy jeans, shark-tooth earrings and a silk camisole, and her head was shaved.
Take that, Biblical heteronormativity! It seems that Hanna is a dingbat who twirls through life like a Malick heroine:
Hanna floated between Beaux and Harry. She’s the quietest of the bunch, and her heart seems almost miraculously whole and unbroken, like a cake hot from the oven before the surface cools, contracts and cracks. This is perhaps a result of the fact that Hanna is a person who falls in love with one thing and then falls in love with another thing and then, instead of letting go of the first, just adds on. She loved all the Harry Potter books, and then she loved all the Percy Jackson books, and she still rereads them both. Same with watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Doctor Who.” And so it was with Harry and Beaux. A few months before she started dating Harry, Hanna spoke with Beaux in the front doorway of her house. “I have something to say,” Hanna told her. “I like you.”
“I like you, too,” Beaux said, “but let’s not date!”
Beaux soon changed her mind. To deal with the situation, she wrote a slam poem titled “The 21st Century Version of Asking for Their Parent’s Blessing” and performed it on video for Harry. “Dear Mr. Harry,” it started:
I am in love with your girlfriend.
Now, I know
how this sounds
but you’ve done it too and you know how she is and you’ve seen the way I look at her.
is important to me.
She is the caveat in every suicide note
The random smile in the middle of math class.
Harry handled Beaux’s request extremely well. He was a mensch already and had been friends with Hanna in ninth grade, when she talked about almost nothing but her love for Beaux. He did not want to be the kind of boyfriend who kept his girlfriend from chasing her bliss.
Harry is a gamma-male who is being cuckolded, but being woke, doesn’t mind.
At this point, you may ask yourself: what kind of parents want their teenagers involved in a polyamorous bisexual threesome? And, as these three are minors: what kind of parents give permission for The New York Times Magazine to profile their relationship? Welcome to 2018.
Beaux has a theory: San Francisco is the capital of white gay men. New York City is the center of queer youth. “When you are queer, that becomes like a huge part of who you are,” Hanna told me, “because you just start to be like, Damn, I’m so gay, constantly.” You’re sitting watching “Castle,” and Stana Katic comes on-screen, and you’re like, Damn, I’m really gay! Or you see something cute, like even that hetero couple in “The End of the F***ing World,” and you find yourself thinking, That’s so gay!, because the word “gay” is cross-wired in your brain with exuberant/life-affirming/hot/cute. You go to the ice cream truck, and you ask your friend what kind of sprinkles you should get, and she says, “You have to get rainbow ones because you’re queer.” You don’t need to push the boundaries or make up some whole new type of identity from scratch, but you do need to represent.
A few years ago, Beaux and Hanna started poking around Tumblr, trying to name, with precision, their feelings and experiences. At first, Hanna said, “I was like, I think I’m bi, and then I learned the word ‘pansexual’ and was like, I think that describes me better.” Beaux goes with “queer,” partly to avoid the implication in the word “bi” that you’re a double agent and need to make up your mind. At school she hangs out with her gang of lesbians. “There’s a lesbian and a straight girl living inside me!” she says. “I’m the straightest one and the gayest one there, and that’s been my experience my entire life. It’s not like I’m .5 gay and .5 straight. It’s like I have two full sexualities.”
But the city is not all one big sparkly unicorn of love. Hanna and Beaux are lucky, they know that. They know that if your parents are part of what they call “the Park Slope white-parent community” (not limited to Park Slope proper), your parents can’t be homophobic, or if they are they have to be hermits. White, liberal parents have to be O.K. if a kid comes out. When Hanna first told her mom she was bi, her mom said: “I think I might be bi, too, but it doesn’t matter because I’m married to your father! If I had the freedoms you have in high school, things might have been different.”
Her mom is a rabbi. Mom the Latent Bisexual Rabbi who allows her daughter’s gay lover to spend the night with the daughter upstairs (there’s a photo of them kissing in bed, and another photo of them washing up after they spent the night together).
I said they were a “throuple,” though they really aren’t. Turns out Beaux doesn’t want to kiss Harry. But that’s cool too:
People often say to Beaux, Hanna and Harry: Isn’t this three-way relationship difficult? Aren’t you consumed by jealousy? Their honest, heartfelt answer is no. “Wow, I like you, and I like you, and I don’t feel tense about that!” — that’s their basic feeling. Beaux is O.K. with Hanna’s dating Harry, and Hanna is O.K. with Beaux’s dating whomever she wants (at the moment, she has such a huge crush on a girl from school that she bought a pair of shoes like the ones this girl wears, just to impress her), because they get to have each other, too.
It’s at this point that some liberals realize that what looks like dreamy progress in Park Slope strikes many of those outside its borders as the kind of decadence from which they wish to protect their children. So they say, “Hey, you’re trying to make the mores of a very liberal place out to be exemplary of the rest of America! That’s wrong! You’re trying to panic people!”
By now, you readers should be onto this strategy. You should be savvy enough to recognize that what is observed sympathetically in a place like the most important newspaper in America — the one read by the people who make movies and television — will eventually be mainstreamed through the mass media. In 1995, a movie called Kids, about semi-feral New York teenagers who drifted through life smoking dope, skateboarding, and having sex, was so controversial it almost didn’t get distribution (who distributed it? Harvey Weinstein!). In 2018, The New York Times Magazine writes a romantic piece about a teenage threesome, which features a photograph of the lesbian couple in this ménage washing up after having spent the night together … and it’s no longer edgy, as it was in Kids, but now it’s bourgeois and mainstream. Hey, Hanna’s a rabbi’s daughter, and the rabbi tells her daughter that she too would be interested in bonking women, but she’s married to dad, so … but good luck, honey! You girls have fun up there!
I’d bet you a thousand dollars that producers are on the phone this morning with Hanna and Beaux and Harry, trying to buy rights to their story. And that it will be on Netflix, or Amazon, within a couple of years.
So, who is the “René” of the headline? It’s René Girard, the late French cultural critic and the father of mimetic theory. Here is a very simple, four-minute introduction to his theory:
In a nutshell, Girard said that we want the things we want after seeing other people want them. Desiring to eat is not a “want,” but a “need.” But what we desire to eat — that’s a “want,” and it’s socially conditioned. The idea is not so much that we want what others have, but rather than we want what we see others wanting.
Hanna is a flibbertigibbet who desires indiscriminately, and who is embedded in a culture that certifies those desires. Beaux’s desire, and Harry’s desire, is more restricted, but they all seem to agree that within their city’s youth culture, there are no boundaries on sexual desire and gender expression. The story also indicates that outside of liberal circles, parents may not accept what the kids desire, but that is simply something that has to be dealt with.
Reading that part of the story, I couldn’t help thinking about last week’s conversation with a liberal friend who teaches school in a small Southern town in the middle of nowhere, and who told me that the kids in their school are way, way more liberal on sex and sexuality than their clueless parents think. I keep hearing this in dribs and drabs from pastors and teachers who read this blog. Culture is all national now. One Evangelical pastor here in Louisiana stopped me to tell me about how this is totally mainstream in his small town on the bayou, and that many older people in the town are trying to pretend that it’s not real because they don’t have the slightest idea how to deal with it.
Point is, young people today experience mimetic desire in relation to the popular culture to which they are exposed. Celebrating stories like the Park Slope Teen Lovers moves the Overton window — that is, the range of ideas acceptable in public discourse — towards greater permissivism, and the mimesis function creates within young people the desire to give freer rein to their sexual impulses, however anarchic.
It is now acceptable in public discourse to celebrate a bisexual teenage ménage à trois as just one more way people love each other. If you are a conservative who thinks this is going to stay in Park Slope, or in Manhattan, I’m sorry, you’re an idiot.
Where is this going to go? What is it going to mean for us as a society, a culture, a civilization? We are rushing so fast to tear down enthusiastically boundaries that were erected time out of mind. We have created a culture — economic, moral, religious, etc. — in which individual desire is formless, directionless, and its own justification.
Ever heard of Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman’s 1947 book Family and Civilization? Zimmerman was not a religious man, but he saw as far back as the early postwar era that civilizations that do not have strong families and family systems cannot survive. In this book, which entails a historical analysis of Greek and Roman civilizations, as well as the evolving family systems in the medieval West, up to the present times, Zimmerman diagnoses the West as entering a period of family collapse. Mind you, this was in 1947, a time most of us think of as a Golden Age.
In this excerpt, Zimmerman speaks of the coming dissolution of marriage and family. Remember, he speaks not as a moralist, but as a sociologist of the family. He writes that family structure and meaning is almost entirely determined by “external causation — by the dominant fashion or cultural coloration of a given time.
Since that is sensate, to use Sorokin’s terminology, marriage must go on to sensate levels of experience. And since the limited, purely sensate conception of familism and love is antithetical to almost any family life at all, marriage must go.
Zimmerman’s point is that you cannot have a society in which people are driven primarily by their untrained, unrestrained desire. Families don’t just happen. They are constructed. What’s happening now reminds me of what happened in the Mississippi River trading port called Bayou Sara, in the early 20th century. The town, which is just down the hill from the bluff on which my hometown, St. Francisville, was built, existed because it could afford a strong levee to keep out the river in flood. The boll weevil plague hit the cotton planters hard economically, and their economic losses made it difficult to keep the levee strong. In 1912, the levee burst, wiping out the town. What had been a bustling trade center became a ghost town. Today, there’s nothing but willows there. When I was a child a half century ago, you could still see the faint outlines of the town’s streets, but today, even those scars have disappeared.
Anyway, Zimmerman writes, about the family’s disintegration in the face of the evaporation of religious and moral prohibitions:
If there is any possible power that can stop this movement, it must be found in the exterior environment of the society. It will consist chiefly of antagonistic forces arising from the decay of previous social conditions. This decay can be temporary, like the panic of the 1930s or the civil wars preceding Augustus, or more permanent, as in the Dark Ages after the decline of the Roman Empire. Conditions arise in which it is difficult for even the civilized domestic institution of the family to survive. The the family system changes and in time (at least in the past) recovers some of tis familism. But it was a rough and brutal road leading from Rome to the Renaissance.
Zimmerman wrote that history shows that once the familistic system (that is, a society based on the family) dissolves, there’s no easy way to get it back. The Church of the so-called Dark Ages undertook strong measures to reconstitute it. Interestingly, Zimmerman says the church fathers in the West decided that they’d be better off trying to Christianize barbarians, with their strong clan systems, than in trying to rehabilitate dissolute Romans. More:
The result demonstrates that when the family is completely atomized, familistic reform seemingly must come from extrafamilistic forces in the culture. Men do not seem to turn back willingly toward the familism necessary to preserve the social system. That is a point with which the “liberal” antifamilists do not seem to reckon. None are so blind as those who will not see.
Indeed. The idea is not that your daughter is going to carry on with a girl and a guy simultaneously (though she might). The idea — or at least the main idea I want to get across — is that a world in which that is normal is a world in which it will be far more difficult to form strong families.We are living through the dissolution of a civilization. The levee is not going to hold. If you are any kind of religious or social conservative, especially if you are a parent of children, you and your neighbors had better start building the arks.
UPDATE: Hanna responds in the comments:
Hello! I’m one of the people in the story that this article is so critical of. Hanna, to be precise.
Okay… in all honesty, very few problems with this article. Actually, I thought it was hilarious. So my significant others and I are destroying families now? Good to know. I’ll be sure to tell my loving family that.
One real issue though: the author states that the photo of us washing up was taken after we spent the night together. As a matter of fact, that photo was taken BEFORE we spent the night together. All of the photos in the Love Issue were taken within 24 hours. The photo of us kissing on my bed was taken AFTER the washing up photo was taken. We were washing our faces, taking off our makeup, doing our bedtime routines.
Also, Beaux sometimes does kiss Harry. They’re simply not dating. Beaux is also not Jewish. Another fun fact for you.
Part of me feels like you didn’t properly fact-check this article. In fact, most of me feels like that.
Also, just a fun little aside: Our group chat used to be called “throuple” because that was how we defined our relationship. Within the past 10 minutes, it has been renamed as “SUCH a bad idea” and “The gradual degradation of society”.
Thank you for providing us with such amusement. We really appreciate it.
With no respect whatsoever,
Hanna the flibbertigibbet
(P.S. Flibbertigibbet? That actually almost made me cry with laughter. Though, judging by the definition, you’re not that far off. I tend to talk a lot, and I suppose I might be a tad frivolous. Not sure about flighty, though. I’m pretty dedicated to the people I love.)
Variety reports on Robert De Niro’s stunt at last night’s Tony Awards. Do not play the video at work; he drops an F-bomb. Excerpt:
“I’m going to say one thing, F— Trump,” De Niro said while pumping his fists in the air. “It’s no longer down with Trump. It’s f— Trump.”
The political sentiment earned De Niro a standing ovation from the crowd at Radio City Music Hall, while CBS scrambled to bleep the audio on the live telecast. After the audience settled, De Niro got back to talking about Springsteen, who received a special Tony Award during Sunday night. The intimate show, “Springsteen on Broadway” — or as De Niro referred to it, “Jersey Boy” — features the Boss performing his music and sharing stories from his 2016 autobiography “Born to Run.” Tickets to the exclusive concert residency, which has been extended twice, are upwards of $850.
This is so perfect. A New York-based movie star denounces Donald Trump in his introduction for a blue-collar troubadour whose stories about the Working Man™ are being performed for Manhattan audiences who pay close to a thousand dollars a ticket to hear them.
The disconnect is so massive that it’s comic.
I can’t imagine that many Trump voters were watching the Tony Awards last night, so they wouldn’t have seen that virtue-signaling display. But it will enjoy a long life on social media, where it will do Donald Trump a lot of good with the masses, because it will solidify their entirely accurate belief that the cultural elites hate them. De Niro and the standing-ovation-giving audience are so vain that they don’t recognize this.
Good job, Bobby. You have hurt your cause more than you can know. If I’m Trump, I’m sitting in Singapore laughing.
I don’t care about Broadway, so I wasn’t watching the Tonys last night. I was watching the West Virginia episode of the late Tony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Talk about a tale of two Tonys! Bourdain acknowledges in the opening montage that he’s a New Yorker, and as such, what the Trump-voting miners and country people of West Virginia stand for is anathema to everything he believes in. But he said he wanted to go spend some time with them, and get to know them.
Understand that Tony Bourdain was a smart-aleck New Yorker and unapologetic liberal who has publicly criticized Donald Trump. He no doubt would share completely Robert De Niro’s crude evaluation of Trump. And yet, after hanging out with the working class in West Virginia, in that opening montage, he says, to those who look down on those Trump-supporting Appalachians: “Screw you.”
Contrast that with De Niro’s similar remark.
In “field notes” to the West Virginia episode, which led off the current season of the CNN show, Bourdain writes:
Like any other episode of Parts Unknown, whether in Vietnam or Nigeria, or any city in the United States, this West Virginia episode is a plea for understanding of the people whose personal histories, sense of pride, independence, and daunting challenges deserve respect. It’s a walk in somebody else’s shoes.
The stereotypes about West Virginia, it turns out, are just as cruel, ignorant, misguided, patronizing, and evil as any other. Every meal might have begun with saying grace, but there was nothing hypocritical about it. People do care about each other. Friends, family, and the community are held close. The men and women who come from families of four, five generations of coal mining are not naive about the promises of cynical politicians—or the inevitable future of fossil fuel. Their identities, their aspirations, and their situation are far more complex than one can imagine, and their needs are more immediate.
There’s a reason why so many West Virginians love their birthplace so fiercely and have fought so long and so hard to preserve it. I hope this show gives you all a glimpse.
This past spring, Bourdain explained the impetus for the episode in an interview with Eater. Excerpt:
I guess for a long time I’ve been going to foreign locations like Iran, Liberia, Vietnam, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia where the culture and politics are very, very different than my own, and yet I try to go with an open mind and show some respect. And I like the idea of going to the heart of “Trump, God, and guns” country and looking at it in exactly the same way — with an open mind, as I’ve done elsewhere. It seemed only fair and only right.
I’ve gotta tell you, I was absolutely rocked back on my heels by, first of all, how beautiful it is, and how kind people were to me, and generous. I mean, in the same way that my preconceptions are upended so often around the world, I felt the same thing happening in West Virginia. In the stereotypical coal mining town in West Virginia — which is pretty much where we went, into the poorest area of West Virginia coal country — I was utterly moved and enchanted by the people and the place. And I like to think I came back from it with a more nuanced picture of what it means to be a coal miner, and why people voted for a sketchy businessman from New York who’s never changed a tire in his life.
You know, I went right at those things — guns, God, and Trump — and I was very moved by what I found there. I hope that people who watch the show will feel the same kind of empathy and respect, and will be able to walk in somebody else’s shoes, or imagine walking in somebody else’s shoes, for a few minutes in the same way that hopefully they do with one of my other shows.
The people he spent time with in West Virginia remember Bourdain fondly, and mourn his passing. Excerpts:
Williams said the family quickly learned not to worry. Bourdain wasn’t there to judge. He enjoyed the meal.
“I was sitting right beside him at the picnic table,” she said. “Very down to earth guy. That’s the one thing I saw right away. “You think this guy who has been on TV this many years would be snobby, but he was so down to earth, so nice.”
She appreciated his attitude.
“He was very concerned about letting people know the real truth about West Virginia,” she said, “not making us look bad.”
Mike Costello, a local chef who appears on the episode, said:
That kind of appreciation has resulted because Bourdain was willing to listen, Costello said.
“People of southern West Virginia feel for the first time someone from the outside media came in and told a story they were proud of. I think that tells a lot about the power of narrative and the power of open mindedness,” Costello said.
“When someone comes here with the goal of being open minded and learning about a place it shows how encouraged and empowered people can be when they’re able to tell their own story.”
I bought the West Virginia episode on Amazon Streaming last night, but I just found it online for free — for how long, I don’t know, but have a look. The intro monologue begins at the two-minute mark. It’s clear that Bourdain is tearing into his own prejudices, and was angry at himself for once thinking badly of these people. Bourdain says:
Here in the heart of every belief system I’ve ever mocked or fought against, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone. I found a place both heartbreaking and beautiful. A place that both symbolizes and contains everything wrong — and everything wonderful and hopeful — about America.
In the show, Bourdain does not back off his own beliefs, political and otherwise. What he does is humanize the people of West Virginia, and express solidarity with them across the political and cultural divide. As he tweeted back then:
This place moves me like very, very few other places. And I been everywhere. #WestVirginia
— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) September 13, 2017
I’d trade that entire Broadway audience for one more year of Anthony Bourdain’s life. He had heart. De Niro, that bunch — they just have money and attitude.
If you didn’t follow Bourdain’s work, I hope you will now. We lost a great American last week.
Two new animated series about heroic drag queens were recently announced. Check out the trailers below for, respectively, “Super Drags” (from Netflix) and “Drag Tots” (on WOW Presents, a streaming network):
Note well: “Super Drags” is on Netflix. Can’t get more mainstream than that. The streaming service is affiliated with RuPaul.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when we were upset about the kids movie “Show Dogs” grooming children for sexual abuse? Remember Lactatia from a couple of weeks back, the nine year old drag queen that Teen Vogue says “inspires us to live colorfully”?:
9 year old drag superstar Lactatia at @RuPaulsDragCon with a message for her haters!!
— Brandon Hilton (@BRANDONHILTON) May 15, 2018
Now, normalizing drag queens for children is the big woke thing. We’ve had Drag Queen Story Hours in libraries nationwide. Now Netflix is turning drag queens into animated superheroes, and RuPaul’s streaming service is turning drag queens into child superheroes.
Note well that Lactatia was photographed above at beloved drag queen RuPaul’s recent drag convention.
Can’t you see what’s happening?
You might think — I certainly hope you think — that your child will not be exposed to this filth. The thing is, your child, and all of us, have to live in a world in which this is normal, and in which the popular culture thinks that dressing little boys up like sexually provocative women is not only permissible, but a sign of cultural progress.
Law and politics cannot possibly be enough to keep sanity alive as Weimar America descends further into decadence. (Did you see this yesterday? “A baby could become the first person without a legal mother if a transgender man wins a historic court battle.”) Yeah, I know, ha-ha, the right-wing Christian is freaking out again. Fine, laugh. Doesn’t bother me. What does bother me are conservative Christians (and other religious and social conservatives) who work hard to maintain their denial over the weimarization of America. And what bothers me is … my own increasingly threadbare stance of trying to figure out how to be tolerant in a culture where the people pushing this stuff are crushing people like us and brainwash our children.
The first reader who sent in the “Super Drags” clip said the sexualization of children is one thing he believes could provoke the right to violence. He wasn’t suggesting this, mind you, but saying that Netflix and the pop-culture decadents who are crusading for Lactatializing the culture are provoking forces they don’t understand. It reminded me of this blog’s hard-right commenter Raskolnik’s line from yesterday: “If you don’t want the Third Reich, don’t welcome the Weimar Republic.”
He was born in the province of Nursia, of honorable parentage, and brought up at Rome in the study of humanity. As much as he saw many by reason of such learning fall to dissolute and lewd life, he drew back his foot, which he had as it were now set forth into the world, lest, entering too far in acquaintance with it, he likewise might have fallen into that dangerous and godless gulf.
Therefore, giving over his book, and forsaking his father’s house and wealth, with a resolute mind only to serve God, he sought for some place, where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose. In this way he departed, instructed with learned ignorance, and furnished with unlearned wisdom.
Read that again, until you grasp what it’s telling you. St. Gregory the Great says that young Benedict, born four years after the Western Empire fell, observed that the culture of the city of Rome itself was so decadent that learning its ways would drag one into a “dangerous and godless gulf.” He saw that he had to get out of there.
Benedict took up residence in a cave in Subiaco, where he lived as a hermit, praying and fasting. Only after he had built himself up spiritually, and overcome a fierce temptation, did he go out into the world to minister. Even then, he did not plunge back into the world he had left behind. He was despised by some who had initially welcomed him, because, as Gregory says, “the life of virtuous men is always grievous to those that be of wicked conditions.” Here, Gregory (who was the Pope), tells his dialogue partner that the spiritually wise person knows when to stay present as a witness in a particular place, and when to leave it:
In my opinion, Peter, evil men may with good conscience be tolerated in that community, where there be some good that may be helped, and reap spiritual profit. Where there is none good at all that receive spiritual profit, often times all labor is lost. Those that would be perfect carry always this mind: that when they perceive their labor to be fruitless in one place, to remove immediately to another, where more good may be done.
For this cause, Paul, that notable preacher of the word, who was desirous to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, to whom to live is Christ, and to die is gain [Phil. 1:21], not only desired himself to suffer persecution, but also animated and encouraged others to suffer the same. Yet being himself in persecution at Damascus, he got a rope and a basket to pass over the wall, and was privately let down. [Acts 9:25]
What then? shall we say that Paul was afraid of death, when as himself said, that he desired it for Christ’s sake? not so: but when he perceived that in that place little good was to be done by great labor, he reserved himself for further labor, where more fruit and better success might be expected. Therefore the valiant soldier of Christ would not be kept within walls, but sought for a larger field where he might more freely labor for his master.
And so, in like manner, you shall quickly perceive, if you mark well, that venerable Benedict forsook not so many in one place, that were unwilling to be taught, as he in sundry other places raised up from the death of soul many more, that were willing to be instructed.
After some time, Gregory reports:
As God’s servant daily increased in virtue and became continually more famous for miracles, many were led by him to the service of almighty God in the same place. By Christ’s assistance he built there twelve Abbeys; over which he appointed governors, and in each of them placed twelve monks. A few he kept with himself; namely, those he thought would gain more profit and be better instructed by his own presence.
At that time also many noble and religious men of Rome came to him, and committed their children to be brought up under him for the service of God.
This is what I’m trying to convey in The Benedict Option. Withdraw from this decadent culture, build ourselves up, teach those who are willing to be taught, and then build our versions of abbeys, to which Christians struggling in the world can rely on to form their own children.
If not now, you conservative Christian readers, then when? What’s it going to take for you to get serious?
UPDATE: This little boy is 10 years old.
— Nicole Pascarelli O'Brien (@NicolePOBrien) June 9, 2018
UPDATE.2: I can see from the comments already that some literalists are completely missing Raskolnik’s point about Weimar, and wanting to have a throwdown over historical details. Raskolnik’s point is that the Nazis arose out of the economic and social chaos and decadence of the Weimar Republic. To take a more contemporary example, Vladimir Putin is certainly no Nazi, but his authoritarian rule came about popularly, from the economic and social chaos of the Yeltsin years. Raskolnik’s point is that advanced social breakdown opens the door to authoritarianism.
This is not a radical observation. If commenters want to argue that point, fine. But don’t waste your time nitpicking over whether or not the Weimar/Third Reich analogy is precise. I’m not going to post those comments, because they will derail the thread. Again: Raskolnik’s trying to make a point about the kind of conditions that bring about authoritarianism.
UPDATE.3: A reader suggests quite rightly that we should go back and read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard commencement address from June 8, 1978. Excerpt:
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.
The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.
However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were — State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century’s moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the 19th Century.
My friend Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist pastor, on his Facebook page, speaks the truth:
Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. Heartbreaking. I loved his travel shows. He had a way of talking to people all over the world that was real and showed their worth/value. He did it through highlighting their food and culture and I loved every show I saw. He was a hardened individual on the surface, but he had a way of valuing people and places. Here is a story I saw on Twitter from a writer named @toastasaurus:
“I met Anthony Bourdain only once, while waiting in line at a food festival. Instead of hello he said “hey kid, you hungry?” and it was like I’d bumped into an old friend. He spent the ten minutes listening to me talk about the home country of my parents, Trinidad & Tobago, with the utmost engagement. Like an ambassador studying up, ready to go. I wanted him so badly to visit there. I felt I could trust him to see what I saw in Trinidad, as if the heart of the country would be safe in his hands as a person and traveler. You trusted him with Your Heritage.
We left the line with longanisa in hand. He clinked his beer bottle to mine and thanked me for my time like he’d had an appointment with me all along. I watched him slope off to happily try another line hoping so hard he’d visit my people.
He did, ultimately. My whole family watched it. Practically the whole island did. It was like the president visiting your home country. We all watched as Tony Bourdain spoke of the island as if he’d fallen in love with it. I hope he did.
I think many of us trusted him to do that, to fall in love with the places we came from and to understand why we lived there or why we left there. We trusted him to see us as people first. Not curiosities.
Sometimes I like to pretend that my ten minutes convinced him to visit. But that was his charm, really, that he met passion with passion. That he understood the complexity of people just as well as he understood the complexity of food.
Sometimes the strange thing about the architecture of fame is that you almost feel someone you admire is the totality of their being. The parts of them that change you are the parts you focus on, and whatever pain he battled was not part of that.
I’m sorry that such levels of pain is a country we shared. We have all lost an ambassador today. Anyways, I guess that’s all I wanted to say.
Goodbye, Anthony Bourdain. Thank you for visiting my beloved island.“
Me: Depression is a horrible thing. Loneliness. Isolation. Pain. Some of the most sensitive people who can see the value and worth and pain in others are those themselves who are suffering in their own heart, soul, and mind. The old saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” rings true today. And every day. We have no idea what people around us are going through. Be kind.
And, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, rejection, or anything that causes you to despair of life, please know that you are not alone. That God loves you. That Jesus died for you and He understands your pain, rejection, and loneliness. That you deserve to be helped and loved and that this feeling is not the end of things, no matter how bleak things may seem. There is always tomorrow and another chance for love and light to break in. And, to know that it is not abnormal to feel those things and you might not be fixed but you can still love and be loved and even though you so badly want the pain go away, even when the pain is raging, that there is still goodness and light and love in God and in other people and it is worth experiencing each day. And, please get help. Talk to someone. A doctor. Call a helpline. Anything. Just don’t stop trying. You matter. You really do matter.
Bourdain had more cross-cultural skill than just about anyone I’ve ever seen – including most missionaries I’ve met (who could learn a lot from him – we all could) – because he never stopped being himself and because he just valued people and was interested in them, who they were, their heritage, and what they had to offer. We need more of that in the world. I need to be more like that.
The world lost an ambassador today. So sad.
His thoughts on my beloved hometown of New Orleans are in this picture.