On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez criticized the event for including four corporate CEOs but no labor leaders or activists to talk to the new members. Barra, the GM CEO, attended a “discussion with business leaders” at which she was joined by Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical manufacturer, and Dennis Muilenburg, chair and CEO of Boeing.
Mark Gearan, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, confirmed in an interview that no labor leaders were represented on panel discussions.
“Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter, a reference to panelist Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive and top economic adviser to President Trump. “Where‘s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?
The biennial program will be held December 4-6, 2018 in collaboration with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Congressional Institute.
Our program is unique. The agenda is designed to ensure thoughtful bipartisan discussions on a variety of public policy issues. Experts and practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds will cover topics including the federal budget process, key issues in domestic and foreign policy, Congressional reform and current issues related to technology. The program also provides guidance on a host of practical issues including: setting up and staffing congressional offices; best practices for media relations; and managing family/work life balance. Members will also have an opportunity to visit and tour the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.
Huh. Sounds like the “bipartisan discussions” are in part about conditioning incoming members of Congress into an establishment view of politics and political possibility. This “wide range of backgrounds” excludes right-of-center equivalents to Ocasio-Cortez’s missing labor union leaders and activists. There’s a full list of the program and speakers at the bottom of this Slate story. There were some good speakers on the program, to be sure — but Ocasio-Cortez’s point is not that the speakers were bad. It’s that the roster was narrow.
To be clear, I don’t think this is a liberal vs. conservative thing. Notice that one of the collaborators is the neoconservative think tank AEI. I think this is more a matter of an establishment vs. outsider thing. If Ocasio-Cortez is right — and I suspect she is — this seminar is less about educating incomers to the ways of life and work on Capitol Hill and more about conditioning incomers to think inside the establishment’s box.
In the case of Peter Vlaming (see here for background), the Virginia high school teacher fired for “misgendering” a biological female student who now presents as male, a reader says we should stop framing this as a religious liberty issue:
Just STOP IT with calling this a religious issue. You see how far that got Christians in the gay marriage thing. There were all sorts of good non-religious arguments in favor of putting the brakes on gay marriage, but opponents insisted on getting all religious and Bible about it. That just won’t cut it in a secular society, and it was totally uncreative.
This is about biological reality, the integrity of the English language, the stability of the language we use to orient ourselves in the world, compelled speech vs free speech…
ANYTHING other than religion. Nothing constructive will come from framing this as a religious issue. We will lose.
There is maybe 5-10% of people in the country who are strongly traditional Christians, and I am one of them, but I know how to do math.
To be fair to Vlaming, he’s a teacher of the French language, and the source of his own deep discomfort with transgenderism is no doubt his religious faith. I agree, though, that it is probably better to treat this as a scientific issue. After all, a science teacher who claimed a religious liberty right to only teach Young Earth Creationism wouldn’t get far at all, nor should he.
There are solid scientific reasons to resist the claim that biological males and females who consider themselves to be of the other gender, and who demand that everyone else recognize that, should be accommodated. Unfortunately, science itself is being coopted by the cultural revolution. The authoritative science magazine Nature published an editorial in October strongly denouncing a reported initiative by the Department of HHS to define male and female by biological characteristics. The editorial takes the line that people ought to be defined by the gender they choose. Nature is a very big deal.
We should by no means assume that science is immune from politicization. In the Soviet Union, as in our own materialist order, Science is considered to be the greatest authority. Science was corrupted by the communists as a matter of course, made to serve the revolution’s ends. The same thing is happening here.
One of the best lectures I ever heard was back in 2009, in a seminar at Cambridge University. The speaker was Dame Gillian Beer, a distinguished professor of literature who specialized in 19th century books and culture. The purpose of her talk was to illustrate how scientific findings are not received in a vacuum — that is, the facts scientists discover always get interpreted by interested observers. She lectured on how various parties in the 19th and early 20th centuries took up Darwin’s findings on evolutionary biology.
- British imperialists seized them as scientific proof that the British have a right to colonize weaker countries. Survival of the fittest, after all.
- British abolitionists took them as scientific proof that slavery should be abolished, given that all men come from a common ancestor, and possess equal dignity.
- Eugenicists took Darwin’s findings as scientific validation for the theory that humankind should manipulate the gene pool through selective breeding to weed out the “unfit.”
And so on. In every one of these cases, the interested parties assumed their position was objective true, because proved by science. They did this because Science was the ultimate authority. If you could plausible claim that Science required one to believe in a certain thing, then you had a good chance of winning your case.
Dame Gillian’s point was by no means anti-scientific. She was rather saying that we should be very, very careful about claiming the authority of Science in service of a cause we favor. For one, we are susceptible to blindness about our own interests. For another, one reason Science has such power is its foundational principle of objectively and empirically describing the world.
I bring this up here to say that while it is certainly true that in our materialist order, Science is far more authoritative than Religion, especially among elites, we should not assume that Science is free from ideological abuse and contamination. If you don’t know about the case of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, one of the world’s leading authorities on gender dysphoria, by all means stop and read this long 2016 article by Jesse Singal in New York magazine. Zucker supported transgender people, but because he believed that it wasn’t wise to put all gender-dysphoric children immediately on hormones, transgender activists got him fired. It is an absolute outrage, but who knows about Dr. Zucker today?
If they can take the scalp of one of the world’s top scientists, you’d better believe that a high school teacher in Virginia has a steep hill to climb.
I suppose one could say that a teacher like Vlaming ought to refer to the trans student by the kid’s preferred pronoun as a courtesy. When I was little — pre-kindergarten — I went through a stage in which I demanded that my parents call me by the name I preferred at that time — usually a character from a favorite storybook. They accommodated me because they knew that I was just an eccentric little kid with a big imagination. My insistence that I was not Rod, but was instead ____, was amusing.
Why isn’t the case of Vlaming’s student like this? I mean, why does the kid’s request that Vlaming (and everybody else) refer to her by masculine pronouns mean that everybody who does assents to anything beyond courtesy? Why can’t Vlaming just do as she asks, even though he may not personally believe that she is male any more than my parents believed their little boy was named anything other than Rod?
Here’s the answer: because this trans kid’s request is not a singular case that can be accommodated without threatening the social and epistemological order. To assent to this kid’s request, even if you don’t believe that she is actually a male, is to play a part in redefining social, legal, and scientific reality around a falsehood. Vlaming already showed himself willing to call the kid by the new male name she chose. That is a reasonable courtesy. But he rightly understood that to use that pronoun would be in a real sense to affirm that 2 + 2 = 5.
It’s the difference between calling the Pope or the Dalai Lama “Your Holiness” because that is one courtesy title of those religious leaders, and affirming by your speech that Catholicism or Tibetan Buddhism is true.
My point here is that making an anti-trans stand on scientific fact is perhaps stronger than doing so on religious liberty, but only superficially so, given the advanced state of decadence of our culture. Consider the case of Andrea Long Chu, the male-to-female transgender who caused controversy recently with a New York Times column conceding that the simulated vagina he was about to have surgeons make for him after they removed his male genitalia would not make him happy. In fact, said Chu, he has been feeling even worse, at times suicidal, since beginning his transition to female.
And yet, in Chu’s view, his desire to live as a female, and have medical science and everybody else accommodate that desire, is self-justifying:
But I also believe that surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want. Beyond this, no amount of pain, anticipated or continuing, justifies its withholding.
This is the bottom line: desire creates reality. The battle here is neither religious nor scientific, ultimately; it’s metaphysical. LGBT activists only force the rest of post-Christian society to live out the consequences of their nominalist convictions. This is why, contrary to the reader I quoted at the beginning of this piece, no scientific or otherwise strictly secular argument for putting the brakes on gay marriage would have worked. As a civilization, we have privileged desire. We believe that, contrary to the Rolling Stones, you should be able to get what you want — at least if you are one of a class privileged by our elites, which the Virginia trans student is, and poor Vlaming is not — and those who won’t give it to you are villains who deserve to be destroyed.
You know what makes me angry? That politicians from the Republican Party are sitting back watching this happen all over, and saying nothing. Not a damn thing. I’ve written here before about a visit I made to Capitol Hill in the fall of 2015, four months after the Obergefell decision. On that trip I met privately with staffers for key GOP leaders in the House and Senate. I asked them what plans the Republicans had for shoring up religious liberty protections in light of Obergefell.
The answer: no plans. None at all. It was not on their agenda.
I remember leaving the Capitol that afternoon, walking across the grounds, thinking, “We really are on our own.”
Trump has been better than any other Republican would have been — it’s his HHS that offended the Nature editors with its commonsense proposal — and it has come down to having to trust that the judges Trump will have appointed will be willing to carve out some kind of protection for dissenters in the new order. I’m doubtful of their prospects of success, but really, that’s it. Peter Vlaming — a high school teacher and father of four children — has been martyred by political correctness, and so far, we have heard nothing from the Republican Party. I doubt very much that we will, even though I believe that most Americans would sympathize with his plight.
Here’s what social and religious conservatives have to recognize: Peter Vlaming is one of Vaclav Havel’s greengrocers. In this passage from The Benedict Option, I explain what that means:
Havel, who died in 2011, preached what he called “antipolitical politics,” the essence of which he described as “living in truth.” His most famous and thorough statement of this was a long 1978 essay titled “The Power of the Powerless,” which electrified the Eastern European resistance movements when it first appeared. It is a remarkable document, one that bears careful study and reflection by orthodox Christians in the West today.
Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power—and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity.
Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth”— and it’s going to cost him plenty.
He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. But by bearing witness to the truth, he has accomplished something potentially powerful:
He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.
Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system—but he has preserved his humanity. And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether this party or that politician holds power (a fact that became painfully clear during the debasing 2016 U.S. presidential campaign).
“A better system will not automatically ensure a better life,” Havel goes on. “In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed” (emphasis mine).
The answer, then, is to create and support “parallel structures” in which the truth can be lived in community. Isn’t this a form of escapism, a retreat into a ghetto? Not at all, says Havel; a countercultural community that abdicated its responsibility to reach out to help others would end up being a “more sophisticated version of ‘living within a lie.’”
What are we going to do to support Peter Vlaming and his family? Believe me, there will be more Peter Vlamings. You might be one of them.
I have put a phone call in to the person who started the Go Fund Me account for the Vlaming family. I am trying to verify that it is on the up and up. Please keep checking back here, and I will let you know what I’ve learned.
UPDATE: Matt in VA:
This commenter doesn’t go far enough. Time to start giving up on arguments altogether.
No argument will work. The time is already past. You probably have about 2-4 years until they ban you from Twitter, etc., and the payment processor company you use to allow people to pay for subscriptions or to make donations tells you to take a hike with your hateful bigotry. You can see, I can see, and more and more people can see the direction things are going.
Time (long past time) to start thinking about alternatives to arguments, period. They are fun to make! But there is no argument that will work against the spirit of our age. Conservatives are supposed to learn from the lessons of the past. One of the lessons of the past is that there are quite often times when the argument — no matter what it is — is not going to get the job done. You don’t have to be happy about that. But it is what it is.
UPDATE.2: I have verified that the Go Fund Me for Peter Vlaming is real. Please give if you can.
This is what I’m talking about! A mess of greens, turnip roots, and buttermilk cornbread, all made this afternoon by ME! I think everybody else in the house is too polite to complain about how much I stunk up the house by making it smell like greens, but they all sure loved the cornbread. Funny, but I hated greens as a kid, though I didn’t mind the smell, because I associated them with my Nana, who always cooked them.
The smell of greens cooking in their pot liquor on the stove is one of the elemental aromas of the rural South — or at least it was. I wonder if it’s a generational thing. I was talking about greens with a black woman cashier at the grocery store the other day. She looked to be in her early 20s, and really liked greens (collards are her favorite; my favorite are turnip greens), but that conversation made me aware that the only white people I know who eat greens are people of my generation and older — and honestly, I can’t think of anybody in my generation who do. Or if they do, they never talk about it. I’ll talk about greens with anybody, anytime.
UPDATE: I don’t have a recipe for greens — I just make them by instinct — but here’s the recipe for my wife’s Mammaw’s cornbread:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
Mix it all together until smooth. Pour into a black iron skillet that has been greased with butter or bacon fat. Bake in a 425-degree oven until top is brown and firm.
That’s all I know.
Mere hours after Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, 21, won the Heisman Trophy, the Social Justice Keyboard Warriors at USA Today (among other journalism outlets) tried to ruin the college star’s big night by reporting that as a boy of 14 and 15, he sent “homophobic” tweets:
Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray had a Saturday to remember. But the Oklahoma quarterback’s memorable night also helped resurface social media’s memory of several homophobic tweets more than six years old.
When Murray was 15 years old, he tweeted at his friends (via his since-verified Twitter account) using an anti-gay slur to defame them. Four offensive tweets remained active on his account late Saturday night but were eventually deleted by Sunday morning — when Murray apologized for his insensitive language in a tweet.
I hope you’re sitting down and bracing yourself, because I’m going to reveal the eyeball-scorching, heart-stopping tweet by a ninth-grade boy that made national news:
This is correct:
It is utterly contemptible that multiple news outlets wrote about Kyler Murray’s high school tweets. Various headlines claimed they “resurfaced,” which is doublespeak: you resurfaced them, for no reason at all. Shame on you all. https://t.co/NYBHSm0cqt
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) December 9, 2018
What kind of sick SOBs do you have to be to decide that a high school kid’s ill-advised tweets are national news? There is a reason normal people hate journalists. And look, you whatabouters, if 15-year-old Murray had tweeted a casual insult of people just like me, I would feel exactly the same way. He was a kid! Show some mercy.
This is why parents ought to keep their kids off social media for as long as they can: because in the future, there will always be sick SOBs in the media and among activists who use their kids’ social media statements to try to hurt them when they are older. You put the search term “Kyler Murray” into Google News now, and what comes up first are not stories about him winning the Heisman, but about apologizing for a six-year-old tweet.
I wrote the other day about a Virginia school board firing veteran teacher Peter Vlaming over his refusal to call a biological girl by a masculine pronoun. He was willing to use the child’s new masculine name, but would not say “he” or “him.” In this Virginia Gazette story about a student walkout in support of the fired teacher, we learn what exactly it was that triggered the dismissal. You are not going to believe this:
The student and parents met with Vlaming on multiple occasions and expressed their concerns. Vlaming shared his position with the parents and said he would use the student’s new name and avoid offensive pronouns, according to Voyles.
But after an incident where the student was wearing virtual reality goggles and almost ran into a wall in the hallway and Vlaming shouted “don’t let her run into the wall,” the parents said it was unhealthy for their child to remain in Vlaming’s class, according to school division’s attorney Stacy Haney.
The teacher blurted out a pronoun referring to the child’s actual biological gender as he was trying to prevent her from walking into a wall while wearing virtual reality goggles! If that scene were in a movie, you would think the symbolism was too hokey. But this is real life.
Here’s some more real life for you:
Vlaming lives in Williamsburg with his wife and four children and is completing his master’s degree in school administration at the College of William and Mary.
What kind of Christmas will these four children have, with their father unemployed because of this kid, her parents, and the school board? Well done, transgender movement. You’ve put a father of four out of work at Christmastime because he wouldn’t lie to protect your feelings.
There is a Go Fund Me to support the Vlaming family, but I don’t know if it has been verified. If any of you can provide me with information that allows me to verify it, please drop me a line at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and I’ll go to work on it. If I can make sure everything is on the up and up, I’ll happily contribute money to the campaign, and publicize it here.
UPDATE: I have verified that the Go Fund Me for Peter Vlaming is real. Please give if you can.
A reader writes (I’ve slightly edited this to protect his privacy):
After reading lots about The Benedict Option, I bought it and read it in August. In October, I read Leah Libresco’s Building the Benedict Option. I’m your target audience. Totally. I’m a red state conservative Catholic, transplanted to [major Blue State city]. I’ve been attending the same parish church for 25 years. We sent our kids to the parish K-8 school, and then to the Catholic high school. But, it’s [progressive city], where the faith is dilute and all the opposing forces in the culture are strong.
I gathered a group of faithful friends and we spent 5 years trying to light a fire under the faith in our parish. And we finally gave up. The parish administrator thought our programs were too expensive (half of one percent of the parish income). The parish lay bureaucrat in charge doesn’t believe what the church teaches on any of the controversial topics. And our pastor says a very nice mass, but can’t be bothered to run the parish. The school claims that 70% of the families are Catholic, but then we have a mass involving the school kids and the church fills with people I’ve rarely seen before.
I believe your basic prediction about the future, that we’re in a post-Christian nation, that our politics are moving toward more and more overt persecution of Christian faithful. I voted for Trump and like him more than you do. But it looks to me like Texas and Florida will flip from red to blue in the next decade, and we’ll have elected the last Republican president in my lifetime. I work in a company that’s all about diversity, and half expect that one day I’m going to lose my job over something that amounts to a thought crime. I’m Peter Vlaming walking, and nothing that I’ve done for my company or my co-workers will matter.
I tell you all this to establish some credentials. I’m on your side. I buy what you’re saying. I like your writing. And I want to offer a suggestion. I’ve been reading your posts on The American Conservative for a few months now, and I’m about to have to swear off it because it is unrelentingly gloomy. I’m going to need hope to get me through the challenges ahead, and reading your blog drags me down.
So here’s my suggestion: Without changing who you are one bit, or your voice, or anything else about the way you’ve built the online community you have, please mix in some positive content about what BenOp communities are up to, about how faithful people and communities are surviving and prospering. More like this:
More about seeds of Catholic/Christian renewal in the midst of the awful scandals that drag on and on. A few rays of sunshine will really help to dispel the gloom, and I need that. I think you need it, too.
I know there are fewer of these stories, and it’s harder to find them. But it matters. It’s the way you can help BenOp communities to succeed. And it’s how you gather the connections and material for the next BenOp book. Lots of people can write the books that accurately analyze the problem. It’s the rare person who can synthesize solutions and point the way out of the abyss. You get credit for doing just that in The Benedict Option. But the first BenOp book is not the end of the road. It’s the beginning.
Wow, I deeply thank the reader for this letter. I need to hear it. I have been in a rut for a while. It’s very, very easy to read the Internet and find signs every day that we are in a bad place, and getting worse. It’s much more difficult to find signs of hope — but they are there! They really are. I woke up this morning thinking about the Benda family in Prague, and the joyful resilience of those Catholic heroes. Lying there in bed, I thought back over all my Benedict Option-related travels this past year — to Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, and Italy — and realized that in every place, I was the happiest and most hopeful I’ve been all year, precisely because I was in the presence of faithful people who understand how grave our situation is, but whose lives are led by a higher truth.
The thing is, I had to get on a plane and go places to find these things. I don’t have to leave the comfort of my armchair to find a thousand pieces of bad news, everywhere. The kind of things that bring people like you and me hope are invisible to the media (or they see them as bad news). I need to work harder to find the signs of hope and bring them to you. But look, may I ask you to help me? Please send me the good news. I can’t promise to post everything — I get lots and lots of letters every day — but I’ll promise to read it all.
Thanks again to the author of the e-mail above. I needed that kick in the butt. Believe it or not, I’m not a gloomy person by nature, as anyone who knows me personally can attest. But as I said above, I’ve been in a rut, in part because it’s so easy to do reading the news these days, but also in part because I get stuck on trying to shake fellow social and religious conservatives out of their torpor that I forget that “conversion,” so to speak, is only the first step: people also need discipleship.
Look at the image above. In it, little Maria Grazia Zennaro teaches her baby brother Pietro how to walk. It’s a still from a short video clip their father, Giovanni, sent to me the other day. The sister leads the little boy across the kitchen of their home in rural Italy, and at the end, they embrace. Giovanni and his wife Alice are not just sitting there looking at the darkening world and despairing; they are taking action, with their friends, to build real Christian community for themselves and their children.
I need more Maria Grazia and Pietro in my life. I bet you do too.
Write me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com with your Benedict Option signs of hope. Again, I receive far too much mail daily to post everything, or even to respond. But I’ll read it.
Normally I wouldn’t do something like this, but this is a special case. Consuelo del Val is a Spanish teacher working at Texas Tech University through the end of this academic year. Consuelo has done me a great kindness: she is also the translator of La Opción Benedictina (The Benedict Option), which was published last month in Spain. Now, maybe I — maybe we — can help her.
Consuelo is searching for a job in the US for the 2019-20 academic year. Does your college or high school need a Spanish teacher, in particular one who is familiar with the Benedict Option and its ideals? Please reach out to Consuelo! Her e-mail address is: consuelo.val — at — ttu.edu
Here is her resume:
A Virginia high-school teacher was fired on Thursday after refusing to address a transgender student by the student’s preferred pronoun.
The school board of the West Point Consolidated School District unanimously approved the district superintendent’s recommendation to let French teacher Peter Vlaming go from West Point High School. He had previously been suspended with pay since October 31.
“The School Board has policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” said Superintendent Laura Abel. “As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators. As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforce board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming’s non-compliance I therefore recommended termination.”
I’m not sure what legal grounds Vlaming has to object. It’s insane, but that’s the school’s policy. More from the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Vlaming, 47, who had taught at the school for almost seven years after spending more than a decade in France, told his superiors his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for a student he saw as female.
The student’s family informed the school system of the transition over the summer. Vlaming said he had the student in class the year before when the student identified as female.
Vlaming agreed to use the student’s new, male name. But he tried to avoid using any pronouns — he or him, and she or her — when referring to the student. The student said that made him feel uncomfortable and singled out.
The teacher had been there for seven years. He did not “misgender” the student, as some have said. He simply refused to use a pronoun to refer to the student. He was trying to work around the policy, even calling the kid by the new masculine name the girl now uses. But that wasn’t good enough for either the kid or the school.
There will be no compromises. You must comply in every way with this war on reality, or you’re out.
This is the new normal, as I said in The Benedict Option:
The workplace is getting tougher for orthodox believers as America’s commitment to religious liberty weakens. Progressives sneer at claims of anti-Christian discrimination or persecution. Don’t you believe them. Most of the experts I talked to on this topic spoke openly only after I promised to withhold their identities. They’re frightened that their words today might cost them their careers tomorrow.
They’re not paranoid. While Christians may not be persecuted for their faith per se, they are already being targeted when they stand for what their faith entails, especially in matters of sexuality. As the LGBT agenda advances, broad interpretations of antidiscrimination laws are going to push traditional Christians increasingly out of the marketplace, and the corporate world will become hostile toward Christian bigots, considering them a danger to the working environment.
I have talked to a number of Christians, in fields as diverse as law, banking, and education, who face increasing pressure within their corporations and institutions to publicly declare themselves “allies” of LGBT colleagues. In some instances, employees are given the opportunity to wear special badges advertising their allyship. Naturally if one doesn’t wear the badge, she is likely to face questions from co-workers and even shunning.
These workers fear that this is soon going to serve as a de facto loyalty oath for Christian employees—and if they don’t sign it, so to speak, it will mean the end of their jobs and possibly even their careers. To sign the oath, they believe, would be the modern equivalent of burning a pinch of incense before a statue of Caesar.
It will be impossible in most places to get licenses to work without affirming sexual diversity dogma. For example, in 2016 the American Bar Association voted to add an “anti-harassment” rule to its Model Code of Conduct, one that if adopted by state bars would make it simply discussing issues having to do with homosexuality (among other things) impossible without risking professional sanction—unless one takes the progressive side of the argument.
Along those lines, it will be very difficult to have open dialogue in many workplaces without putting oneself in danger. One Christian professor on a secular university’s science faculty declined to answer a question I had about the biology of homosexuality, out of fear that anything he said, no matter how innocuous and fact-based, could get him brought up on charges within his university, as well as attacked by social media mobs. Everyone working for a major corporation will be frog-marched through “diversity and inclusion” training and will face pressure not simply to tolerate LGBT co-workers but to affirm their sexuality and gender identity.
Plus, companies that don’t abide by state and federal antidiscrimination statutes covering LGBTs will be not be able to receive government contracts. In fact, according to one religious liberty litigator who has had to defend clients against an exasperating array of antidiscrimination lawsuits, the only thing standing between an employer or employee and a court action is the imagination of LGBT plaintiffs and their lawyers.
“We are all vulnerable to such targeting,” he said.
Says a religious liberty lawyer, “There is no looming resolution to these conflicts; no plateau that we’re about to reach. Only intensification. It’s a train that won’t stop so long as there is momentum and track.”
Eventually the US Supreme Court is going to have to make some kind of ruling on these transgender claims, which are not only a war on religious liberty, but more fundamentally a war on biological reality. Jordan Peterson, who is not a religious man, came to wide public notice after he refused to knuckle under to his university’s transgender pronoun mandate. Unlike an American high school teacher, he had tenure. Maybe one day the Supreme Court will carve out protection for modern Galileos. As awful as he is, I am grateful that we have a president who appoints conservative judges. That’s the only chance the Jordan Petersons and Peter Vlamings of the world have.
This is not a minor thing. This has to do with fundamental truth. As recently as a decade ago, if you had told people that the day was soon coming where a high school teacher in Virginia would be fired for refusing to say that a biological female was male, people would have accused you of being a hysteric.
But there’s no guarantee that the Court will rule in our favor, or even if they do, that the ruling will protect dissenting employees in private industry. If you are not preparing yourself right now for how you will act when — for most of us, not if, but when — you are forced to declare yourself on the issue, you are being foolish.
Peter Vlaming stood for the truth, and now it has cost him his job. You will hear certain prominent Christians say that you shouldn’t be alarmed by any of this. They’re lying. They’re preparing themselves and those who listen to them to capitulate, but they’re going to call it “cultural transformation.” They have the wind at their backs now, and they and their allies are likely to win in the short run. But they can only take away your integrity if you let them.
Peter Vlaming was unwilling to let them. What are the rest of us going to do to help Peter Vlaming?
UPDATE: Reader Mrs. DK, who is a friend of mine, comments:
And as Rod knows, they are not just coming for Christians or conservatives. In my case, I haven’t used a pronoun or a name with my own trans-identified kid or my kid’s trans-identified friends in three years. Think you can’t speak English without pronouns? You can — and you’d better. Come the new Inquisition, the ability to speak English without pronouns might be the one thing that keeps you out of jail.
My brother is a leftist atheist who teaches biology at an elite liberal arts college. He told me that he has stopped using pronouns with ALL his students. He said that it is impossible to have a rational debate with them about gender ideology. He told me that this is all about power and control, and the students’ demands keep on escalating. He is distressed that a whole cluster of female students in the physics department suddenly declared themselves trans, and immediately the tone of the department changed from “celebrating women in physics!” to “celebrating transgender people in physics!”
What is it going to take for more people to reach that “peak trans” moment — that moment when you look at all this and wonder where on earth has common sense and sanity gone?
UPDATE.2: I have verified that the Go Fund Me for Peter Vlaming is real. Please give if you can.
Federal prosecutors released sentencing recommendations for two alleged criminals who worked closely with Donald Trump: his lawyer Michael Cohen, and campaign manager Paul Manafort. They are filled with damning details. But the most important passage by far is this, about Trump’s fixer: “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”
The payments in question, as the document explains, concern a payoff to two women who claimed to have affairs with Trump. The payments, according to prosecutors, were intended to influence the campaign, and thereby constituted violations of campaign finance law. They have not formally charged Trump with this crime — it is a sentencing report for Cohen, not Trump — but this is the U.S. Department of Justice calling Trump a criminal.
“Individual-1” is the president, who is believed by the Justice Department to have committed a felony, and who reacted:
Totally clears the President. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
I don’t know if he’s a conscious liar, or is simply delusional. I don’t know which is more frightening to contemplate.
Meanwhile, bad news: WH Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly on the verge of resignation. The president has reportedly stopped speaking to him. If true, who will be left to keep a rein on Trump?
Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said unkind things about him:
Answer starts at :22 mark. Tillerson says that Trump does not like to read, does not like to take briefings, and acts on impulse, without thinking things through. When asked how their relationship went off the rails, Tillerson said that he thinks Trump got tired of him (Tillerson) telling him all the time, “Mr. President, you can’t do that, because it’s illegal…”.
The president responded this way to the remarks of Tillerson, who previously ran ExxonMobil:
Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
Dumb as a rock and lazy as hell, that Tillerson. Right.
Is it more likely that a lazy idiot rises to the helm of a global oil company, or is elected President of the United States?
Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn have been cooperating with Mueller, as we know. Today’s Cohen case filings, combined with Trump’s ego and lack of discipline — in particular his disregard for the law as just another obstacle to be rolled over for the sake of getting what he wants — tells me that Mueller’s final report is going to be quite interesting.
Can you imagine what would have happened at any point prior to January 20, 2017, if the US Justice Department had published a document accusing the President of the United States of a felony? And if his former Secretary of State had said in public that he figures the president got tired of being told by him that the thing he wanted to do was against the law?
What a humiliation for our country. Even if you think he is better than Hillary Clinton would have been — and I’m still willing to say that on the basis of judges alone, but only that — but damn, this is disgusting.
The cycle of life in the Trump administration —
The president hires you and says you’re amazing.
The president demands impossible things of you.
You either quit or get fired.
The president says you were awful all along.
— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) December 7, 2018
UPDATE.2: From David French, who is a lawyer:
Most of the online attention has focused on the SDNY’s Cohen memo because it claims that when Cohen committed his campaign-finance crimes, he “acted in coordination with and at the direction of” Donald Trump. As former prosecutor Renato Mariotti notes, it’s highly unlikely that prosecutors would make that assertion without independent corroborating evidence beyond Cohen’s own statements.
This is significant. A person who directs an agent or subordinate to commit a crime is generally also guilty of that crime. It’s way too soon to assert that Trump himself is guilty, but there is no way to interpret the prosecutor’s assertion as anything other than ominous for Trump.
But it may not be the night’s most ominous assertion. I want to focus on a different document: the special counsel’s sentencing memo outlining Cohen’s cooperation with the Special Counsel’s Office. This document may well outline the roadmap for an impeachment count against the president that is based on recent presidential precedent.
French goes on to explain why. You should read it.
UPDATE.3: More legal analysis. Trump is in very serious trouble; this explains why. Excerpt:
In crediting Mr. Cohen with providing “substantial and significant efforts” to assist the investigation, Mr. Mueller’s separate sentencing memo details new evidence of collusion with Russia, including a previously unreported phone conversation in November 2015 between Mr. Cohen and an unnamed Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” in Moscow. The Russian explained to Mr. Cohen how the Russian government could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and offered to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
This newly disclosed conversation directly speaks to the question of collusion — the outreach was explicitly political and was focused on how each side would gain from a potential partnership.
Mr. Mueller also notes that Mr. Cohen provided his team with additional information relevant to the “core” of the special counsel investigation.
The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress — and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.
There’s more. This stuff is about to get very real.
UPDATE.4: From the Lawfare blog’s analysis:
As to the substance of the government’s memos in the Cohen cases, they provide little basis for the president’s cries of exoneration. The majority of the information about “Individual-1” presented in the U.S. attorney’s filing is not new. Cohen himself acknowledged it in court and in his original plea documents in August. His own sentencing memo also contains much of the same material.
What makes this document extraordinary is the government’s restatement of the most striking portion of Cohen’s August admissions in its own voice: Cohen indicated that he committed campaign finance violations at the direction of the candidate who conducted an “ultimately successful” campaign for president. The government now echoes this testimony and alleges:
With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.
In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.
What should one make of all of this? It has long been clear that the Russian side of L’Affaire Russe involved a long-running, systematic effort to reach out to members of the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Mueller’s account of Cohen’s November 2015 conversation about “political synergy” is just one more thread in that pattern. What is less certain is whether and how that Russian effort was reciprocated by those surrounding the president. Friday’s court filings don’t substantially clarify that issue, but they do add more detail and texture to an already troubling picture.
Mueller is still not ready to show his hand on the key substantive questions. But President Trump should should probably go easy on the cries of vindication. They may age badly, and they may do so quickly.
I received a review copy of From Fire, By Water, Sohrab Ahmari’s upcoming memoir about his conversion to Catholicism. I started reading it last night, and found it hard to put down. I won’t say anything else about it until we get closer to its January 29 publication date, but I am confident that this book is going to make a big splash. He’s a fantastic writer.
Though I’m not far into the book, I can tell that Sohrab’s father, Parviz, is going to play a significant role in the story of his son’s life and spiritual journey. Sohrab was born in 1978 into a fairly secular Tehran family — he makes it clear in the opening chapter that he converted to Catholicism from atheism, not from Islam — his parents were real bohemians (e.g., they encouraged their son to call them by their first names). He describes his architect father as a larger-than-life figure.
As I’m reading Sohrab’s account of how he found the Catholic faith, I’m reminded of the role the psychological and emotional drama between my own father and me spurred my entry into Catholicism — and my exit from it 13 years later. None of this was clear to me until a few years ago. If you’ve read my books The Little Way of Ruthie Leming and How Dante Can Save Your Life — which, let me point out, is available on Kindle for only 99 cents — most of this will be familiar to you. I offer it here for those who haven’t read it, and also to inspire what I hope will be a thoughtful conversation about the way our families affect our religious lives, for better and for worse.
As a boy, I desperately wanted my father’s approval. He was a towering figure in my life. He named me after himself (Ray Oliver Dreher, Jr. — R.O.D., get it?), and raised me to be a miniature version of himself. I never was able to cooperate with that, though heaven knows I tried. He was a man of action — he loved hunting, fishing, working with his hands, sports. I was a soft intellectual type — no good at sports, too soft-hearted to be a hunter, etc. You get the picture. He had a very strong personality, and thought that if he only pressured me enough, he could reproduce himself in me.
The damage this did to me, and to our relationship, was significant.
I more or less broke with my dad as a teenager. Emotionally and psychologically, I was the walking wounded. I deeply admired my father, who was in most respects a just and good man. But he found it unbearable that his only son was not exactly like he was. He regarded this as a failure of love on my part. As disloyalty. I knew that he was wrong, but I found it very hard to live without his approval.
If he had been a bad man, it would have been easier to have let go of him. But he wasn’t a bad man.
In 1987, when I was 20 years old, John Paul II came into my life. He visited New Orleans on his American tour that year. I was in college in Baton Rouge, but felt drawn to see him. I couldn’t explain why. I had an interest in Catholicism, but not enough of one to go see just any pope. There was something about the person of Karol Wojtyla that drew me like a magnet. He was strong and masculine, but also compassionate. I didn’t understand this at the time — I was young — but what I was seeing in John Paul was a father who it was safe to believe in.
I saw John Paul at the Superdome, and never got over it. I became a Catholic five years later. I had a dream not long after my conversion, in which I was standing near our family’s pond, shooting guns with my father. He was furious at me for not shooting properly, and was yelling at me. I ran away, and hid in a grove of trees. Later, I peered out to see if he had gone away, and it was safe to emerge. I saw what I took to be a mother swan and her cygnets floating just off the bank of the pond. When I left the safety of the woods, I recognized that the mother swan was actually a priest wearing a white robe, and the cygnets were white-robed children being baptized.
I shared this dream with a wise friend, who interpreted the dream like this: retreating to the woods to escape the anger and (symbolic) violence of my father symbolizes my escape into books and ideas to find solace from what I thought was unbearable. Discovering religion — Catholicism, specifically — gave me the courage and confidence to leave my refuge, and live in the world.
That made a lot of sense to me. Still does. Catholicism, in the person of the Good Father, John Paul II, showed me a different way of being a man — a way that took the best parts of my father, and perfected them. I never believed that the bishops of the Catholic Church were perfect, but what I believed subconsciously was that they were safe, and good, in a way that my dad was not. I gave them my trust at a far deeper level than mere assent to the propositions they embodied as Catholic bishops. I gave myself to them as fathers.
Years later, when I would begin to learn what a sham the bishops — including John Paul II, it pains me to say — made of their spiritual fatherhood, it destroyed me inside. The anger and sense of betrayal broke me. I left the Catholic Church in 2006, unable to believe in its claims any longer. I didn’t understand what was happening to me emotionally, and it didn’t entirely cohere with me until I faced the final crisis with my father, in 2013 — something I wrote about in How Dante.
My returning home at the end of 2011, in the wake of my sister’s passing, forced me to realize that I was never going to get the love of my father that I needed. Back then, I suppose that I had the Prodigal Son narrative in my mind. I had not been a prodigal — in fact, I had done quite well away from home — but in my father’s mind, I was a prodigal, because I had wasted the inheritance he gave me. He believed that I should have stayed at home in our town, and never left.
I was 44 years old when my sister died, and believed that the trauma of that event in our family would destroy the old prejudices that kept us apart. I thought all that would be past us. I assumed that he would welcome me home.
He did, but not really. He was certainly thrilled that we were living there, but he put up some insuperable roadblocks. I won’t go into the details here — this material is in my books — but the bottom line was that he still resented me for not being exactly like him. He was never going to change.
I was living a perversion of the Prodigal Son story. It was as if the father in the Gospel parable had sided with the elder son, and refused to let the prodigal son cross the threshold of his farm. In that parable, Jesus gave us a model of divine fatherhood — what God the Father was like. As I worked with my priest and with my therapist to make sense of the ruins of my relationship with my father and my Louisiana family, I came to see that in my subconscious, I had confused God the Father with my earthly father, such that I expected of my dad something that he could not give.
Worse, I understood that for all of my life as a Christian, both the 13 years of Catholicism, and the seven or eight years of Orthodoxy — I had been incapable of believing that God the Father loved me. Rather, I knew that He loved me, but I was also convinced that He didn’t approve of me, and that if only I worked hard enough to be holy, maybe He would accept me.
In other words, I thought God the Father was like my own dad.
Sorting this out was necessary to my inner healing — and, by the grace of God, and with the help of my priest, my therapist, and, believe it or not, Dante Alighieri, I did.
I made peace with my father and his legacy, and had the grace of being there to hear him say to me that he was sorry. I was also able to live in his bedroom with him for the last week or so of his life. I was holding his hand as he died. I tell this story in How Dante, by the way.
That experience made me reflect on how my deep hunger for an affirming relationship with my dad caused me to set myself up for destruction as a Catholic.
Here is a passage from How Dante, in which a mystical experience accompanied my inner healing. The scene starts in the confessional with my Orthodox priest, Father Matthew. I am telling him about realizing that I had been an idol worshiper — the idols being family, place, and the embodiment of them both, my father. (What I didn’t see at that time was that I had repeated this emotional dynamic in my relationship to the Catholic Church, and to John Paul II):
I explained how much I had revered Daddy as a child, and grew up listening to his stories about the family and the land. When I’m gone, he would tell Ruthie and me, this land will all be yours to pass on to your children. This was a sacred trust. This was the right order of things.
“And you didn’t want it, but Ruthie did.”
“Well, I wanted it, but not in the way he wanted me to want it. I wasn’t made for this place. I was weird by his standards. I think he saw every deviation in me from himself as a rejection of everything he stood for, of everything he had to give me.”
“I can see that.”
The root of the problem, I explained, was that my dad couldn’t see me as me. I could not live here without being crushed by his will. I wanted the good things of family, but the price was too high.
“And this is your sin how?”
“You remember me telling you a while back that I have a lot of trouble believing that God loves me? That I felt like I could never make him happy enough to deserve his love? This is where it comes from. I didn’t understand it until Dante made me think about it, but without meaning to, I made gods of family and place. I made them into my idols. I set them up in my heart where God ought to be.”
Father Matthew looked at me, his brow creased.
“There’s more,” I said, then told him the story of Pier della Vigna. [Note: a character in Dante’s Purgatorio who committed suicide because he lost the approval of his master, the Holy Roman Emperor — RD] “Don’t worry,” I hastened to add, “I’m not a potential suicide. It’s that there’s a part of me that can’t deal with life without my father’s approval. Isn’t that stupid?” I asked.
“It’s not stupid.”
“Well, I feel stupid. I’m forty-six years old, and I am stuck in this damn ditch, where I have been since childhood. I couldn’t take it when I was younger, and ran away. I’m tired of running. I’ve got to face down this dragon and kill it. I don’t know what to do now, but I want to confess that I have worshiped idols, and I am sorry. I put other things before God. I want to lay those idols at the foot of the Cross and be done with them.”
Father Matthew said nothing. He bowed his head again and reached down to lift his stole, which was my signal to kneel. He put his stole over my head, pronounced the words of absolution, made the sign of the cross over my head, then unveiled me. I kissed his right hand, stood up, and walked out of the church feeling light.
A few nights later, I was lying in bed in the dark, with Julie asleep next to me. I was saying my five hundred Jesus Prayers, frustrated because I had put it off till the last moments of the day, and struggling through my fatigue to focus on it. By the time I arrived at the fourth cycle around my prayer rope—that is, after three hundred prayers—I was on autopilot.
And then something strange happened. The words God loves me appeared not in my head but in my heart. It was the strangest thing—like someone was standing at my bedside, placing them into my chest. Not God loves you, but God loves me.
Just like that: God loves me. Like it was the most natural thing in the world. There it sat in my heart, like a pearl, glowing. It scared me at first, this mystical experience, because I feared it might go away. I finished my prayers, smiling in the darkness, because the words remained there, radiating. I fell asleep with the words repeating in my mind: God loves me. God loves me.
When I awakened the next morning, the first thing I noticed was a feeling in my chest. It was as if someone had laid a cornerstone in my heart, and chiseled into the stone were those three blessed words. All morning, I could physically feel them in my chest, humming along like a happy little pacemaker. I refused my usual impulse to analyze what happened; I chose to accept it as a gift.
To this day, the words remain there, as if they were written on my heart. God loves me, and he had established a beachhead within my soul. It was a small patch of ground, but it was real and firm, and now it was where I stood. And Dante Alighieri had led me to it.
Later in the book, I tell a story about realizing on the Feast of Theophany, 2014, that I was no longer sick, physically — and that I had been healed internally:
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, Theophany – from the Greek, meaning “appearance of God” – is the feast day commemorating the day that Jesus Christ was baptized in the river Jordan. When Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, alighting on the Christ. The voice of the Father said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Our little flock gathered at the mission on a cold Sunday morning—January 19, in fact—to celebrate the liturgy. Father Athanasius, an old friend of Father Matthew’s, was visiting from the Northwest, and gave the sermon. He dwelled for some time on the blessing God the Father spoke over his Son. I could have listened to that kind of talk all day.
This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Here, in the middle of the journey of our life, for the first time ever, I was able to hear those words in church and believe that God meant them for me too.
I don’t know when, exactly, in my healing process this change came over me. I had finished Paradiso over the Christmas break, but there had been no aha moment. I just noticed one day, a couple of weeks into the new year, that I felt pretty good. No chronic fatigue. No daily naps. Nothing. It was gone.
The night before Theophany, I mentioned to Julie that for the first time since arriving home, I felt at home. Settled. Stable. Healed. Free. Nothing had changed externally; the change was all within. But I saw the world with new eyes now.
I think a lot about the relationship between the families we grow up in and how it frames the way we relate to God. How has it been with you in your life? I’m not interested in arguing with anybody about this (certainly not about Catholicism); I’m only interested in hearing your stories, good and bad. You readers who are not Christian, and not religious, please feel at liberty to share your own stories of how your relationship with your families, especially your fathers, affected the way you regard religion.