A reader writes:
I am a non believer who follows your writing with some interest. In the past I have thought that you are a bit of an alarmist when it comes to secular attitudes towards conservative christians, but no longer.
In my home country of Finland, where 80% of the population are registered christians (with means paying about one percent of your income as church tax) police have started an investigation against a member of parliament for quoting the bible!
Mrs Päivi Räsänen , MP for Christian Democrats, commented critically on the fact that the church was a co-sponsor of Helsinki’s gay pride march. She said: “How does the church’s teaching align with being a proud sponsor of something that is according to the Bible both shameful and a sin.”
This comment lead to a criminal complaint, and is being investigated by the police under the charge of “inciting hatred” which under Finnish law can lead to up to two years in prison.
This case is exceptional in many ways, not the least because under Finnish law the freedom of speech -even outrageous speech- for parliamentarians has previously been considered sacrosanct, as it has been considered a necessity for democracy. Apparently PC can overrule even that.
Mrs Räsänen remains unrepentant and says she will interpret the Bible the way she sees it despite the consequences.
Thankfully the likelihood that she will be convicted is small as there needs to be a 5/6 majority in Parliament to waive her immunity, and this is highly unlikely.
All the same, even for a non church member such as I, this is shameful day in what I thought was one of the finest democracies in the world.
Here’s the tweet that got the MP into trouble:
#kirkko on ilmoittanut olevansa #seta n #Pride2019 virallinen partneri. Miten kirkon oppiperusta, #raamattu sopii yhteen sen kanssa, että häpeä ja synti nostetaan ylpeyden aiheeksi? pic.twitter.com/cnjAQCrOc2
— Päivi Räsänen (@PaiviRasanen) June 17, 2019
Here’s a news story about it (in Finnish). The newspaper account points out that the Lutheran archbishop of the country stands behind the church’s embrace of gay Pride.
Stand strong, Päivi Räsänen! It is not permitted to disapprove. You. Must. Submit. In the US, the First Amendment will protect this kind of dissenting Christian commentary from legal action, but that same First Amendment will likely protect the rights of organizations and individuals to punish dissident thought in effective ways. For example, an American business executive who tweeted something like that would have to worry about his job.
As I work on my new book, I’m getting in touch with people all over the US who emigrated from Communist countries. This week I interviewed one who came not long after Communism fell in her country. Like so many others, she’s been made deeply uneasy by things she’s seen emerge here — things that remind her of the old country.
This scientist-professor told me a detailed story about being at a high-level academic conference not long ago in which colleagues — all scientists — stood around after the day’s sessions speculating on the conditions under which political undesirables ought to be eliminated — killed — for the greater good. The academic said this wasn’t a joke to them. She said she remarked that she had actually lived in a country in which this was the practice, and it was a bad thing. The group turned on her, and began defending communism. She then retreated into her shell — a habit she learned in her life under Communism.
The scientist-professor told me that this is not unusual in her world. Academics are so uniformly on the Left that they can’t imagine anybody they esteem — certainly not a fellow professor — could possibly disagree. She said that the uncomplicated hatred for political and religious conservatives she’s observed among academic science types over the years she has been in America is bone-chilling. She said it has pushed her deep into the closet in her university, and within her profession — this, even though she works in science, which you’d think was apolitical. And it has made her afraid for what would happen to her adopted country, the United States, if people like her academic colleagues came to hold power.
“If feels like at some point if [my colleagues] discover that I don’t agree with the things they’re talking about, my career will be over,” she told me. “Everybody is so open, they’re talking in front of me like I’m really one of them. It really looks like this is what’s normal within that community.”
Now, that scientist lives in the United States, and has the protection of the First Amendment. I have no idea what her feelings are about gay Pride parades, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that she tweeted out something like what the Finnish MP did, what would happen to her career? Based on our conversation (which was much more detailed than what I’m revealing here), she is absolutely convinced it would be over. She would be persona non grata in her department, and within her field. So she remains silent, closeted, afraid. The First Amendment is cold comfort to her. It’ll keep you out of jail, which ain’t nothin’, but it won’t protect your job, your reputation, or even your safety.
This morning I was talking to an academic friend who teaches on the East coast. When he called, I told him that I was working on this post. He and I discussed the ways it is possible to destroy the professional and personal lives of your political enemies without breaking the law. His work also has to do with the STEM field, and he was telling me how terrifying it is to discover how much power companies like Google have over our lives — without being accountable to anybody. It’s not only that Google (Facebook, et al.) have the power to control the information they know about us; it’s that they gather this information, and it’s available to all kinds of people, including bad actors. We are all far more vulnerable than we think.
In Finland, if you so much as question whether or not a Church ought to be approving of a gay Pride march, you can be investigated by the police. In the US, if you did that, the police won’t bother you, but depending on what you do for a living, you could still have your job taken away and your career destroyed. So you tell me: with that kind of social control in place, how free are we, really?
Once again, if you are any kind of Christian, I encourage you to read The Benedict Option. We have to prepare ourselves for the present, and the future. Or if you don’t like the Benedictine idea, then consider it in terms of the Kolakovic Option, named after a heroic Croatian Jesuit who escaped the Gestapo in 1943, and hid in Czechoslovakia. He warned Slovak Catholics that when the war ended, the Communists would likely rule their country — and that Christians needed to be ready for it. He established underground circles of believers who educated themselves and formed themselves in prayer and spiritual disciplines. Here’s what he accomplished:
What’s happening to this Finnish believer is a sign of what’s to come. Prepare for resistance.
UPDATE: Regarding what the STEM academics were saying to the professor, about what should be done to Deplorables, consider this passage from an Alan Jacobs post from five years back. He’s commenting on a passage from a piece by philosopher Rebecca Roache, in which she’s speculating about the future of punishment. Jacobs writes:
There is a kind of philosopher — an all too common kind of philosopher — who when considering such topics habitually identifies himself or herself with power. Pronouns matter a good deal here. Note that in Roache’s comments “we” are the ones who have the power to inflict punishment on “someone.” We punish; they are punished. We control; they are controlled. We decide; they are the objects of our decisions. Would Roache’s speculations have taken a different form, I wonder, if she had reversed the pronouns?
This is the danger for all of us who have some wealth and security and status: to imagine that the punitive shoe will always be on the other’s foot. In these matters it might be a useful moral discipline for philosophers to read the great classics of dystopian fiction, which habitually envision the world of power as seen by the powerless.
For a little while I’ve been meaning to email you to express some thoughts and thanks. First for the thanks: I really enjoy reading your blog! In particular, I enjoy how thoughtful, erudite, and
broadminded your writing is. While we have different religions, values, and politics nonetheless I find myself respecting your position even when I disagree with it. I sometimes post under the name ‘potentilla’ on your blog.
Okay, now on to the thoughts! I’m in my early 30s and for a long time I was stuck in the woke culture you criticize. My involvement in it was while the social justice dogma was only spoken about by folks
on the margins. By this, I mean literally political wonks living in squats and rural queer communities. Around 2013 I noticed that the discourse around identity took on the tone that it has to this day. I
correlate the shift very precisely as the failure of the prophecy of 2012. The New Age narrative shattered on Dec. 21st 2012 and in a few months the identity politic discourse was on everyone’s lip.
From that point on, the discourse only got more and more mainstream. The New Age movement crashed and burned and people desperately looked to fill the God-shaped hole in their soul with something to stave off the emptiness.
After living in a queer community I got a job on an organic farm near a college town. I noticed that my friends who most slavishly parroted the identity politics were those who were from poor families,
often those who used Facebook to make a living.These people often expressed, very secretly mind you, that they had some disagreements with the woke-narrative. Still, they always loudly repeated the
catch-phrases in public, and would loudly bully others who threatened to think heterodox thoughts.
After leaving that community and cutting nearly every tie, I’ve come to understand that those poor souls were trapped. If folks wrote nasty things on their Facebook wall then they would be out of business. Their income was tied to woke communities and if they got dog-piled they would be in deep trouble. Not hurt feelings, but looking at serious homelessness.
Part of the social control the Left exerts, then, is purely economic. And the most vulnerable members of the community are kept in line by the reality that they are already under constant surveillance for
crimethought. That is to say, the Woke Left operates more in the same manner as a cult.
While I am in an extreme minority religion — specifically I’m a Hellenic Polytheist with Neoplatonic and mystical leanings — that said, something that I think is important to note is that the folks
who hate Christianity also tend to hate my religion. In every sense, I have infinitely more in common with sincere theists than the devotees of Progress. Indeed, in my personal life I’ve stood up for
the power and validity, worth and reality of Christ quite a few times and, when it comes up, I encourage my Christians friend to pray and engage in religious ritual. Clearly Christ is a God and deserves the
respect and reverence He is due. From my own faith, to deny that is an act of obvious hubris.
Most of the Social Justice left are actually religious — they worship their version of Progress. To be sincerely theistic is to go against Progress. What do I care more about — social justice dogma or doing
right by my Gods? Obviously I care more about doing right by my Gods. For this reason, I am no fan of Progress, the False Idol that fills the God-shaped hole in people’s souls.
What does the Social Justice orthodoxy adhere to but the ideal of Progress? The idea that we *must* be better than our forebears? That we are smarter and more moral than our forebears? This is part of why
the Woke seek to destroy the legacy of the past, they must bulldoze it and replace it with the Chromium-plated, antiseptic, and bland idol of Progress they worship.
Tradition, legacy, awe, and terror of Divine Mystery all stand starkly opposed to the Myth of Progress. That is to say, theistic religion and Progress are utterly incompatible. Indeed, looking over the
spiritual, ecological and ideological waste left by the Works of Progress I would posit that Progress is likely demonic in the literal sense. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Part of what informs my
strong opinion on this matter is that I’ve noticed a trend of ‘atheistic’ leftists actively engaging in demonolatory. To my mind, this is the last word in the idiocy of evil, but nonetheless I can’t help but be reminded of CS Lewis having Screwtape say that type of human demons prefer the most is “the materialist magician.”
And to my mind, having communities of Christians band together to continue their veneration of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints is a very good thing indeed. In my own work situations I tend
to have much more in common with sincere Christians than the Woke since we both come from a place of accepting the reality of Divine Mystery. And so I sincerely wish you the best in the work you’re
doing and will continue to read your blog with interest.
This is mighty discouraging. BuzzFeed News reports on the details behind a lawsuit accusing the Knights Of Columbus, the international, US-based Catholic fraternal organization, of falsely inflating membership numbers so it could continue to profit from its life insurance business. The lawsuit claims that local Knights chapters were told by headquarters that they could not purge their rolls of members they believed were dead or inactive — and that local chapters had to come up with the dues money for these “phantom Knights,” or face being kicked out of the organization.
BuzzFeed spoke to a number of Knights about the situation, and reports evidence backing up the lawsuit’s claims. Excerpt:
In its court filings, UKnight says they have spoken to “numerous” local councils that tell the same story as the members who spoke to BuzzFeed News, being forced to keep “phantoms” on their rolls and and pay their fees to the state and national organizations. The lawsuit cites examples: a New Jersey council that listed having 316 members, but in reality had only 54; a Texas council that attempted to purge 80 members who hadn’t paid dues in years, but were told by Knights above them that they were only allowed to remove eight. Another council tried to remove half its listed membership due to inactivity — about 200 members — but were denied by leaders on the state and national level.
Councils set their own membership fees, which can vary from around $30 to $100. If a council had 200 phantom members, the paying members could be forced to cover anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000 in extra dues. Often the local chapters just gave up and paid the extra dues themselves, the men told BuzzFeed News. Sometimes the Knights paid out of pocket for the phantom members; other times they were forced to dip into the money they had raised for charity. (The Knights of Columbus councils hold frequent fundraisers to keep the organization and its charitable works afloat.)
“Why should our fundraising money go to pay dues?” McAtee said. “It should go to do our charitable works, the main reason the Knights exist.”
Eventually McAtee was so disturbed and disillusioned by this, he said, that he resigned from his post. Now, years later, he is considering filing a lawsuit over the issue, and talking with his fellow Knights about disbanding his local Knights chapter all together.
“If you follow the money, you will find the truth, and that’s what I did,” McAtee told BuzzFeed News from his home in Mobile, Alabama. “It’s time for it to come to a screeching halt. I mean, this is just simply not right.”
We’ve all heard about the Knights of Columbus, but I bet not many of us outside of the organization knew that it was not only a charitable fraternal organization, but also
a major life insurance company. In 2017, the Knights sold $8.78 billion in life insurance to its members, and the Knights’ website says it has a total value of more than $100 billion of life insurance coverage. In 2017, [KofC leader Carl] Anderson made an annual income of $1.4 million, down from $2.2 million in 2014.
“As a result of these revenues, [Knights of Columbus] Supreme and its executives, in contrast to the local councils, sit among the world’s elite power,” the lawsuit argues.
The Knights say they have 1.9 million members in the world, but the lawsuit alleges they are inflating this number by about 30% in order to keep its insurance rating high and keep selling more policies. In its website’s FAQ under “Is the Knights of Columbus financially strong?” its response is that the Knights have “42 years of superior ratings for financial strength” and currently is rated A+ by the insurance rating agency AM Best.
So why is this such a big deal? More:
As well as Catholics in general, men with Knights life insurance seem to be growing older without new young customers to replace them, three insurance agents for the Knights of Columbus told BuzzFeed News. Membership sheets of nearly 100 members provided to BuzzFeed News from different chapters of the Knights showed that the majority of those insured with the Knights were more than 50 years old, and many were in their sixties and seventies. If younger people aren’t buying policies and paying into the life insurance pool as those insured with the Knights grow older and die — or from the point of view of life insurance, stop paying into their funds and collect life insurance claims — the Knights will find themselves giving out more money than they are taking in.
BuzzFeed reporter Ema O’Connor goes on to quote the judge in the case complaining in a May pretrial hearing that the Knights have resisted her efforts to get basic financial data from them. The judge said, according to the court transcript, “All that has done to me is make me wonder if there’s something there … it makes me wonder what’s going on.”
It’s important to recognize that the Knights of Columbus distributes tens of millions of dollars annually on charity, like disaster relief. The lawsuit’s does not claim that the Knights fail to do this. The lawsuit is limited to claims about the Knights’ overall membership, and how alleged membership inflation has falsely kept the Knights’ insurance business rating high.
On the Knights’ insurance business page, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson says that the order’s insurance business has experienced “17 consecutive years of growth.” He explains it thus:
I firmly believe that our moral compass has helped guide us through a turbulent decade and an uncertain economy. While other companies were making ethically questionable and unnecessarily risky decisions, we were not. While others were looking for novel ways to do business and to increase profits, we were not….We stayed true to our principles and knew that if we did the right thing for the right reasons, we would get the results that we wanted — and we have.
Supreme Knight: The Knights of Columbus is not like “most insurance companies” because we are not concerned with profit in the way a traditional business is. Our “bottom line” is different. It’s not a question of how much money we made; it’s a question of how many Catholic families we protected. That is our mission.
The lawsuit — here’s a link to the filing — challenges this narrative. It goes to trial on Monday in Colorado. Depending on what comes out in the proceedings, we may learn that the Knights of Columbus’s leadership exploited the little guys in the thousands of chapters around the country, and turned the respected organization into a front for an insurance scam. If the lawsuit’s allegations stand up in court, that means that some of the proceeds taken in by this tax-exempt organization have really been going to keep the insurance business alive on false, Ponzi-like premises — and, it would appear, to keep paying the big salaries of the organization’s leadership.
In this screenshot for the federal 990 form the K of C filed in FY 2017, we see the salaries of the top leadership of this non-profit, tax-exempt charity, including the board of directors. Notice that Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was paid $125,000 as a director of the Knights, for one hour of work each week as the Knights’ “Supreme Chaplain” (plus nine hours weekly for “related organizations,” which means … what, for an archbishop?).
Are any of this blog’s readers involved in their local Knights’ chapter? If so, what does these allegations sound like to you?
Aside from the many good works the Knights do, the organization has also been active in socially conservative political causes. If the court finds for the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, the loss of the Knights’ leadership’s credibility will be a blow to social-conservative political fortunes.
I don’t write a lot in this space about the Orthodox Church because there are so few Orthodox in the US that we never make news. And there are so few of us that social science research is not often done on us. But I do have something this week to write about.
At Fordham University, a couple of Greek Orthodox academics run an Orthodox Christian Study Center. One of the projects of the center (unofficially) is to bring the Orthodox Church in line with contemporary secular beliefs about LGBT. Having observed how “dialogue” with progressive has worked in Mainline Protestant churches and to some degree in the Catholic Church, I want nothing to do with this. In my view, the process begins with progressives saying they simply want to talk. Conservatives/traditionalists agree to participate in a spirit of openness. What they have done, though, is grant progressive revisionists standing. Having done so, the progressives never, ever give up, until they have achieved power within the organizational structures in the church. And then they decide that dialogue is over, that the Holy Spirit has spoken — and the trads get booted out.
In my jaundiced view, “dialogue” is a con. On LGBT matters, if Orthodox progressives wanted to dialogue on how the Orthodox Church can better help LGBT Orthodox believers and their families live out the truth the Church has always taught about human sexuality (homo- and hetero-), then absolutely, let’s do it. But if what’s at stake is whether or not to change the Church’s teaching, then there’s nothing to talk about.
I hear from time to time in the Orthodox online world certain traditionalist/conservative priests and laymen saying that the Orthodox Church will not change its teachings in this area, as if it were set in stone. I disagree. I mean, I agree with them that the teaching is so strong, and of such antiquity, that it should be difficult to change. But what this doesn’t take into account is the beliefs of the laity. According to Pew research, nearly two out of three Orthodox Christians in the US believe that homosexuality “should be accepted” by society, and 54 percent believe in gay marriage. Now, “should be accepted” is a fuzzy term. Does it mean that society should recognize the existence of gay people and their dignity? If so, I would say “yes.” Does it mean that homosexuality should be accepted as morally unproblematic? In that case, I would say “no.” So which is it? Pew’s question is vague. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that most Orthodox Christians in the US — quite unlike Orthodox Christians in every other country but Greece — follow the general liberal social line on homosexuality.
The Orthodox Church does not have a formal Magisterium, like Catholicism, so absent an ecumenical council — which we haven’t had in many centuries — there’s no formal body to proclaim formal teaching on faith and morals binding on all Orthodox, everywhere. Besides, what any church formally teaches, and what is accepted by its believers, are not the same thing. The Catholic Church formally teaches that homosexuality is morally disordered, but only a minority in the US Catholic Church believe it. Father James Martin would not be a celebrity and a papal adviser if the Catholic Church really believed what it formally teaches. My sense is that Orthodoxy in America is pretty much like Catholicism in this way, though it’s much easier to find data on Catholics.
As I’ve long said, the views a Christian church takes on homosexuality cannot be divorced from the views it takes on heterosexuality. My general sense is that the Orthodox Church in this country doesn’t want to be bothered with this stuff. It is satisfied with being the middle class at prayer, like most everybody else. I say “general sense” because I can think of notable exceptions — parishes, priests, and laypeople who really are trying to be countercultural in ways that are faithful to Scripture and tradition. The point I’m trying to make here is that despite the Orthodox Church’s reputation for moral and cultural conservatism, I don’t have a lot of confidence that that reputation is justified in the US, outside of particular parishes and among particular priests who dare to explain and defend Orthodoxy’s teaching (e.g., Father Mark Hodges).
I could be wrong, and believe me, I welcome substantive data showing that I am wrong. But I don’t think I am. It’s not so much that the Orthodox Churches are liberal — though some priests and parishes are — as that they are inert and passive on these massively important questions of human sexuality and identity in the 21st century. Conservatives within the Church are unquestionably right about the weight of traditional teaching, but I think they overestimate the ability of tradition to resist the overwhelming power of the culture outside the Church. Flannery O’Connor said that Christians have to push back as hard against the world as the world pushes against them. I love being Orthodox, but it is not my impression that Orthodoxy in America, as an ecclesial body, is interested in pushing back against anything, or is even interested in recognizing that the Church is being pushed — shoved, really — at all.
If Orthodox bishops and others don’t participate in these “dialogues” with pro-LGBT Orthodox because they don’t believe that Orthodox teaching is up for revision, I applaud that. But if they don’t participate because they don’t recognize that the Orthodox Church had better have something to say on the issues, or they don’t know what to say themselves, then we have a problem. A big problem. You can change the teaching of a church as much by your silence — what you don’t say — as by what you do.
The Fordham Orthodox recently helped to bring together a conference in England as part of their “Bridging Voices” project.About 50 or so Orthodox clergy and laity gathered for an unofficial dialogue about LGBT issues within the church. I saw on the list some names I recognize as liberals on the matter, and at least one name I recognize as a traditionalist: David Bradshaw, an academic philosopher at the University of Kentucky.
Prof. Bradshaw posted some comments on his Facebook page after the event. He has made them public, which means that I can quote them. Here they are:
Some friends have been asking about the recent conference on Orthodoxy & LGBT issues at Oxford. I wasn’t planning to post anything about this, but rumors spread quickly and I can understand that, given the current situation, people’s nerves are on edge. So here are a few clarifications & what were, for me, some take-aways.
1. The purpose of the conference was merely to talk & listen to one another. No action was proposed or taken.
2. We operated under Chatham House rules, which means that I cannot attribute specific views to individuals. However, there were also some video interviews recorded for posting on the internet, and I happened to be present when Metropolitan Kallistos (who was the only hierarch at the conference) was interviewed. He stated categorically that the Church’s teaching is that sex belongs only in marriage and that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. (For what it’s worth, I repeated this in my own interview.) Yes, many people at the conference don’t like this teaching and wish it could be changed, but they made no serious argument against it on biblical or theological grounds.
3. For me, the biggest take-away was learning of the extent of violence in Russia & East European countries against LGBT persons. For instance, we were told about a group in Russia called Occupy Pedophilia that uses dating websites to lure gays into a trap. Having done so, they beat them, humiliate them (e.g., by urinating on them) and then seize their phones to “out” them to friends & family. There were numerous other such examples. Of course I can’t vouch that they’re all correct, but if even a fraction are then there is a serious problem. It’s especially a problem for Orthodox since Orthodox clergy participate in anti-gay rallies and have been slow to denounce the violence.
4. People don’t go to such extreme measures for no reason. Unfortunately there was no discussion of what has happened in recent years that would provoke the Russians & East Europeans to such extreme reactions. This was, in my opinion, a major shortcoming of the conference.
5. Another take-away for me was a better understanding of what it is like to grow up gay even in western countries. Several speakers emphasized the self-hatred, loneliness, and strong temptation to hate God that emerge as one begins to realize that one is (by the rules of the Church) condemned to a life of celibacy. They also emphasized that it’s not just sex that’s at stake, but the possibility of a long-term relationship of intimacy with anyone on all levels–physical, emotional, intellectual, social, & spiritual. Having listened to several such stories, I can only say that I sympathize completely and all of us need to do our best to help people who are facing this dreadful challenge.
6. That being said, I think there was some tendency among the gays present not to see that much of what they describe is universally human. Several of us pointed out that heterosexuals, too, can be involuntarily celibate for all sorts of reasons and often struggle with loneliness & depression. This is NOT to minimize what the gays suffer, it is merely to point out that there is a natural human tendency to think that one’s own problems are worse than anyone else’s. Oddly enough, it’s precisely the dissolution of churches & other institutions caused, in part, by the LGBT movement that is helping cause the pervasive loneliness throughout society today.
7. We also discussed the growing problem of gender dysphoria. One thing I learned was that gender dysphoria correlates strongly with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and that both in turn correlate strongly with the age of the father. Basically, as men get older their sperm is more likely to break down. Now it’s a feature of our society that people are getting older & having children at later ages. That isn’t anyone’s fault in particular, but it’s one reason why we’re seeing such a huge upsurge of these problems. (I also think that social suggestion & reinforcement play a role, but unfortunately this wasn’t discussed in any systematic way.)
8. In general the discussion of gender dysphoria was less one-sided than that of gay issues. However, one thing that was missing was any discussion of to what extent those who undergo transition later regret their decision and in other ways continue to suffer serious psychological problems. Without these crucial facts it’s hard to know what to think about the larger issues.
9. Finally, another take-away was that I think I now understand why those on the left on LGBT issues can be so virulent and hateful toward those on the right. They literally think that we are causing innocent people to despair and in some cases commit suicide because of our antiquated beliefs. We have, in their eyes, blood on our hands. I’m grateful to those at the conference who explained this forthrightly, as I really hadn’t understood it before.
10. Of course, whether such a charge is justified depends on whether our beliefs really are just “antiquated” or might actually be true. This is all the more reason why the Church needs to explain & defend its teaching. In my opinion, our hierarchs have been making matters worse by their silence, as they merely succeed in giving everyone the impression that the Church has nothing to say in its own defense. Ergo the hatred appears to be fully justified.
My apologies for the length of this post. Please understand that, like everyone else, I am still learning about these matters and I don’t claim to have all the answers. If you are offended by anything I’ve said here, take comfort that those on the other side are probably equally offended, and so you are in good (bad?) company.
I appreciate Prof. Bradshaw’s report here, and I emphatically endorse this statement of his:
In my opinion, our hierarchs have been making matters worse by their silence, as they merely succeed in giving everyone the impression that the Church has nothing to say in its own defense.
Not only hierarchs, but priests and lay leaders. Orthodox hierarchs have the habit of thinking that if they get together and issue an official statement, that they have done their duty. It’s not true. Meanwhile, there are some who know perfectly well that members of their clergy are living in, shall we say, irregular sexual situations (I’m thinking of a situation at one bishop’s cathedral that is an open secret in the US Orthodox Church), or who otherwise just don’t want the hassle of having to take unpopular positions in public, especially when it stands to offend donors from the wealthy laity.
I also emphatically endorse Prof. Bradshaw’s condemnation of the abuse and persecution of gays in Russia via things like “Operation Pedophilia.” I had not realized things like that were happening. Orthodox clergy and laity must hold the line on moral and theological truth, but if they can’t condemn cruelty against gays, who are made in the image of God like every other human being, then they have no moral authority.
The conference heard from a gay British man, Nik Jovcic-Sas, whose talk (audio here) focused on violence against gays in Orthodox cultures. It was he who spoke about the “Operation Pedophilia.” He is quite right to denounce this, and to say that the Orthodox hierarchy should be speaking out against this violence. There’s a lot in this talk that I agree with, no kidding. But he blames the Russian Orthodox hierarchy for this violence in part because it upholds traditional teaching about homosexuality.
This is how Jovcic-Sas identifies himself on his Instagram page:
Drag queen, vampire — and speaker in the Oxford dialogue. Here’s Nic, from his Instagram:
Again, I completely agree with Jovcic-Sas about the critical importance of Orthodox hierarchs and priests denouncing violence against LGBTs. But if you look at his Instagram page, it’s … well, let’s say charitably that there’s a lot there that conveys the message that this guy is not living the life of an Orthodox Christian. I like eccentrics a lot, but I question whether or not self-styled vampire drag queens have the moral standing to direct the future of the Orthodox Church.
I recognize that argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy. NJS’s exuberant and unconventional lifestyle does not negate the claims he made in his talk, which stand or fall on their own. NJS did a good thing by making the kind and extent of anti-LGBT violence in many Orthodox countries known to these church folks. I do struggle, though, with whether or not it’s wise to for “orthodox Orthodox” to grant standing to people like this who explicitly and vehemently deny the Church’s teaching, and want to see it overturned.
By his presence, Prof. Bradshaw seems to believe that orthodox-Orthodox need to participate in these events, even if we oppose the agenda of many there. I respect his judgment, but I don’t share it. I am willing to be convinced otherwise, though. If I thought that the theological progressives at this conference came away from it with as much thoughtfulness for the conservatives’ position as Bradshaw emerged with regard to the progressives’ position, I would feel more favorable about these events. My view, to repeat, is that progressives see them only as attempts to lift the skirt of a tent so the camel won’t have as much trouble getting his nose under it. Or, to use a less cliched metaphor, the conference’s project is about “building bridges,” but I fear that the bridges it intends to build will exist to provide an invading heterodox army access to the territory it wishes to conquer.
Here’s the thing I want my fellow Orthodox readers to take away from this post. It’s Prof. Bradshaw’s remark:
This is all the more reason why the Church needs to explain & defend its teaching.
There is no way that people who have their minds made up to reject church teaching are going to be convinced. But I’m betting that there are a lot of people who reject what they have never heard explained in the first place. And I’m betting there are people who would genuinely be open to the church’s teaching, if they ever heard it proclaimed.
I have an Orthodox friend who is homosexually oriented but chaste. He came out to me because he knows that I share his belief in the teaching of the Church, but also because he could trust me to love him and show compassion for him, and to help him carry his crosses, as I trust him to help me carry mine. When I heard Nik Jovcic-Sas talk about what happens to some gay people in Russia and elsewhere in the Orthodox world, I thought about my friend — a believing Christian who lives faithfully to the teaching, but who, if he confided in the wrong person, could be physically attacked. This is wrong, and must stop.
But my friend will tell you, if you ask, about how and why the Church’s teachings and her sacraments and disciplines help him to strive for holiness in the only way that faithful Orthodox Christians can: in chastity. If he were to seek help from these Orthodox Church progressives, I have a pretty good feeling that they would try to dissuade him from this hard path of fidelity. Gay Christians like my friend are caught between conservatives who would loathe them for their unchosen desires, and progressives who would disdain them for their commitment to chastity in fidelity.
As far as I’m concerned, the real LGBT dialogue that needs to happen in the Orthodox Church is about how to actively love and support men and women like my Orthodox friend, and to help others who struggle with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria to find a loving home within the Orthodox Church, without affirming sinfulness. To be honest, there also should be a dialogue within the Orthodox Church on how to help heterosexuals in the same way. The propaganda of this hedonistic world is constant; far too many leaders in my church, the Orthodox Church, prefer to believe that it doesn’t exist.
I welcome your comments, but if you’re only going to rant, save yourself the waste of posting, because I’m not going to approve it.
UPDATE: I mean it: I’m seeing a lot of comments by readers who aren’t Christian, and who don’t have the foggiest idea of what Christianity teaches, or why it teaches it, but who are ready to condemn the Orthodox for not being sufficiently progressive. I’ve approved a few of those comments, I think, but I’m done with that. I’m fine with publishing criticism of the traditional Orthodox position, but not dopey potshots.
UPDATE.2: A reader sends in this terrific, detailed response to an “open letter” issued by a small group called Orthodoxy In Dialogue last fall. The responder is the Orthodox priest Father Andrew Stephen Damick, who pushes back intelligently against the revisionists. After answering the (frankly outrageous) demands made by the OID people, Father Damick writes:
To be quite frank, I don’t think that the website in question is generally worth responding to or even reading, not just because their articles so often contradict the teachings of Christ and His Church but because they make a pretense at academic integrity which they rarely have. But this seemed like an opportune moment to reiterate a few of these things.
I know that reiterating the Church’s teachings on these things will be received by some as hateful, insensitive, etc. But it is not. It is love to speak reality and to embrace someone however he presents himself.
And let me state unequivocally that I absolutely reject mistreating anyone on account of their personal identification with any of the issues mentioned above — no one should be condemned, bullied, harmed, ridiculed, rejected, etc. Every person who comes to the Church must be treated with love, care, understanding, an orientation toward listening, support and blessing. All this is toward the goal given by Christ Himself, in the words of the apostle:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
This is the true ascetical struggle — not to believe our thoughts and feelings on their face, but to present ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord and to be healed of our addictions and sinful inclinations, aware that while they may never fully disappear in this life, there is nevertheless the possibility to be conformed to Christ, to be transformed in the renewing of our minds and to be made holy by His love.
OID takes standard progressive positions on LGBT issues. Father Damick is a great example of the kind of engaged Orthodox apologetics and leadership we need. Check his website out here.
A reader sends in this piece from Washingtonian magazine, from back in May: an anonymous essay by a liberal Jewish mom in the DC area who writes about how her 13-year-old son was sucked into the alt-right. Here’s how the kid’s radicalization started:
The problems had started when Sam was 13, barely a month into eighth grade. In the taxonomy of our local public school, his close group of friends was tagged edgy and liberal: One of them came out as gay during a class presentation; another identified as trans for a while. Their group-text chain pulsed 24-7 with observations about alternative music and the robotic conformity of other classmates. Standard stuff for sensitive middle-schoolers.
One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment. Sam’s guidance counselor pulled him out of his next class and accused him of “breaking the law.” Before long, he was in the office of a male administrator who informed him that the exchange was “illegal,” hinted that the police were coming, and delivered him into the custody of the school’s resource officer. At the administrator’s instruction, that man ushered Sam into an empty room, handed him a blank sheet of paper, and instructed him to write a “statement of guilt.”
No one called me as this unfolded, even though Sam cried for about six hours straight as staff members parked him in vacant offices to keep him away from other students. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon and I asked why his eyes were so swollen, he informed me that he would probably be suspended, but possibly also expelled and arrested.
If Kafka were a middle-schooler today, this is the nightmare novel he would have written.
At a meeting two days later with my husband, Sam, and me, the administrator piled more accusations on top of the harassment charge—even implying, with undisguised hostility, that Sam and his friend were gay. He waved in front of us a statement from the girl at the table and insisted that Sam would need to defend himself against her claims if he wanted to prove his innocence. But the administrator refused to reveal the particulars of the complaint (he had also blacked out identifying details, FBI-style) and then hid the paperwork under a book. He declared that it was his primary duty, as a school official and as a father of daughters, to believe and to protect the girls under his care.
The mom writes about how the matter was resolved, but then:
Sam’s sweet earnestness, his teenage overconfidence, even his tremulous determination in the face of unjust authority drained away, replaced by . . . nothing. He lost all affect. He stopped eating and sleeping, complained of headaches, and regressed in disturbing ways. He couldn’t concentrate, turned in no homework, and didn’t even pick up a pen when it was time to take a test. One of his extracurricular instructors—a woman who had recently lost a student to suicide—overheard him talking to friends and called me to express concern. He didn’t say much to us, but it seemed obvious enough that he felt betrayed by the adults he’d trusted.
Sam started a new school … and, online, found his way into the alt-right via 4chan and Reddit. Overnight he became a different person. More:
I did try to clear my own mind enough to understand some situations as he did, such as his belief that the men’s-rights movement restored justice to the world. Sam pledged fealty to the idea of men’s rights because, as he said, his former administrator had privileged girls’ words and experiences over boys’, and that’s how all of his troubles had started in the first place. I’d never in my life backed the “masculinist” cause or imagined that men needed protecting—yet I couldn’t help but agree with Sam’s analysis.
These moments where Sam and I found common ground became increasingly rare, though. Although he had legitimate reasons to feel aggrieved, it was impossible for him to make sense of his situation or to trust that time would heal the hurt. The chasm between us grew. Head down, eyes averted, he trudged straight to his room after school, responded that he wasn’t hungry when I called him down for dinner, and went to bed without saying goodnight.
The narrative has a happy ending, but it gets a lot worse before it gets better. As I was reading, I kept thinking, “Stop being such liberal parents! Cut off his access to the Internet!”
This case is a good example of what I keep talking about here: that militant Wokeness drives otherwise decent young men right into the arms of racist neo-Nazi militants. As this anonymous mom documents, her young son was railroaded and traumatized by woke school administrators. She should have been on top of his online activity, and her parenting was ridiculously permissive. She and her husband play a role in the radicalization of their son. The greatest role, obviously, belongs to the online neo-Nazis. This is not in dispute.
Still, if we want to stop the growing problem of white radicalization, we have to look at the whole picture. Here’s the mom’s recollection of her conversation with her son “Sam” after he had broken with the alt-right. She asked him why he was ever attracted to them in the first place:
“I liked them because they were adults and they thought I was an adult. I was one of them,” he said. “I was participating in a conversation. They took me seriously. No one ever took me seriously—not you, not my teachers, no one. If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumbass kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”
I had no idea he’d felt that way. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“All I wanted was for people to take me seriously,” he repeated matter-of-factly. “They treated me like a rational human being, and they never laughed at me. I saw the way you and Dad looked at each other and tried not to smile when I said something. I could hear you both in your room at night, laughing at me.”
I struggled for a moment because I wanted to tell him that wasn’t true. But I couldn’t deny his accusation. Behind closed doors, when my husband and I thought our children were asleep, we had often vented to each other about Sam’s off-the-wall proclamations and the bizarre situation we found ourselves in.
So I told Sam simply that I was sorry for making him feel bad.
I still think about his words a lot, especially when alt-right figures headline the news. But mostly, I wonder how I could have tried so hard to parent Sam through this crisis and yet tripped up on something as basic as not making my own kid feel small.
In my reading this summer on the roots of totalitarianism, the most basic thing that comes through is that radicalism of this sort appeals most of all to people who feel small and alone.
Woke ideology, as manifested in institutions like Sam’s school (as you can read in the story) holds that males are in the wrong, and that women are in the right. That victims must always be believed — and “victims” includes members of certified victim classes. The woke bureaucracy at that school steamrollered this kid. And there was the alt-right, online, prepared to give him recognition and validation, and to provide malicious theories for why he had been treated so badly.
This is what happens when we substitute identity politics for procedural norms that, however flawed, offer the best chance we can have in this imperfect world of getting to the truth.
Left-wing identity politics call up the same demons on the right. This essay by a liberal suburban mother reveals how it happens.
UPDATE: A reader who posts as The Noble Pagan writes, in part:
The ideologies of the parties are rotten. The churches have nothing to offer but platitudes. The “opposition” from leftists is a totalitarian farce. And then, you hear from manospherians and right-wingers what is obvious, that no one else will say: that this system is obviously falling apart, and that we need new principles to organize this nation.
Rod, I read your blog because you share this premise with both me and the alt-Right, and because I want your Christianity to be true. But I do not believe the Benedict option will work, simply because I do not believe that young people will be able to build the relationship skills to form families. This seems like an abrupt pivot, but it’s very related. The alt-right is fundamentally a movement created by rootless, lonely people who have nothing to believe in and are looking for roots. In some, the desire for community is strong, so they gravitate towards white identity politics. In others, the desire for love is stronger, so they go towards inceldom, PUA, and the manosphere. Both they and the Tumblr Trannies are symptoms of isolation, as you’ve said before. Moreover, this is directly connected with the replacing of procedural norms with identity politics: lonely people without narratives in which to frame their lives will try to force everyone into their frame. This is totalitarianism.
UPDATE.2: Another reader e-mails the following, which I post with his permission, though I’m withholding his name for obvious reasons:
Mr. Dreher, I’d like to share my own experience in the Internet’s toxic alt-right subcultures with you.
In the 2015 to 2017 period, the height of the Trump moment, I (a 30ish Buchananite with no hope for this country’s future) got sucked into the alt-right through other ex-libertarian friends of mine. I was drawn into it because it wasn’t ashamed of our identity and wasn’t afraid to fight for our interests. It took literal tearful confrontations from my wife to get me to leave. I’d hidden my involvement from her for awhile, but it didn’t take long for her to figure it out, as women always find out what their men are hiding.
Because of the nature of the Internet, these subcultures are difficult to categorize. Most of the time, the media class just lumps them all together, which is maddening to those of us who understand the differences between them.
For some groups, the offensive humor – racial/sexual slurs, Holocaust jokes, etc. – is sarcastic, satirical, and just for shock value. These are the anonymous trolls with Nazi-babe anime avatars on 4chan and Twitter. Although I was never much of a combatant in the so-called “meme war,” I did participate as a spectator. I relished seeing pundits and politicians whom I hated get harassed online.
Other groups are more true to the “alt-right” name: An intellectual alternative to both “conservatism” (i.e. David Frenchism) and “white nationalism” (i.e. David Dukeism). Unfortunately, instead of producing the Sohrab Ahmaris, these groups ended up producing the next generation of…David Dukes. I considered myself a part of this group.
Some combine the irreverent meme culture of the former with the intelligent political discussion of the latter. I considered myself a part of these groups as well, too. Looking back, I’m ashamed at a lot of what made me laugh. My heart and mind were given over to fear, anger, and hatred.
Last, but not least, of course, are the militant — paranoid, prejudiced, and psychopathic individuals whom the authorities should be infiltrating and undermining as they did the KKK. These are the Bowerses, the Tarrants, and the Crusiuses, as well as the anons on 8chan and Gab who cheered them on. I never had anything to do with this group, but I was uncomfortable that it often overlapped with groups to which I did belong. At Charlottesville, where the alt-right was marching with literal Klansmen and neo-Nazis — people we’d always told ourselves that we were nothing like! — I realized that the overlapping lines were beginning to blur.
In retrospect, the Internet was both a blessing and a curse for the alt-right. On the one hand, a dissident movement like the alt-right never could’ve formed amid such mass-atomization without a social network like the Internet. On the other hand, the anonymous nature of a social network like Internet enabled and even encouraged the abusive behavior that made the alt-right abhorrent to everyone except other young white men steeped in meme culture and fed up with political correctness. The alt-right was “viral” in more ways than one.
For over two years, I listened to podcasts like “The Daily Shoah” and read websites like “The Daily Stormer” on a daily basis. Fortunately for me, I never put my real name out there or showed my face anywhere, so I think that my personal identity is safe. I never did anything to make me worth “doxxing” anyway.
I assume you saw that Elton John purchased indulgences to cover the sin of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex:
I am deeply distressed by today’s distorted and malicious account in the press surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s private stay at my home in Nice last week. pic.twitter.com/WjVRDSMX0z
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) August 19, 2019
Next time, maybe Harry and Meghan can take a superyacht. According to the yachting press, Millennials are taking their concern for the environment into the superyacht dealership. From YachtHarbour.com:
Instead of materialistic attributes of luxury lifestyle, millennial superyacht owners prioritise adventure, water sports and exterior space. For them, life experiences take priority over material possessions.
Of course. Superyachts cost $275 million-plus. It is important to remember that Millennials who buy them are the kind of people who de-prioritize material possessions.
LuxuryLondon.uk reports on “the sustainable future of superyachts.” Finally, someone is paying attention to superyacht sustainability! There is nothing worse than an unsustainable superyacht, except maybe Hitler, or Donald Trump. Excerpt:
Cutting-edge yacht designers are also stirring clients towards more sustainable options. “Today’s superyacht owners are younger, and more in tune with the climate crisis around us, and therefore either request, or are open to, innovative, sustainable yacht design,” says Andrew Winch, founder and creative director at Winch Design.
“Wherever possible, design decisions are made to have minimal negative impact on the environment or a positive impact on local communities around the world. Materials will be sourced locally to reduce the carbon footprint from freighting, as profit is fed back into the local economy. Rare accessories must have a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) certificate, to show their provenance and to try and control the overuse of rare materials.”
Why be ascetic and not buy a superyacht when you can purchase indulgences?
When I get my superyacht, I’m going to christen her the Princesse de Lamballe.
A Canadian reader sends this extraordinary letter. I had no idea this was going on in Canada:
I have lived in Canada my whole life and have only visited the United States a handful of times, but like most of my countrymen, I am riveted watching the rapid cultural and political decline of your nation. I am by no means an anti-American. I have a deep respect and admiration for the culture and people of the United States and strongly believe that your country has endowed civilization with some of its greatest cultural treasures, from George Gershwin to Scott Fitzgerald to Duke Ellington.
These past few days I have read your posts on the New York Times’ 1619 series and have agreed with the comments that you and Damon Linker have made on the matter. As a Canadian, however, the Times’ exercise in self-flagellation is all too familiar. I suspect many Americans think little of Canada and her affairs, yet I would suggest that the similarities of the two countries yield interesting cultural contrasts. I submit that the institutions of my country have pursued the severance of national bonds with far greater alacrity than have the institutions of yours. There is one divisive activity that (as far as I know) has not yet spread to the US, but that is ubiquitous in Canada. In my opinion it far eclipses 1619 in its destructiveness. It is worth bringing to your attention given your present work on totalitarianism. The practice is called a “territorial acknowledgement” and is a kind of ritual statement read before public events, and whose purpose is to rewrite our country’s history.
Both of our post-Christian nations have adopted some variation of PC-SJW-Wokesterism as their civic religions, although the precise character varies between us. In your country, the omnipresent legacy of slavery has given rise to John McWhorter’s “anti-racism.” In Canada, however, many citizens (especially millennials) have adopted what one might call “Aboriginalism” as their sect. To put it simply, this religion is an extreme romanticisation of the people and societies of pre-contact Canada – that is, pre-1534 – and extreme demonization of everything that has happened since. Per this religion, pre-1534 Canada was a kind of Eden inhabited by peoples who possessed none of the flaws of the rest of humanity. You can find a splendid and exhaustive description of this new civic religion in a piece by Jonathan Kay published in Quillette. (Rather than my term “Aboriginalism,” Kay refers to the phenomenon as the “cult of the noble savage.”)
Sometime around 2015, universities started to preface events with what is now called a “territorial acknowledgement.” In an acknowledgement, the speaker lists the various aboriginal tribes that lived on or near the speaker’s present location, and thanks those tribes for allowing him to use the land. Below is the official statement for Canada’s largest city, Toronto, taken from the city’s website:
We acknowledge the land we are meeting on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.
If this sounds rather religious, you would be correct. Compare the statement above to the last lines of the Nicene Creed (BCP):
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
“Acknowledgments” present a disgustingly warped historical narrative in which groups of peaceful peoples were violently overrun by murderous Europeans. In the words you used to describe 1619, a territorial acknowledgement “radically and ridiculously oversimplifies history to make the historical narrative fit 21st century political requirements.” Canada’s early history undoubtedly includes violence between Europeans and Aboriginals, but it also includes a complex web of military, political, and trading alliances. As an example of the abstruse history of Aboriginal relations in Canada, to this day some reserves choose to fly the Union Flag rather than the Maple Leaf. For a comprehensive illustration of the flawed history and blatant lies embedded in territorial acknowledgements, I would urge you to read this National Post article by Peter Shawn Taylor, in which he dissects each of the claims made in the statement for Waterloo, Ontario.
These statements are now omnipresent. Children in schools are required to recite them at the beginning of each day, business meetings open with them, they are read before football and hockey games, and concerts and lectures invariably begin with one. Returning to the original discussion of the dissolution of national bonds in our countries, the damage that these statements cause is incalculable. The effect is to present Canada as an illegitimate, criminal state, whose population has no right to live in this hemisphere. Saddled by this original and irremediable sin, non-Aboriginal Canadians can do nothing but confess their wickedness, ask for forgiveness, and pledge to help “decolonize” the country (i.e. raze our institutions). To make matters worse, it is now common practice in Canada to refer to all non-Aboriginals as “settlers.” An intruder in one’s own home! If we are to agree that a nation should seek to create a civic-minded population that loves its country and is devoted to her service and betterment, acknowledgements have the reverse effect: they breed a people who hate their country and are committed to its eradication. Even worse perhaps than these statements in public, many government functions are now prefaced by an acknowledgement. Have we considered fully what it means to have a government whose officials take the ideological position that the state they govern should not exist?
This phenomenon is an excellent example of the “soft totalitarianism” you are writing about. Territorial acknowledgements help to reveal ideological dissenters not through their actions but through their silence. Were one to fail to recite an acknowledgement before speaking, he would out himself as a “racist” or an “apologist for colonialism.” At my workplace, virtually all employees include the text of our region’s statement at the bottom of emails. I choose to omit one, and the omission is conspicuous. Finally, acknowledgements invariably begin with the pronoun “we,” assuming total ideological adherence.
The question remains: why is self-loathing now a standard feature of Anglophone nations? I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this and to see if you know of anything comparable to these acknowledgements in your country.
I had no idea. But now clarity dawns, regarding the 1619 Project and its aims to “reframe” American history. Whether its advocates recognize this or not, the project is about delegitimizing the American nation.
I strongly urge everyone to read at least the opening essay of The 1619 Project, by Nikole Hannah-Jones. It is a beautiful piece of writing. In it, she recounts the horrible cruelties of slavery, and not only of slavery, but of the manifold ways in which black Americans have been treated down through the centuries by the white majority in the United States. The facts are there, and cannot be denied. It is a powerful narrative, and it is inextricable from the story of America. But is it the essential story of America? Is it the most important story about America? That is the claim the Project makes by establishing America’s founding in 1619 (the year the first Africans arrived in North America), not 1776.
Judging by the essays in the New York Times Magazine issue that inaugurated the Project, the Project is going to cast its critical eye across many aspects of contemporary American life, and link them to slavery. Here’s a key graf from an essay about how American capitalism was born on slave plantations:
Today modern technology has facilitated unremitting workplace supervision, particularly in the service sector. Companies have developed software that records workers’ keystrokes and mouse clicks, along with randomly capturing screenshots multiple times a day. Modern-day workers are subjected to a wide variety of surveillance strategies, from drug tests and closed-circuit video monitoring to tracking apps and even devices that sense heat and motion. A 2006 survey found that more than a third of companies with work forces of 1,000 or more had staff members who read through employees’ outbound emails. The technology that accompanies this workplace supervision can make it feel futuristic. But it’s only the technology that’s new. The core impulse behind that technology pervaded plantations, which sought innermost control over the bodies of their enslaved work force.
Huh. You know, I can remember when I was a 13-year-old, and I got fed up with doing my chores, telling my father that I felt like a slave in my own house. He was just like an overseer! I’m joking, but the point is, if you’re determined to see all social relations through a particular ideological construct, you risk losing yourself in associational fallacies (that is, saying that because A shares some qualities with B, that A is therefore B).
In his essay, Jamelle Bouie compares contemporary Republican Party political strategies to slavery. Now, no one can plausibly deny the racial element in GOP electoral strategy. But who can deny the same thing in Democratic strategies? That’s how politics in a pluralistic, multiracial democracy works. Are there morally objectionable aspects to what the GOP has done, and is doing? Probably so. But where does one draw the line between a political party doing what normal political parties do, and morally illegitimate (because racist) actions? Bouie concedes in his final paragraph that the line is not always clear, but it’s all racism anyway:
You could argue that it has nothing to do with race at all, that it’s simply an aggressive effort to secure conservative victories. But the tenor of an argument, the shape and nature of an opposition movement — these things matter. The goals may be color blind, but the methods of action — the attacks on the legitimacy of nonwhite political actors, the casting of rival political majorities as unrepresentative, the drive to nullify democratically elected governing coalitions — are clearly downstream of a style of extreme political combat that came to fruition in the defense of human bondage.
Lesson: deep down, the Republican Party is the party of slavers, and those who identify with the Republican Party, and vote for them, are white supremacists.
A couple other essays: Jeneen Interlandi writes that the reason the US doesn’t have universal health care is … slavery. Seriously. What other conclusion can one draw from this other than that the only reason people opposed universal health care is racism?
Kevin Kruse’s essay blaming traffic congestion in Atlanta on racism (therefore slavery) makes some undeniably true points about how interstate highway design was laid down in some places (like Atlanta, but I know this was also true in Dallas) with the idea of creating a boundary between white and black communities. It was also true, as Kruse notes, that these major highways were planned to run through the poorest communities — which were usually black. But isn’t that how it always is — that the poor get shafted? If a city was all white during the interstate highway system planning, you can be sure that the poorest white people would be the ones whose neighborhoods were bulldozed, precisely because they didn’t have the political and economic resources to fight it. Isn’t this as much about class as race? Kruse writes:
Earlier this year, Gwinnett County voted MARTA down for a third time. Proponents had hoped that changes in the county’s racial composition, which was becoming less white, might make a difference. But the March initiative still failed by an eight-point margin. Officials discovered that some nonwhite suburbanites shared the isolationist instincts of earlier white suburbanites. One white property manager in her late 50s told a reporter that she voted against mass transit because it was used by poorer residents and immigrants, whom she called ‘‘illegals.’’ ‘‘Why should we pay for it?’’ she asked. ‘‘Why subsidize people who can’t manage their money and save up a dime to buy a car?’
So, nonwhite suburbanites oppose public transit too — and the white woman quoted here did so explicitly on class grounds. Does that not complicate the narrative?
Anyway, you see what I mean here. What the Times is openly trying to “reframe America history” (in the words of NYT Magazine editor Jake Silverstein) to make the story of African-Americans the core narrative. Not just a core American history narrative — which it certainly is — but the core American history narrative. I don’t know any other way to interpret the meaning of changing the founding date of America from 1776 — the Declaration of Independence — to 1619, the beginning of slavery.
If you can tar contemporary phenomena you dislike — capitalism, the health care system, the lack of public transportation, the Republican Party — with the legacy of slavery, you can demoralize your political opponents and delegitimize their positions. You can even declare them un-American. It is commonly heard on the left that the only reason people vote for Trump is “white supremacy.” In his town hall address to his newsroom, Times executive editor Dean Baquet recently said that the newspaper
this week will publish the 1619 Project, the most ambitious examination of the legacy of slavery ever undertaken in [inaudible] newspaper, to try to understand the forces that led to the election of Donald Trump. And that means trying to understand the segment of America that probably does not read us.
You see? Donald Trump was elected because of white supremacy. This is the story that Blue America is telling Blue America about the rest of the country. That is the purpose of The 1619 Project.
Cultural memory is what a nation tells itself about itself. The Czech emigre novelist Milan Kundera has written, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” This is a universal constant. The struggle of black Americans against white supremacist power was a struggle of memory against forgetting. But the struggle of any people against power is the same contest. What does it mean to be an American? What is America? There will never be a settled narrative because it’s impossible to tell all stories. The narrative will unavoidably change over time. What counts as the “canonical” national narrative is not set in stone, and we shouldn’t expect it to be.
But who we imagine ourselves to be today shapes who we will become tomorrow. If The 1619 Project were merely about expanding our common understanding of the American origins, who could object? It arrives, though, in the midst of an epic culture war over who we are, and who we are going to be. The Left, broadly speaking, has embraced and affirmed identity politics (“I would argue that identity politics is exactly who we are and exactly how we won” — Stacey Abrams). A reader this morning sends in this article defending ethnic studies in the classroom; this excerpt is a good summary of what left-wing identity politics seek to do pedagogically:
Ethnic studies classes combine analyses of systems of power, privilege and inequality with multiple histories, literatures and contemporary issues. They encourage critical thinking and tackle the historical origins and contemporary patterns of racism, often combining analyses of race, class, nation, gender and sexuality. Pedagogically, they are known for challenging conventional ways of teaching that position students as passive receivers of knowledge. Instead, students are treated as knowledge producers and change agents, and classrooms often extend beyond the school gates where students learn from and work with various communities. These applied approaches to teaching and learning bring education to life and better position students to envision and work toward societal transformation.
There are a lot of ideological assumptions baked into this, but the most important one is that these classes are about “societal transformation.” The Times, working with the Pulitzer Center, has a classroom curriculum based on the project already worked out, and ready for downloading. The question you have to ask about the Project is: What are people supposed to do if they become convinced that slavery is the basis upon which America was founded?” Our old friend Karl Marx famously wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
That’s what’s going on with The 1619 Project and the philosophy behind it. As Peter Shawn Taylor writes in his National Post piece criticizing Canada’s ritual recitation of atonement for dispossessing aboriginals:
Repeat something often enough, and people start believing it’s true.
His point is that Canadians are being instructed through this secular liturgical act into an ideology that delegitimizes their nation. Similarly, if a majority in the US accept the ideological claim that the American founding is illegitimate because of slavery, then they will affirm the destruction of the institutions and (secular) creeds that bind us as a nation, and their replacement with something else.
If that’s what Americans want, then they should have it. But I believe most Americans have no idea that this is what’s going on. It is not progress towards truth and justice to replace one ideological reading of history — in which the Founding Fathers were secular saints — with a competing one in which the evils of slavery and white supremacy define everything.
Land acknowledgements are also becoming a way to control legitimate debate and compel speech. In a recent vote, the Ontario Medical Association rejected making a land-acknowledgement statement prior to their meetings as a meaningless form of tokenism. Dr. Nel Wieman, president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, instantly denounced this decision as proof that “privilege and racism” run rampant throughout the doctors’ group. Once you had to do something explicitly racist to be declared one. Now anyone who chooses not to fall in line with current political fashion can be smeared with this horrible epithet.
We have already seen critics and skeptics of The 1619 Project smeared as racists, or at least (in the case of some commenters of this blog), it has been suggested that racism is the real reason for resisting the Project’s conclusions. If you spend any time, as I do, reading what the progressive dogmatists say, you know that this is standard operating procedure for them. Any opposition must be isolated and stigmatized as bigoted and a justification for violence. We know this is how it works. It’s a highly effective strategy. I just heard about an small Christian academic conference at which participants defending traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality were charged with having the blood of LGBT people on their hands. See? To resist the progressive point of view is to ally yourself with murdering bigots. If you don’t think that the ideological goal of the Project will require smearing all those who fail to fall in line with it with the horrible epithet “racist,” you are naive.
Let me be as clear as I can about where I stand on the Project. I agree that the realities of slavery have not been taken as seriously as they should have been in our history, and that it is right to educate ourselves and future generations about slavery, and about the historical experience of Americans of African descent. This is not incidental to the American narrative, but a core part of it, and always will be.
However, I reject that slavery is the defining event, or phenomenon, of American history. In the opening of his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said that “our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln was speaking at the killing field of a great battle in a war to end slavery — a war that ultimately arose over the question of whether or not all men — not just white men — were created equal, and entitled to the benefits of liberty within the new nation. Lincoln gave his own life as a result of that war. And yet, as Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in her essay, Lincoln was not woke. He held prejudices against black people too. I could be wrong about this, but the impression that I get from reading these essays is that the wickedness of racism is so overwhelming that it obviates any of the founding ideals of this nation.
If that’s true, then what holds us together? What reason do we have for supporting the American order, flawed as it is? The Canadian reader whose e-mail I quoted at the beginning wrote of the aboriginal atonement ideology common now in his country’s public life:
The effect is to present Canada as an illegitimate, criminal state, whose population has no right to live in this hemisphere.
It seems clear to me that the effect in the US of the mainstreaming of this radical (= at the root) challenge to American history will be to convince Americans that everything about their way of life, and anything that resists the progressive interpretation of history, is illegitimate, and that non-progressives — especially whites — have no right to do anything but comply with the societal transformation progressives are engineering for us.
I was talking recently with a friend who is on staff at a Christian college where progressive ideology and practice is steadily eroding the traditional beliefs and ideals of the institution. He tells me that there is significant opposition among the faculty to the Great Awokening being implemented by the administration, but nobody dares to speak out, because they don’t want to be called bigots. He writes about this process:
I’ve become convinced that the changes are incremental at first, and no one says anything because they are small changes and it doesn’t really hurt anything. But over time they add up, and the next thing you know the school has drifted so far there is no way to pull it back in and anchor it. Gradually, and then suddenly.
There is no creature more gutless than a middle-class white Christian confronted with the contempt of liberals. He is so desperate to have their approval, or at least to avoid their contempt, that he will sit quietly while his institutions are destroyed, secretly hoping that Somebody Else will defend them. But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, what that academic said about how wokeness is conquering his own institution, is how it’s going to happen here in America, absent resistance. This is how it is happening. This is at its core a struggle for cultural memory, and who has the power to define it. I do not want my children to receive a potted narrative of their nation that in any way diminishes the evil of slavery, or the historical struggles and contributions of African-Americans. Their mother and I have worked to make sure they understand this. But I also do not want them to receive a potted narrative of their nation that wrongly diminishes the achievements of their nation, and attributes to its founding ideals and its institutions a unique evil that portrays America as a nation conceived in sin, and dedicated to the proposition that white people are supreme over all others.
In conservative intellectual circles, there is now a serious critical reassessment of liberal democracy and its ideals. This is a worthwhile project, one with which I deeply sympathize (and for the record, I don’t believe that conservatives can engage in this task but deny progressives the right to interrogate the foundations of liberal democracy from the Left). My friend Patrick Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed raises the question about whether or not the Founding was fatally flawed because of its Enlightenment understanding of human nature. I think his diagnosis is correct, and that he raises hard questions about the future of our liberal democracy. His critique is, yes, radical, based on a theoretical critique of Enlightenment assumptions.
But even though I sympathize intellectually with many of these right-wing critiques, I also recognize that classical liberalism, for all its flaws, emerged in part to solve problems that the ancien regime could not. We should be very, very careful about abandoning these ideals and their forms. Deneen does not do as many of these progressives do, and portray the Founding as somehow illegitimate because conceived in moral corruption. He does not interrogate history for the sake of arriving at conclusions that drive society towards transformation. And he does not stigmatize those who disagree with his approach as bigots, or advocate a massive journalistic project dedicated to explaining to progressives why the people who vote in problematic ways are motivated by white supremacy. (This, by the way, is why you can’t understand The 1619 Project apart from what Baquet said about it in that town hall meeting.)
Let me close by posting again a passage from the British academic Eric Kaufmann’s review essay of Ryszard Legutko’s book The Demon In Democracy. Though Kaufmann does not share Legutko’s pessimism about liberal democracy, Kaufmann’s agrees with Legutko that wokeness — that is, contemporary left-wing identity politics — is totalitarian:
Having experienced the communist regime first-hand, he is well-placed to spot the symptoms of ideological tyranny today. Anything which stood in the way of the forward march of socialism was labelled by communists as ‘reactionary’, ‘bourgeois’ or ‘idealist’. Like today’s progressives, he says, they believed that familial, ethnic, national and religious traditions were obstacles to the revolution – atavisms to be overcome and ultimately dismantled.
Numerous artists and intellectuals jumped aboard the express, eagerly suppressing their rational faculties. Alongside the party apparatchiks, these ‘lumpen intellectuals’ constituted the shock troops of the socialist movement. Average citizens stepped into line to avoid harassment and intimidation.
Arguments no longer revolved around truth, but were judged by their fidelity to the tenets of the secular religion. You were either with the movement or against it – those who tried to straddle the middle ground were denounced by socialists as ‘bourgeois’. The dishonest ‘slippery slope’ charge was repeatedly laid by communists to indict moderate opponents seeking some form of compromise between competing positions. Those on the opposite side of the debate were deemed ‘dangerous’ rather than incorrect.
History, the socialists believed, was moving inexorably in the direction of ‘progress’, and the role of the vanguard was to vanquish those standing in its way. Sound familiar? Anyone exposed to the power of the cultural Left in today’s liberal institutions, where ‘because it’s 2019’ is a killer argument, will recognise this. In communist Poland, the millenarian vision was the worker’s paradise.
What is the vision that woke progressives want to achieve for America? Will we not fully expiate the sin of slavery until we have universal health care, ubiquitous public transportation, no Republican Party, and … what? How do the identity-politics progressives propose that we live together in this fractious nation, especially given that the religion that once united us is dissolving? If we don’t have a common religion, and the national myth of the American founding is reframed as a malicious lie that aids and abets contemporary bigotry, what then?
Do they not realize that this kind of thing is throwing gasoline on the sparks of white nationalism? Woke progressives say, “America was founded as a white supremacist nation” — and white nationalists agree!
Do these progressives even think about this? Do they worry that by burning down the slavemaster’s house, they might be burning down the structure of America itself — and that this destruction stands to release terrible evils that none of us can contain? Where will we shelter then, having destroyed the Republic’s structures in the hearts and minds of its people?
God would be “revelling” in the joy a “glorious” helter-skelter has brought to Norwich Cathedral, its bishop has told his congregation from its slide.
The fairground ride had been in the nave of the cathedral for 11 days.
It was intended to give people a different view of the building, although some accused the cathedral of “making a mistake”.
The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick, delivered his sermon from halfway up the ride.
“God is a tourist attraction,” he told his congregation during the cathedral’s final service with the helter-skelter as a backdrop.
“God wants to be attractive to us… for us to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that.”
The bishop had climbed to the top of the helter-skelter before edging halfway down the slide, where he stopped to deliver his sermon.
He then received a loud cheer as he whooshed to the bottom.
“Enjoying ourselves is a good thing to do and God will be revelling in it with us and all those people who have found fun and joy and laughter here,” he said.
Bishop Meyrick, a grown man of 67 who calls himself the “Rocking Bishop,” also sang the Bee Gees song “Words” as part of his sermon. Delivered from the slide of a fairground device. Inside a 12th century cathedral. That no doubt will be a 22nd century mosque.
Baby Boomers — what would we do with out them? For your spiritual edification, here’s the Rocking Bishop performing “Wild Thing” at a local concert in 2012. Whatever, man:
UPDATE: Father Frank Bass, a reader and Catholic priest, offers this sobering reflection in the comments section. He suggests that grief is a more appropriate response than mockery. I think he’s probably right:
As a former Anglican my heart grieves when I read one of these stories. I used to laugh when I was younger and more cynical, but no more. I remember being at a Harvest Festival Service of Matins in the breathtaking medieval cathedral in Lincoln. The processional hymn was in its third stanza and I had already been reduced to tears both by the sheer beauty of it all and sadness for the good things I’d had to leave behind when I left Anglicanism. Then, behind some prelate or canon residentiary there appeared in the procession a man dressed as a giant asparagus spear singing with great solemnity as he made his way forward to reverence the altar. Apparently he represented some farmers’ guild.While still crying I instantly guffawed. I couldn’t even catch myself. And it was loud! I stuck my face back in my hymnal and didn’t look up again until after the Jubilate had been chanted. But it was important in helping me understand what the Master told us to let the dead bury the dead. That such foolishness could be inserted into an otherwise staid and traditional liturgy without anyone blinking an eyed showed me that what I missed was already dead, and that I should move on with my heart as well as my head.
It seems more and more to me as I enter old age that perhaps the best way I can be ecumenical is to grieve with equal generosity that which was lovely, true, and good but is now lost to the memory of both Catholics and Protestants. Both have experienced catastrophic losses, and we don’t sacrifice one iota of our own orthodoxy when we weep with those who weep, no matter their creed.
A reader writes:
Rod, a note about the decline of America. I’m writing this email from my phone while the memory is still fresh in my mind.
I’m an attorney in Virginia, and I just left a court house where a small town is investigating a large issue of public corruption. I can’t give many details to protect the anonymity of my client and the privacy of others, but it was truly astonishing how many people were at the court that day to answer questions about what had happened in that town.
It was a sad state of affairs. But as I walked out of the courthouse. I looked across and I could hear church bells ringing. Then a police car pulled into an intersection with its lights on, and the officer started directing traffic. A line of cars started to flow from a church. I stopped a while to stand in respect, because though I live near DC, I’m from a small town, and I know that’s just what you do.
But then the church bells stopped in a jarring way. Apparently, they weren’t church bells. It was a recording of church bells being broadcast over speakers from a church steeple. That really got to me, and I’ve thought about it as I continued to walk away.
It was fake. That’s why it got to me. It had the appearance of gravitas and honor and old-ness, but it was a cheap recording that probably worked well in the beginning and was probably quite cost effective. But now it has aged, and the cheap underbelly of what we see on the outside showed itself. It wasn’t pretty.
Then eventually, the music started again. Church bell recording, as the cars continued to pass. But it wasn’t a hymn like it had been before. It was “The Star Spangled Banner” — “The Star Spangled Banner,” played on recorded church bell chimes was being used to mark a funeral. Why?
Because this is rural America, and it is crumbling. It is crumbling for multiple reasons, and I’m sure only one of them is things like the massive public corruption issue playing out in the courthouse. I’m sure another reason is the thinness of institutions that is hard to recognize when they’re going well, but the recording of the church bells cutting off in a jarred series of static and clicks was quite an epiphany (apocalypse?) illustrating that problem.
The fact that the church-bell tune that popped up right afterwards was “The Star Spangled Banner” just completed the sad metaphor. Why is that an appropriate song? “Be still my Soul.” “Be Thou My Vision.” “Amazing Grace.” There are endless better choices. Why “The Star Spangled Banner”?
Maybe because that “Americanism” is the only religion still standing in places like that. And it has a thinness to it that the fake church-bells only exaggerate when you know that they aren’t real and are just a recording.
I had to leave before the end of the procession. It was just too much. I don’t believe our country is going to pull us through on this one. We need our faith to do so. Maybe we can rebuild the country on that social foundation after it all collapses.
UPDATE: Reader John R.:
I recently attended a family reunion near the home of my youth (in a very rural county). While there was a festive air as we ‘cousins’ caught up with each other, below the surface there was a somber tenor. But not just due to us ‘cousins’ growing old and facing the inevitable health problems. There was a genuine foreboding as to the future of the community and the nation. We are witnessing the passing of a way of life with no understanding of what will replace it. The accelerating pace of change has removed any doubt as to the eventual outcome – the disappearance of the ‘reality’ of our formative years from which our worldview was cast. We have become aliens in our own homeland and feel like exiles in Babylon.
Most distressing was the slow dissolution of the faith foundation of our shared youth. Most were no longer active in church. For those few committed souls that were still active, each told the same story. One of declining attendance, aging membership and a circling of the wagons. No one had a solution. The feeling of resignation, that the 20th century church of our youth was destined for irreversible decline and inevitable collapse, permeated the conversations. The lawyer used the ‘canned music’ as a condensed symbol of the empty shell representing a dying institution – and with it a bygone generation. No one knows what will rise from the ashes.
I reacted much more strongly to President Trump’s idiotic insult to our NATO ally Denmark yesterday than I normally do to whatever embarrassing thing Trump has done. There aren’t negative superlatives strong enough to capture the childishness and stupidity of an American president cancelling a meeting with another head of state — especially a military ally! — because she wouldn’t let him buy something that belongs to her country. This is how a bad king in a fairy tale behaves. But that’s our president.
I had a long drive last night, and was thinking about why this, of all things Trump does and says, got to me so much. The answer, I think, is that it came on the same day I decided to finally cancel my subscription to The New York Times (which is not easy — they make you chat online to someone who tries to talk you out of it by offering you a cut rate; I explained that this was a matter of principle, thanks, goodnight.) Let me explain.
I cancelled over the “1619” project, for reasons I brought up here, and for reasons Damon Linker explains in his column. It’s not that the Times devoted a lot of resources to a project about slavery and the American experience. That would have been a public service. It’s that the Times made the editorial decision that … well, here, let them tell it:
The Times says that the “true founding” of America was slavery. We got more context for newspaper’s decision to “reframe the country’s history” when someone leaked a transcript of a town hall meeting inside the newspaper. What you see in that transcript is the leading news organization in America surrendering itself to wokeness — that is, to the ideological priorities of left-wing activism.
Executive editor Dean Baquet said to his staff:
But I also want to [inaudible] this as a forum to say something about who we are and what we stand for. We are an independent news organization, one of the few remaining. And that means there will be stories and journalism of all kinds that will upset our readers and even some of you. I’m not talking about true errors. In those cases, we should listen, own up to them, admit them, show some humility—but not wallow in them—and move on. What I’m saying is that our readers and some of our staff cheer us when we take on Donald Trump, but they jeer at us when we take on Joe Biden. They sometimes want us to pretend that he was not elected president, but he was elected president. And our job is to figure out why, and how, and to hold the administration to account. If you’re independent, that’s what you do. The same newspaper that this week will publish the 1619 Project, the most ambitious examination of the legacy of slavery ever undertaken in [inaudible] newspaper, to try to understand the forces that led to the election of Donald Trump. And that means trying to understand the segment of America that probably does not read us. The same newspaper that can publish a major story on Fox News, and how some of its commentators purvey anti-immigrant conspiracies, also has to talk to people who think immigration may cost them jobs and who oppose abortion on religious grounds. Being independent also means not editing the New York Times for Twitter, which can be unforgiving and toxic. And actually, as Amanda Cox reminds me, doesn’t really represent the left or the right. [inaudible] who care deeply about the Times and who want us to do better, we should listen to those people. But it is also filled with people who flat out don’t like us or who, as Jack Shafer put it, want us to be something we are not going to be.
Well, I care deeply about the Times, and want it to do better. I have subscribed for the better part of 30 years. Arguing with the Times, if only in my own head, has become a familiar exercise. Of course it’s liberal. It’s not just liberal, it’s New York liberal. It’s also a damn good newspaper, probably the best we have.
Its coverage of social controversies, especially when religion is involved, is where the most left-wing bias presents itself — but then, former executive editor Bill Keller once said that culture is the one area where the Times doesn’t feel any obligation to play it straight. Because the intersection of religion and cultural politics matters more to me than just about anything else the paper covers, this has driven me to the brink of cancelling my subscription on a number of occasions in the past few years, but in my charity, I thought about the little Douthat children and their college fund, and held back. More seriously, I developed a routine of letting it sit for a day or so, during which time I thought about all the good things I get as a Times subscriber. Usually the anger subsided.
This time, though, the newspaper crossed an important line. The faith I’ve kept with the paper all these years — stretched nearly to the breaking point by its left-liberal bias at times — finally broke over the 1619 Project and the internal meeting transcript.
It’s not a matter of race; it’s about journalistic integrity. If the Times had decided to pour its formidable resources into a story to “reframe the country’s history” to put “the evil of capitalism” at America’s founding, I would have been gone. Or to put “the patriarchy” there. Or for that matter, had the Times devoted itself similarly to reframing the country’s history by celebrating the glorious dynamism of the free market, or the Gospel of Our Lord And Savior Jesus Christ, as the foundation of America — it would have lost me. Such a project would have been tainted by ideology from the beginning.
I have spent this summer researching life under Communist totalitarianism for my next book. One of the basic features, I found, is that all of life was to be interpreted through the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Anybody who knows anything about Soviet and Eastern European Communism knows this is true, but when you get into the weeds, you see how this played out. It was an ideological black hole that warped all the light that passed around it. Every bit of data had to be conformed to fit Marxist dogma, to show how reality bears witness to the truth of Marx’s genius. Eventually reality exposes the lies … but it can take a long time, and incredible damage can be done.
This summer, I interviewed a Soviet-born physician, who told me:
The life that I remember was right before the Soviet Union collapsed. I can only speak about what happened right before it collapsed. At that time, most people realized that the official system that exists was rather fake. Nobody took the party line seriously. There was obviously a big disconnect between what people talked about at home, and discussed with friends, and what was presented on state run television. Everybody knew how to operate at home, and how to operate in the public sphere. In this aspect, there was a clear understanding that there are two different worlds. As long as you realized there were two different worlds, you could get by.
This was after decades of Party propaganda. Even then, with the system in shambles, people still had to pretend publicly that what they read in Pravda and Izvestia was true. They had cultivated “doublethink” (George Orwell’s term) as a way to deal with the official lies without losing their minds. Doublethink is not the ordinary skill of learning how to interpret the world critically, recognizing, for example, that the information you get from the media is incomplete, and should be read with a critical eye. It is about creating total cognitive dissonance as a survival strategy.
Now, The New York Times has institutionally accepted that the “true founding” of the United States was in slavery. Understand that the paper is not merely claiming that the institution of slavery was present from the beginning of what would become the US, and that it was an important factor in the development of American history. The paper is claiming that slavery was the point of it all. In no way does it diminish the significance of slavery to say that placing it “at the very center” of our collective self-understanding as Americans is an extraordinary act of ideological audacity.
The quest for religious liberty was a key factor in the founding of the United States. If the Times decided to “reframe” our understanding of history for the sake of teaching all of us that religious liberty is not just a, but the, founding phenomenon of this country — I would reject it as the basis for propaganda. And I care very much about religious liberty! In 2011, the Times reported on the prominent role the self-taught Evangelical historian David Barton has in conservative circles, including among GOP leaders, who accept his highly ideological, Christianized interpretation of the American founding. This piece published by the Gospel Coalition — conservative Evangelicals, please note — quotes a historian calling Barton out for distorting facts for ideological ends. Given how influential Barton has been in, for example, textbook debates in Texas, the Times is right to pay critical attention to him.
Well, the Times is now committing itself to a left-wing version of what David Barton does for the Religious Right. The Times’s religion, like that of many other elite cultural institutions, is Anti-Racism (read the black linguist John McWhorter’s take on “Anti-Racism, Our Flawed New Religion”). All the facts will henceforth be fit around the 1619 narrative. The Times actually published on Sunday, as part of the 1619 Project, an essay by a Princeton historian claiming that traffic jams in Atlanta today are the fault of slavery. See how this works?
You might be thinking: Why not just dismiss the 1619 Project as ideological nonsense, and read other things in the Times?
Because of the transcript of that town hall meeting, that’s why. Notice this exchange:
Staffer: Hello, I have another question about racism. I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country. And I think particularly as we are launching a 1619 Project, I feel like that’s going to open us up to even more criticism from people who are like, “OK, well you’re saying this, and you’re producing this big project about this. But are you guys actually considering this in your daily reporting?”
Baquet: You know, it’s interesting, the argument you just made, to go back to the use of the word racist. I didn’t agree with all of this from Keith Woods, who I know from New Orleans and who’s the ombudsman for NPR. He wrote a piece about why he wouldn’t have used the word racist, and his argument, which is pretty provocative, boils down to this: Pretty much everything is racist. His view is that a huge percentage of American conversation is racist, so why isolate this one comment from Donald Trump? His argument is that he could cite things that people say in their everyday lives that we don’t characterize that way, which is always interesting. You know, I don’t know how to answer that, other than I do think that that race has always played a huge part in the American story.
And I do think that race and understanding of race should be a part of how we cover the American story. Sometimes news organizations sort of forget that in the moment. But of course it should be. I mean, one reason we all signed off on the 1619 Project and made it so ambitious and expansive was to teach our readers to think a little bit more like that. Race in the next year—and I think this is, to be frank, what I would hope you come away from this discussion with—race in the next year is going to be a huge part of the American story. And I mean, race in terms of not only African Americans and their relationship with Donald Trump, but Latinos and immigration. And I think that one of the things I would love to come out of this with is for people to feel very comfortable coming to me and saying, here’s how I would like you to consider telling that story. Because the reason you have a diverse newsroom, to be frank, is so that you can have people pull together to try to tell that story. I think that’s the closest answer I can come.
The staffer said something that could have come out of the mouth of a Pravda reporter: that “racism is in everything” and is “the foundation of all the systems in this country.” If I were the executive editor of The New York Times, I would have met that statement with a strong, clear statement that no newspaper should approach its work so ideologically. If you believe that racism, or class conflict, or the advancing kingdom of Christ, or anything else, is “in everything … and should be considered in [all] our reporting” because it is “the foundation of all of the systems in the country” — well, if I’m your editor, I’m going to have to think hard about whether you are fit for purpose as a professional journalist. Maybe this unidentified staffer was just a clerk in the paper’s library, and has no responsibility for news decisions. Even if that’s the case, if that kind of statement is made in a meeting of the entire staff of the newspaper, you as executive editor have a responsibility to lay down the law by reaffirming the standards of professional journalism.
Baquet did not do that. He didn’t clearly affirm what this staffer said, but he didn’t deny it either. He hemmed and hawed, and seemed to come down more on the staffer’s side than not. Nobody is better placed than the African-American executive editor of The New York Times to affirm to his staff that the Times will not allow its professional approach to covering and interpreting the news to be shaped by the radical ideological conviction that white supremacy is at the foundation of all systems in the United States, and that racism is “in everything.”
Again, Dean Baquet did not do that. Whether it’s because he shares the staffer’s conviction, or because he is afraid to stand up to the racialist Jacobins in his own newsroom, he failed to lead. To be precise: he surrendered his newsroom to the radical left.
We can see what’s going to happen now. The New York Times is going to devote itself to radicalizing the United States along racial lines. It will propagate the narrative that the engine driving American life is the efforts of white people to maintain supremacy, and the resistance of People of Color, and their allies, to white supremacy. Everything the paper reports will theoretically be filtered through that distorting lens, because the leadership of The New York Times believes it to be true. I don’t know this for a fact, but knowing newspapers as I do, I’d bet that there are professional journalists within that news organization who do not share these beliefs, and who in fact are worried about the direction of the newspaper. Not conservatives, but old-school liberals. And I bet they are now afraid to speak out, afraid that they will be denounced as fellow travelers of white supremacy if they do.
This isn’t, ultimately, about slavery. Not at all. This is about a great and vital American journalism institution surrendering its integrity and its reputation to the radical left. What has started at the Times will not remain at the Times. You need to understand that. Within the relatively small world of American journalism, senior newsroom leaders, in print and broadcast, are looking at what the Times is doing with this project with admiration, even envy. As usual in American journalism, where the Times leads, its acolytes around the country will follow.
I do not want to pay for propaganda. The Times has made it impossible to give it the benefit of the doubt on the question. Beyond not paying for propaganda, I do not want to subsidize with my subscription money an effort by the most powerful news media organization in the world to demonize people like me — today and throughout history — on the basis of our race, and to turn the United States of America into a neo-Balkan cesspit of racial hatred and animus.
I hated it when Donald Trump called the media the “Enemy Of The People.” It’s a totalitarian phrase. I would not call The New York Times, or any media organization, the Enemy Of The People. But it’s hard to conclude anything other than that The New York Times has at least become the enemy of people like me — and the enemy of what every professional journalist should be committed to doing: telling the truth without fear or favor.
Last night, I cancelled my subscription. I didn’t do it with pleasure, but with sorrow. I really like the Times, overall. It has been a part of my life for many years, when I lived in south Florida in the 1990s, then for five years in NYC, then in Dallas in the 2000s, then in Philadelphia, and now here in south Louisiana. But this is too much.
So what does this have to do with Trump and his Greenland tweet?
We are in a dangerous time in American history. Leaving aside the economic and geopolitical challenges of our time, from a socially conservative perspective, the nation is disintegrating, and the religion that has been the source of our common values is evaporating. We are sliding into a “soft totalitarianism,” one that is going to be particularly hard on social and religious conservatives, who are going to face marginalization and perhaps even persecution. The radical identity-politics left has captured the most powerful media organization in the nation, and holds the high ground in the top academic outposts, and in cultural institutions. We are at an acute hinge point in history. The days are grave. The need for serious, focused, wise, creative conservative leadership is something close to an emergency.
And who, in this time of peril, is the champion of the Right? A clown who refuses to meet with the prime minister of Denmark because she won’t sell him Greenland. What a waste.
UPDATE: This happened today. This was tweeted by the
King of the Jews POTUS:
You know what? This GIF below pretty much captures the way I write this blog, and the way I live my life. If you don’t know who the hot dog vendor is, you lack proper theology and geometry:
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) August 21, 2019
UPDATE.2: A friend who is a Washington Post reporter tweets:
I spent the wkend with two other journalists who work in mainstream media who spent the bulk of our time complaining about how liberal the media is. I personally worry industry leaders are tuning out some legitimate concerns because many hear them alongside “fake news” claims. https://t.co/Ln0d5giegJ
— Sarah Pulliam Bailey (@spulliam) August 20, 2019