Rod Dreher

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Moralistic Therapeutic Marriage

Clare Chambers, a Cambridge University philosopher, thinks marriage is a bad idea, period. Excerpts:

When the state recognises marriage, it does three things: it defines, it endorses, and it regulates.

First, state-recognised marriage means that the state defines marriage and controls access to it. In a marriage regime, the state dictates who may marry. It determines whether marriage must be between a man and a woman, or whether same-sex marriage is allowed. It determines how many people can be married to each other. It determines whether and when divorce and remarriage are available. In a marriage regime, the state may also place religious or racial restrictions on marriage.

In making these regulations, the state determines the meaning of marriage. Is it an institution for loving couples or an instrument of religious and cultural kinship? Does it institutionalise traditional religious values, or can it encompass diversity? State recognition of marriage directly and inevitably engages the state in making complex and controversial statements about value and meaning, statements that promote some ways of life and family forms, and demote others.

Second, when the state recognises marriage, it provides public and official endorsement of the state of being married. A marriage regime includes a state-sanctioned marriage ceremony, with officials and celebrants. Obtaining a state-recognised marriage is not like obtaining a driving licence or completing a tax return: it involves a solemnified and lauded ritual in which the state is intimately involved. And so, when the state recognises marriage, it declares that marriages are special.

The third aspect of state-recognised marriage is regulation: the state provides a married couple with legal rights and duties. Unmarried people have legal rights and duties too. But state-recognised marriage involves giving married people a bundle of rights and duties concerning many areas of life. These may include financial support, parental responsibility, inheritance, taxation, migration and next-of-kinship: crucial areas of life that affect everyone, married or not.

Well, she’s not wrong about that. Marriage is not and never can be a “neutral” institution. So what’s Prof. Chambers’s problem? More:

Each of the three aspects of state recognition have been used in ways that instigate and perpetuate a variety of hierarchies, most consistently based on gender but also on race, religion, sexuality and class.

Access to marriage has generally been limited to couples consisting of one man and one woman. Some countries have restricted access to marriage to people from certain racial or religious groups. For example, many US states had anti-miscegenation laws preventing interracial marriage, until such laws were found to be unconstitutional in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v Virginia.

Access controls reflect sexist, heterosexist, racist and generally inegalitarian interpretations of the meaning of marriage, with the result that the honorific aspect of marriage is also applied unequally. Only some people are granted state sanctification for their relationship, and this unequal approval has been used to devastating effect, with unmarried couples and their children subject to stigma and discrimination.


State-recognised marriage means treating married couples differently from unmarried couples in stable, permanent, monogamous sexual relationships. It means treating people in sexual relationships differently from those in non-sexual or caring relationships. It means treating those in couples differently from those who are single or polyamorous. It expresses the official view that sexual partnership is both the ultimate goal and the assumed norm. It expresses the assumption that central relationship practices – parenting, cohabitation, financial dependence, migration, care, next-of-kinship, inheritance, sex – are bundled together into one dominant relationship. And so it denies people rights that they need in relation to one practice unless they also engage in all the others and sanctify that arrangement via the state.

Blah blah blah egalitarianism blah blah blah. It’s like she hasn’t given a moment’s thought to the reasons why marriage is an important institution. Chambers says that marriage should be abolished as a legal institution, and that the state “should regulate relationship practices.” Read the whole thing.

The reader who sent me that link writes:

Reading this article made me immediately think of the Benedict Option, as the millennial author’s [Note: Chambers was born in 1976 — RD] views on marriage are the end product of the cultural ‘inputs’ you elaborate on in your book. This is such a shallow, but thoroughly postmodern-Western, view of marriage that it is heartbreaking to read. This millennial lecturer is hardly alone in reducing marriage to a proxy for government sanctioned love, childbearing, and commitment. All these things, as the author points out, can be had outside of marriage. This is where a strong Christian community might step in to explain that, while marriages certainly have these things, that is not all they are. But we don’t live in a strong Christian community; the author can’t find a deeper reason for marriage, and so she concludes that the whole thing is (of course) an oppressive power structure and needs to be done away with. While I find her argument riddled with gaping holes, that really isn’t the point. The sad thing about this article is that we were too long complicit in viewing marriage in the same way the author does–a thing two people who love each other do, in the eyes of the government, to have a family and pick up a tax break.

Twenty years ago, Christians had no problem resting on the idea that marriage is about two people committed to loving one another. They couldn’t have dreamed how quickly and completely that logic would lead them to paths they didn’t wish to go down. By positioning marriage as a legal issue, we gave up on a higher, truer definition of marriage and essentially yelled to the culture that marriage could and would be ultimately defined by the government. In forfeiting our Christian identity, it suddenly became of great importance to us what the government chose to apply the word “marriage” to; we bet big that they would side with us, and we lost big.

I’m tired and having a hard time communicating what I’m trying to say, but it seems like we’ve created some kind of moralistic therapeutic marriage: just like this millennial author, most of us bought into the idea that marriage is just about two people in love, who want to spend the rest of their lives together and have children. If you fall out of love, you can just ‘consciously uncouple’. There’s no imagery of a consubstantial union reflecting the glory of God or Christ’s love of the church. No intimation of the sacrifice needed to love (in the deeper, non-contemporary sense) someone through sickness and health, good times and bad, ’til death do us part. No real metaphysical connection at all, really. Not even a church to get married in (and I know many ‘Christians’ who were married before a government official, but never a priest or pastor, further illustrating how much we bought into the idea that marriage is a government, and not a God, thing). When moralistic therapeutic marriage was used to justify gay marriage, we were in a logical conundrum, because these people love each other, and they want to spend their lives together, and some even want children. Most people could do little more than utter “…but the Bible says…” in defense of traditional marriage. If a Christian marries an atheist, no problem! But if a man marries a man using the exact same reasoning…now it’s an affront to God.

With this shallow proxy-based definition of marriage, is it any wonder this millennial wonders (in what is admittedly a terribly presented argument) if we should do away with the whole thing? I guess what it comes down to is this: presumably, if we were Christians and cared about what marriage meant for Christians, we would’ve just said, “They can call that thing anything they want; as far as we’re concerned, that’s not marriage.” Instead (again relating to BenOp), we tried to keep our political power, play the legal game, failed to recognize that the culture has no inkling of what marriage is beyond a privileged relationship between two people who love each other, and lost.

Yes, even if we had corporally decided before Obergefell that marriage was what we said it was, and that we’d treat it as such in our churches and communities without concern for government sanctioning, we’d still be derided, laughed at, sued, and all the rest. It’s not about saving face. But at least there would’ve been an alternative vision out there with a little more depth than “…but the Bible says…”. At least some additional people would come to know why marriage is different. At least this author would’ve had to have written, “True, Christians maintain that marriage does uniquely manifest and reflect divine love and grace like no other relationship because of what they believe to be the objective nature of their God,” before going on to call it BS and making her same ill-thought-out argument all the same.

I believe there are practical, non-religious arguments in favor of the institution of marriage, but the reader has a point. If Christians accept that the definition of marriage is only about ratifying and formalizing emotional commitments, then they have conceded too much. Being better catechized by pop culture than the church, many of us have.

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Why Christians Vote Republican Despite It All

Some conservative Christians close their eyes to Trump’s mendacity solely out of self-protection (Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock)

A Christian friend asked me recently why there is so much anxiety, even some panic, on the Christian right about the situation for traditional Christians in US society. This Christian simply doesn’t see any evidence of persecution or oppression. Another person in the conversation — an atheist and a liberal — said that to him, it looks like conservative Christians are simply angry about losing power, nothing more.

Well, there’s a lot going on here. There are all kinds of traditional Christians. Some are no doubt concerned about losing power. Others are concerned about the decline of the faith among younger generations. Still others worry about the liberty of orthodox Christians to run our organizations according to our values. And yes, there are some who worry about the Apocalypse; those folks have been there at least since my childhood. There are various intersections of these concerns, depending on the Christian group, and even the individual Christian. I, for example, am only worried about Christians losing power and influence because I am worried about the decline of the faith, and the waning of religious liberty. Has there ever been a minority group that was easygoing about its loss of political and cultural power? Given human nature, how can one be?

This, from California (of course), is a sign to Christians. It is a bill that would, in effect, ban Christian books that conflicted with pro-LGBT orthodoxy. David French explains:

Assembly Bill 2943 would make it an “unlawful business practice” to engage in “a transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that advertise, offer to engage in, or do engage in “sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.”

The bill then defines “sexual orientations change efforts” as “any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” (Emphasis added.)

This is extraordinarily radical. Christian orthodoxy is simple — regardless of a person’s desires (their “orientation”), the standard of right conduct is crystal clear. Sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. When it comes to “gender expression,” there is no difference between “sex” and “gender,” and the Christian response to gender dysphoria is compassion and treatment, not indulgence and surgical mutilation.

Put another way, there is a fundamental difference between temptation and sin. California law would intrude directly on this teaching by prohibiting even the argument that regardless of sexual desire, a person’s sexual behavior should conform to Biblical standards.

Here is the full text of the bill. Supporters claim that it only bans so-called “reparative therapy” and other attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or “gender expression.” But Robert A.J. Gagnon reads the fine print:

The bill in question is California Assembly Bill 2943. It would treat as a criminal violation of the state’s consumer fraud act “the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that consists of “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.” Don’t be misled into thinking that this bill bans only professional counselors from trying to alter same-sex attractions. It goes well beyond that.

“Orientation change” can be as innocuous as stating at a paid conference that homosexual and transgender desire can be overcome (not necessarily eliminated) by the Spirit of Jesus. Or even complying with an attendee’s request for prayer that the Spirit of God empower the attendee not to succumb to the power of same-sex attractions.

That’s not all. More than “orientation change” is at issue, for the bill expressly states:

‘Sexual orientation change efforts’ means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Did you catch the part that says: “This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions,” not just orientation change? You cannot treat homosexual expression or transgenderism as the product of disordered desires.

To sell any materials or offer any counseling for a fee that present homosexual practice and transgender identity as wrong or a sin, including all commentaries on the Bible and theological or exegetical treatments that affirm the biblical position on these matters (perhaps even the Bible itself) is to incur criminal sanctions in the state of California.

The bill is wildly unconstitutional, it seems to me — yet it was easily passed out of House committee, and is headed for a vote in the full state Assembly. If it passes there, it’s over to the Senate. Both houses of the California legislature are held firmly by Democrats.

If the bill passes, I assume — maybe that’s risky — that it will eventually be struck down by courts. But who knows? And which bookseller or author wants to be the one to go to court?

Besides, the greater point here is that a bill like this appears at all, and has so little trouble getting through the system. It says a lot about the contempt California has for religious liberty, and indeed for any speech that offends LGBTs and their allies.

In 2016, Christians rallied in California to beat back a bill that would have made it impossible for the state’s Cal Grants program — which provides college tuition for bright students with financial needs — to be used at state colleges that in any way discriminate against LGBT students. This would have compelled Christian colleges that have codes governing the sex lives of their community members either to change their policies, or surrender Cal Grant-funded students. For many, even most, of those conservative Christian colleges, this would have meant either a severe violation of conscience, or closure.

After a huge lobbying effort, especially by Latino and African-American Christian leaders (black and Hispanic students are disproportionately served by Cal Grants), the sponsor withdrew the bill, but nobody thinks this was the end of it. A white Evangelical source involved in the negotiations told me that many of the state’s white suburban Evangelicals were useless in the resistance, even though they may have opposed the bill. They were terrified of being called bigots.

As David French points out in his piece, California is not the kooky, unrepeatable fringe of the left, but is more typically at the leading edge of where the rest of America is going. And this, says French, is the answer to Jonathan Chait’s query. Chait writes:

Looking around at what 16 months of President Trump has wrought, watching Fox & Friends, refreshing the news sites for the latest national-security debacle, would you decide, each morning, to remain in the Republican Party? And yet in varying ways, anti-Trump conservatives have all taken the impossibility of trans-partisan cooperation as a given.

Well, as readers know, I left the GOP in 2008, though I still identify as a conservative, so what Chait says here applies to me as well. French, in replying to Chait, speaks for me:

Chait’s premise implies that Republicans have gone extreme, yet more-sensible conservatives are strangely refusing to join a mainstream opposition. Yet that’s not how the world looks from the right side of the aisle. From there, it looks as if the Democratic party is responding to Trump by galloping away from the center, doubling down on the very policies and ideologies that led Evangelicals to vote en masse for Trump as a form of simple self-defense.

On Monday night at a dinner in Miami, I told a liberal journalist sitting next to me that I would love to vote for a Democrat as a way of bringing the Republican Party back to its senses, but that it is impossible for a conservative Christian like me to vote Democratic, because I am the Enemy to the Democratic Party.

It’s all about religious liberty. I am convinced — beyond convinced — that there is no religious liberty that the Democrats would not smash in an effort to advance whatever the LGBT activist leadership wants. It’s not that I believe that all Democrats are radically anti-Christian, or that all LGBT folks are. But those who just want to live and let live are not in charge of the Democratic Party’s direction.

About the proposed California law, Daniel Mattson, a same-sex-oriented Catholic who is chaste, converses with the writer Michael Brendan Dougherty:

Do you think these fears are extreme? Well, let me tell you, Christians who pay attention are by now immune to the reassurances from the cultural left that their worst fears are overblown. We have been through the dialogue deception time and time again.

This is what’s blowing up on social media this morning — both among conservative Christians and radical trans-negative feminists: a questionnaire whose purpose seeks to erase gender binaries in the delivery of health care.  Here’s how it begins:

Gender neutral terms for anatomy and healthcare education/research for pregnant and birthing people

We’re calling on our community to help us improve academic syllabi and lectures in healthcare education and materials. In healthcare education settings the terms used for anatomy need to be broadly applied in the creation of a syllabus and in lectures for all genders. Our goal is to identify problematic medical terminology terms used in healthcare education and identify terms that are inclusive. We’re hoping to brainstorm a list of terms for medical terminology, anatomy, and medical procedures that are inclusive to people of all genders, as well as gender inclusive terms for general use in healthcare education and materials.

We are already very clear with students and residents that in the clinic setting patients and clients should be asked their preferred anatomy terms, and that their request should be honored in every circumstance.

In this survey, you’ll see the current standard medical and/or anatomical term. You’re invited to check other terms that you’ve heard or used, and to add other terms in response. Please check all that apply.

Take a look at the document. These healthcare radicals are trying to allow psychological states of mind to determine anatomical truth. If a man calls his penis a vagina, then the woke medical services provider must agree.

At first, my digging showed that it started with Melissa Smith-Tourville, the admissions director of the Midwives College of Utah, one of the biggest training programs for midwives. Spend some time on its website and you’ll see that it’s a very woke institution. Here’s the initial request from Smith-Tourville:

But Miriam Ben-Shalom, a radical feminist who is doing great work opposing the trans agenda, dug deeper:

That’s the Human Rights Campaign, the premier LGBT lobby. A Washington lobbyist once told me that “the gay rights lobby is to the Democrats what the NRA is to the Republicans.” His point? That you cannot cross them and stand in good stead within the party. If the HRC wants this radical remake of basic medical terminology, you can bet that it’s going to get it sooner or later.

The HRC is 100 percent behind the California bill.  One could certainly understand the HRC opposing conversion therapy, but as French and others point out, this bill is written very broadly. This does not bother the nation’s premier gay rights lobby, nor does it bother the Democrats (and at least one Republican) in the California Assembly who sailed it through two Assembly committees.

Extremism in the pursuit of LGBT rights and the punishment of dissenting Christians is no vice. , it appears. And that’s why many conservative Christians grit our teeth and vote Republican anyway.

UPDATE: It’s like this: better a party that doesn’t do much for you than a party that actively despises you.

UPDATE.2: Like I was saying:

Southern Baptist chaplain Jerry Scott Squires is fighting a U.S. Army investigator’s charge of unlawful discrimination for refusing to preside over a marriage retreat including same-sex couples.

But Squires followed federal law and Army and Southern Baptist Convention chaplaincy protocol when he rescheduled a Feb. 9 Strong Bonds marriage retreat in order to involve a non-SBC chaplain, thereby accommodating the attendance of a lesbian couple, First Liberty Institute said in an April 17 letter to the Army in Squires’ defense.

“Federal law and Army policy both make clear that chaplains must remain faithful to the tenets of their faith,” First Liberty attorney Michael Berry wrote in the letter. “The failure of a chaplain to do so exposes the chaplain to risk of losing their ecclesiastical endorsement, or worse, violates … federal law and policy…. Squires’ actions here are fully protected by federal law and regulation.”

Squires, who follows the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in protocol established by the North American Mission Board as an SBC-endorsed chaplain, told First Liberty he was shocked when an Army investigator concluded he should face disciplinary action, which is currently pending.

“I hope the Army sees that I was simply following Army regulations and the tenets of my church,” Squires, a decorated major with more than 25 years of military service, said in a First Liberty press release April 17.

It is not enough that the chaplain worked around this issue to make sure the lesbian couple was served. He has to be crushed. By the US Army, which he has served for 25 years. If only we had a Commander In Chief who stood up for the little guy…

Via Sohrab Ahmari:

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A Muslim Benedict Option

Yahya Rhodus, teaching at Al-Maqasid, a Muslim Ben Op community he founded

I’m just hearing about a small community in the rural Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania called Al-Maqasid. A Muslim reader (who is not part of it) says that some Muslim families moved out there to raise their kids around this education and spiritual formation start-up. They not only don’t want to lose their kids to liquid modernity, they also want to form their children to be able to serve in the world as faithful Muslims. I understand that they’ve been at it for five years, and that more and more Muslim families are moving out there.

Here’s a fundraising video they did:

Here’s a link to a brochure explaining what their vision is. I don’t know anything about the group other than what I’ve read here, but it seems interesting.

I’m really interested in knowing more about this group, and I hope to have the opportunity at some point in the next year to visit. It sounds pretty Ben Oppy to me. You know that Muslims in America have a much harder time doing something like this than traditional Christians do, in terms of outsiders regarding them with mistrust. I see opportunities for building solidarity, though it’s understandable that both sides approach the other with suspicion. That’s something that’s real, and not always based simply on misunderstanding. We have to work through it.

Still, I believe this is a risk worth taking, though both sides should go into it with eyes wide open. I say “both sides,” but I also would like to include Orthodox Jews, so, all three Abrahamic sides. I assume no one who would be interested in this initiative is interested in happy-clappy ecumenism that denies our meaningful differences. But I do believe that we can learn from each other’s experiences — the effective things we have tried, and the mistakes we have made — and defend each other’s religious liberties when they’re challenged.

I’ve said here before that I find it easier to converse with traditionalists within Christianity, and in non-Christian religions, than with liberal Christians. I’m not exactly sure what the difference is, but I think it has something to do with the basic orientation towards religion, and towards truth. For trads, generally speaking, religion is not simply part of life, it is the basis for our life. America is not only post-Christian, it is moving towards post-religious across the board. The receding of Christian hegemony may make life easier in some ways for Jews and Muslims, but I think in most ways it will make life harder, because the things that liberal culture resents traditionalist Christians for also apply to Jews and Muslims. Liberals may not sue Orthodox Jewish or Muslim bakers over wedding cakes, but the kind of society in which that sort of thing happens is a society that is hostile to traditional Judaism and traditional Islam, even if the hostility never ends up in court. Raising kids in that kind of culture is a great challenge to traditionalists of all three Abrahamic faiths.

Shouldn’t we talk about it, together, and get a sense of where we all are, and what common interests we share? I’ll be talking with some folks about putting together a conference at some point where we can establish some common ground, and discuss first steps. Advice welcome.

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Me In Fairfax County On Thursday 4/19

Hey, Northern Virginia readers, I’d love to see you at my talk on Thursday night in Fairfax.

I’ll be speaking at 7:30 at the Lorien Wood School in Vienna. There will be Q&A and book-signing there. Tickets are $10 per person. Seating is limited. The first 150 people who sign up will get a free paperback copy of The Benedict Option. The paperbacks have a Study Guide in the back, to guide group reading.

I hope you’ll come, not only because it will be nice to see you, but also because it’s important to meet other creative minorities in your area who care about the Benedict Option, and with whom you might collaborate.

Register in advance here. The Lorien Wood School — a Christian school for K-8 — looks like a fascinating place, by the way. Why not come out and see what it has to offer?

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A Smaller, Purer Catholic University?

Graduation Day at Catholic University of America (L. Kragt Bakker/Shutterstock)

In 1969, the future Pope Benedict XVI predicted that the Catholic Church would suffer a purification in the years ahead, that it would lose a lot of its power, and many of its people — but that from that would emerge a smaller church composed of true believers. From this, the renewal will come.

I think of this prophetic statement a lot. I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of Catholic universities, until a friend e-mailed this Chronicle of Higher Education piece inquiring into whether or not the Catholic University of America is hurting itself by emphasizing Catholic distinctives. The piece is behind a subscriber paywall, but I can quote bits and pieces here.

Here is the gist of the problem:

A cost-cutting proposal at Catholic University of America, where administrators are seeking to close a $3.5-million operational deficit through layoffs and buyouts of 35 faculty members, has divided the campus and provoked a broader discussion about whether the institution has overplayed its religiosity to the detriment of student recruitment.

It is self-evident that Catholic University, a 131-year old institution founded by American bishops and considered the national university of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, is inextricably linked to Catholicism. But at a time when many students of traditional college age have eschewed organized religion and come to question the church’s social teachings, Catholic University finds itself in an intensifying dialogue that pits the university’s core identity against market imperatives.

This is not a new debate for Catholic or for religiously affiliated institutions in general. Such colleges have long wrestled with how best to preserve their deepest values while still attracting students who want a vibrant social life and a collegiate experience that is more spiritual than it is strictly religious.

Yet, Catholic University, based in Washington, D.C., is at a particularly critical moment.

The visceral threat of faculty job losses has invited emotional exchanges about whether the bishops’ university — whose leaders have waded into today’s culture wars and tried to discourage college kids from having sex — has scared off some of the very prospective students that it needs most. Changes at the university, which in recent years has done away with co-ed dorms and promoted itself as a cultivator of “Catholic minds,” are now being scrutinized by campus critics as the unforced errors of an administration in need of a course correction.

CUA brought in consultants to help them figure out the situation:

In January, Catholic University professors huddled in Great Room B of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, the same building where, a decade earlier, Pope Benedict XVI told an audience of Roman Catholic educators that they had a “particular responsibility” to “evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith.”

On the stage that day in January 2018 were guests of less renown, but their message got the professors’ attention. After a year of research, Art & Science Group LLC had concluded that prospective students do not see Catholic University as a top choice, that they are confused about its pricing, and — even among practicing Catholics — they are unlikely to respond favorably to additional faith-based marketing.

Prospective students, the consultants said in a videotaped presentation, perceive religion as a more-integral part of the student experience at Catholic University than at its peers.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t help you,” said Eric Collum, a senior associate at Art & Science. “In fact, to the extent that they see you as being a religious place, it actually hurts you.”

“Students are open to having their experience enriched by Catholicism, but not necessarily defined by Catholicism,” Collum later added. “They want to go to college; they don’t want to go to church necessarily.” [Emphasis mine — RD]


Abela and others chalk up most of the university’s challenges to demographic shifts. Roman Catholic high schools, the most reliable pipeline for Catholic University students, are graduating fewer and fewer people. [Emphasis mine — RD] This fall, more than half of private colleges, religious or not, missed enrollment targets, a Chronicle survey found.

In other words, factors beyond religiosity are no doubt in play.

“To lay it all at the feet of Catholic identity seems a narrow interpretation,” said Christopher P. Lydon, the university’s vice president for enrollment management and marketing.

In its analysis, Art & Science stressed the need for Catholic to emphasize its existing research opportunities for undergraduates, to guarantee on-campus housing, and to not skimp on “athletics and fun.” At the same time, Lydon says, the consultants found that “we had no more market share to gain through Catholic identity alone.”

“It’s not about the relegation of Catholic identity. It’s about the elevation of the academic student experience.”

I’ll stop there.

It would be a pity — actually, a tragedy — if CUA watered down its Catholic identity. There are scores of Catholic colleges where Catholics can get a Catholic-in-name-only education. It’s hard to see what the advantage accrue to CUA if it becomes one of the crowd.

On the other hand, holding on to its identity will probably cost it here in post-Christian America. Conservative Catholics — and conservative Christians in general — don’t like to think about this. We have told ourselves for a long time that standing firm in orthodoxy will rally those who are looking for institutions with confidence, as opposed to those led by uncertain trumpeters. But what if this is no longer true?

It shouldn’t surprise us. The studies of younger generations of Catholic Americans show that they are only nominally Catholic. For example, this takeaway from sociologist Christian Smith’s book about young Catholic Americans. Excerpt:

4.  Catholic schools and parishes appear to have little effect. Smith spends some time on parishes and Catholic primary and secondary schools.  On the surface, emerging adults who went to church and attended Catholic schools knew more about the faith and were more likely to practice it.  Yet, these differences seem to be more associated with the parents’ faith than the parish or school itself.  In other words, it is the parents and their religious commitment behind their children going to church, attending Catholic schools, and continuing to believe.  The most significant factor for these institutions that Smith found was that Catholic schools prevented young adults from totally abandoning their faith.

5.  Emerging adults need more than religious parents.  If schools and parishes are less significant than parental commitment, is it all up to the parents?  Supportive parents are one of the three most important factors affecting the faith of emerging adults, but Smith insists there are two more.  Emerging adults must also regularly engage in religious behaviors and practices, and emerging adults must internalize the beliefs and make them their own.   While parents are practically necessary, they are not sufficient on their own.  Emerging adults need to choose the faith and practice it themselves.

(You see why The Benedict Option emerged in large part out of my reading Christian Smith’s work.)

What does this have to do with CUA? There are many fewer serious young Catholics in the US because there are many fewer serious older Catholics in the US. Smith found that most “emerging adults” — a demographic that includes older teenagers — think of their Catholicism in connection with their family heritage, but that’s about it. Parish life and Catholic school life doesn’t really change that. From the perspective of CUA, the formation of Catholic students who want what CUA has to offer is in serious decline. Thus, its enrollment.

Let’s assume that CUA changed its stance and direction. It might be easy enough to do. Pope Francis has given the school the cover it needs to liberalize: they could call it fidelity to the Holy Father’s “paradigm shift”. What then? I suppose theoretically it could see a rise in applications from nominal Catholics who would be interested in the Washington experience, but can’t afford or can’t get into Georgetown. CUA would become less attractive to students going to college with serious Catholic commitments, but then again, there aren’t a lot of choices for them anyway, so the losses at first might be relatively small.

But over time? Being just one more fallen-away Catholic college among many would pressure CUA constantly to be reinventing itself — no doubt further distancing itself from magisterial Catholicism.

If, however, CUA’s leadership sticks to its current vision, it also seems clear that the university will shrink. This is the cost of being faithful in post-Christian America.

It comes down to a question of vision. Again, conservative Christians like me have long been quick to jeer at liberal churches for casting off dogmas and doctrines that conflict with being a politically correct liberal. We snort when they fail to turn around their institutional decline in terms of numbers.

But what if we are in the same boat? What if those institutions are pursuing a vision that is unpopular, but one its leaders believe to be true? Aren’t we doing the same thing? We can (and should!) point out that the difference is that ours is based in Scripture and Tradition, whereas theirs is built around conforming to the Zeitgeist. But from the point of view of living out ideals, even when it costs you, we are more or less in the same boat.

The common problem is that Americans broadly just aren’t that interested in serious approaches to religion. Leaders of American churches and religious schools and colleges are going to have to face the question of what cost they are willing to pay to be faithful.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput today publishes a beautiful, deep letter he received from a young Catholic man, a husband and father, urging the Catholic bishops to be uphold the truths they’ve been given to teach and to defend. The young man wrote, of the situation in the Catholic Church today:

This shift away from clarity is demoralizing for young faithful Catholics, particularly those with a heart for the New Evangelization and my friends raising children against an ever-stronger cultural tide. Peers of mine who are converts or reverts have specifically cited teachings like Humanae VitaeFamiliaris Consortio, and Veritatis Splendor as beacons that set the Church and her wisdom apart from the world and other faiths. Now they’re hearing from some in the highest levels of the Church that these liberating teachings are unrealistic ideals, and that “conscience” should be the arbiter of truth.

Young Catholics crave the beauty that guided and inspired previous generations for nearly two millennia. Many of my generation received their upbringing surrounded by bland, ugly, and often downright counter-mystical modern church architecture, hidden tabernacles, and banal modern liturgical music more suitable to failed off-Broadway theater. The disastrous effect that Beige Catholicism (as Bishop Robert Barron aptly describes it) has had on my generation can’t be overstated. In a world of soulless modern vulgarity, we’re frustrated by the iconoclasm of the past 60 years.

As young Father Joseph Ratzinger predicted nearly 50 years ago, the Catholic Church would decline precipitously, and lose much. But men and women like the unnamed letter-writer are the seeds of its future, and of its rebirth. This is also true for Protestants and Orthodox. Churches and church institutions can withstand the loss of those nominally committed to the mission, but they cannot withstand the loss of men and women like Archbishop Chaput’s correspondent.

If CUA should become a college where men like that do not want to send their children, what is its reason to exist? If Catholic colleges and universities are nothing more than lightly Catholicized versions of private secular institutions, what’s their point? In another couple of generations, the sentimentality that keeps young people seeking out Catholic schools because it seems like the family thing to do will have dissipated. What then?

UPDATE: A reader of this blog who is — let me put this delicately — in a position to know what’s going on at CUA, e-mails to say that this piece is a symbol of a fundamental conflict at CUA. On this person’s account, there is significant tension between a faction that wants the university to be less Catholic and more conventional, and a faction that wants to double down on Catholic identity. This reader identifies with the latter, which is why he finds the university an appealing place to work. He said that fortunately, the leadership of CUA is firmly committed to Catholicism.

The reader said not to be misled by consultants, who “exist primarily to compare you to other ‘peers’ so that you can behave like them.” The consultants in this case recommended that CUA use photos of the football team in its promotional materials, not students praying. The administration wisely ignored this advice. Said the e-mailer: “No student is going to come to CUA for football or for ‘fun’. But they might come for prayer.”

Bottom line: CUA does face some enrollment issues, but its leadership is strongly focused on Catholic mission and Catholic identity. This source is relatively young, and said this commitment makes CUA a great place to work for him. He said that whatever decline the US Catholic Church might be experiencing, there will always be faithful orthodox Catholics in the US looking for places to send their kids where the kids can get a reliable Catholic formation — and CUA intends to be one of them, and not part of the herd of assimilationist academies.

Great to hear.

UPDATE.2: Erin Manning comments:

Tuition, room, board, and fees at CUA are going to run you almost $61,000 a year. UD is up to a little over $57,000 a year for room, board and tuition (not counting the extra costs of the Rome semester). Most of the other “true Catholic colleges” are going to cost you between $35,000 and $60,000 a year in room, board, and tuition.

We were not blessed with a large family, but in some ways that hurts us more when it comes to financial aid.

I have no problem whatsoever with Catholic colleges and universities for those who can reasonably afford them. I urge caution for parents who would have to go into significant debt, or allow their children to do so, in order to go to these schools; the old “your education is an investment that will pay for itself!” mantra is disintegrating in the global economy (and especially if you study the humanities in a Catholic school), and you can only put off the day of reckoning by getting advanced degrees for so long. And I have no problem whatsoever warning parents who are on the poorer end of the economic spectrum that going deeply into debt (yourself and/or your child) while your child skips things like meals and health care to scrape up one more semester’s worth of Catholic Higher Ed. (while taking plenty of gap semesters/years to work crap jobs and live on a shoestring budget just to get that one more semester) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Some of you will get pressure from your local Catholic friends and/or family to make whatever “sacrifices” are necessary to send your kids to the good Catholic colleges (with dire warnings about how they will all become sexually profligate atheists if they set foot in a secular school), but what you probably don’t realize is that they most likely have resources you don’t (more income, more financial aid, grandparents who chip in, that sort of thing), and their idea of “sacrifice” is “my child doesn’t get as many expensive clothes as her classmates and has to put up with an Android phone,” not “my child ran out of money completely and has borrowed $20 from a classmate to purchase two weeks’ worth of food while she’s waiting for her last paycheck to get deposited.” (Which, by the way, was not something I actually ever told my parents about back in my day when that happened to me.)

Now, if a Catholic educational organization were to create and finance a community college type of entity where young Catholics could obtain an affordable associate’s degree that would meet the requirements to transfer into the local university system so they’d have two years of solid, Catholic-grounded humanities courses as well as some practical STEM classes before finishing up at State U., I’d be excited about that, and would probably support it wholeheartedly. The truth, though, is that for the most part Catholic high school and college education is for the relatively wealthy American Catholic families (and a handful of very poor kids who get full rides). CUA, like all the other Catholic universities, is competing for a niche market within a niche market; that is, for faithful Catholics who value higher Catholic education and expect orthodoxy AND who can afford around 60K per year per child (even if by “afford” we mean “cobble together enough aid to pay for what we can’t cover in cash). Truth is, there aren’t that many people who meet that description anymore, and the orthodox Catholic schools will be competing desperately for the same few slices of an already tiny pie, if they aren’t already.

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Goodbye, Barbara Bush

Mrs. Bush has died. Read these:

She was my favorite First Lady. That Yankee lady had grit. Sadly, I doubt it will be long before her husband of 73 years joins her on the other side. Seems like something important in the American character will pass with them.

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How The Church Discusses Migration

This morning at the Faith Angle Forum, we’re talking about faith and immigration. The speakers are Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Dr. Mark Amstutz, a Wheaton College political scientist.

Sister Norma began by telling heart-rending stories about caring for migrants coming across the US-Mexico border. Their human plight, in her telling, was quite moving.

Dr. Amstutz, by contrast, gave an argument. His basic point was that the all states have to have defensible borders. Protecting human rights and achieving justice depends on a strong, benevolent state. In the immigration debate, he said, these things have to be taken into consideration. Whatever the state decides what to do on immigration has to be done in an orderly, legal way — because this order serves the common good.

In listening to this exchange, I’m struck by the role of emotivism in this discussion. Sister Norma is clearly a compassionate woman, and has a very big heart for these desperate people. On the other hand, to me it seems that she is trying to help migrants violate the law. That’s an uncharitable way to put it, and I keep trying to find a more charitable way to look at it, but the more she explains her position, the harder it is for me to see it in any other way. Her view seems to be that her role as a Christian is to get as many of these migrants into the US as possible — this, as a matter of compassion.

Again, by contrast, Prof. Amstutz is trying to take a more comprehensive view. He described his own view as a “communitarian” perspective — one that tries to balance the wishes of the migrants with the wishes of US citizens. Amstutz said “communitarian” perspective has been discarded by “religious elites”.

One of the journalists present said that after hearing Sister Norma’s account of life at the border, he wondered why he wasn’t there at the border helping her, and why all “decent” — his word — people aren’t doing the same. That struck me as a telling moment, one that showed what a disadvantage people like Prof. Amstutz are when talking about these kinds of issues. As a political scientist, he is trying to bring a philosophical framework to discussing and analyzing immigration. He’s well-spoken, don’t get me wrong, but it’s discouraging to observe how hard it is to have a clear, rational discussion about this issue (and not just immigration).

A journalist asked the two presenters how we determine how many migrants we are to allow into the country. Sister Norma responded by saying that she was speaking to a group of kindergarten students at a Catholic school, and asked them what they thought we should do about all the migrants at the border who are fleeing terrible conditions at home.

The children said, “Let them in,” the nun said. She added, “I don’t know that Jesus would leave anybody out.”

And that was it. This is not thinking. This is emoting — and it is emoting just as much as the kind of rhetoric that Trump and his ilk use when he discusses immigration. Sister Norma is a vastly more genial person than many of the anti-immigrant hotheads are. But it’s still substituting emotion and sloganeering for hard thought about difficult questions.

UPDATE: I had to leave the session at about the halfway point, to go to the airport. The discussion might have taken a different turn later.

UPDATE.2: I’m halfway through approving comments, and it is frustrating how so many readers believe that Sister Norma’s simply telling stories and asserting that Jesus would probably agree with her approach was sufficient. It might be rhetorically effective, but it’s not the same thing as making an argument. She completely ignored in her presentation any contrary ideas. Again, she struck me as a deeply good woman, but if you didn’t already agree with her, she gave you no reason to do so — and no basis on which to think about what immigration law should be. By contrast, Dr. Amstutz — also a Christian, and one who is not opposed to immigration — made a case. A reader points out that Dr. Amstutz once explained his approach in a First Things essay. Excerpt:

The norms of international law stipulate that people have a right to emigrate from their homeland but not a right to immigrate to any particular country. Right of entry can be granted only by the country of destination. Scholars of international relations have developed two approaches to guide these considerations: communitarianism and cosmopolitanism. The policies we favor follow from our loyalty to one of these two approaches. The communitarian favors a more restrictive approach; the cosmopolitan a more open one.

Both seek to promote human dignity. The communitarian sees strong nation-states as crucial. In The Law of Peoples, philosopher John Rawls argues that international peace and justice can only be advanced through well-governed societies. The foundation of a humane global order is the stability provided by nations that take care of their own people and respect the sovereignty of other nations. There are bound to be injustices in this system. Some countries will accord more respect for human rights than others. But without well-governed sovereign nations—strong national communities—the global system will decay into far worse disorder, and the rule of law will weaken within countries.

Recent history supports this view. To the extent that the post–World War II international community has become more humane and prosperous, the cause has been strong, constitutional states. Political ethicist Michael Ignatieff argues: “If we want human rights to be anchored in the world, we cannot want their enforcement to depend on international institutions and NGOs. We want them anchored in the actual practice of sovereign states.” Only national communities have the power consistently to protect rights and enforce laws. Therefore, to advance human dignity and prosperity in the world, we must nourish strong nation-states that are solicitous of the well-being of their citizens and respectful of the sovereignty of other states.

We have a moral duty to care for refugees, but the communitarian insight identifies a concurrent obligation to maintain our own ­societies as stable and well-governed. That means political communities must regulate their borders. Drawing on Rawls, political theorist Stephen Macedo argues, “An immigration policy cannot be considered morally acceptable in justice unless its distributive impact is defensible from the standpoint of disadvantaged Americans.” This does not mean we should not assist foreigners or promote generous immigration policies. Rather, it requires that we give priority to the needs of the most vulnerable in our political community, which today means unskilled American workers. They are the most likely to suffer economically as a result of a larger influx of low-wage immigrants.

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The Hard Road Through The Classroom

Jeremy S. Adams, an award-winning high school teacher, writes about Ten Things Teachers Did Not Have To Deal With Ten Years Ago. He writes:

Something is wrong—very, very wrong. Teachers across the country at all grade levels, in all subjects, teaching a wide variety of student populations, can sense it. There is a pulse of dysfunction, a steady palpitation of doom that the path we are on is not properly oriented.

There is a raw and amorphous anxiety creeping into the psyche of the corps of American teachers.

We may have trouble pinpointing the exact moment when something in our schools and broader culture went wildly astray, leaving in its wake teachers sapped of optimism and weighted with enervate comprehension. The following is a small sampling—this list could easily have been twice as long if my conversations with fellow teachers are any indication—of problems that teachers were not facing ten years ago.

Every failure of civil society—institutional rot, political cynicism and polarization, tattered family and other filial relations, depressed expectations of student behavior, a preening and non-apologetic narcissism, extravagant self-regard, anti-intellectualism in our minds and moral relativism in our hearts—manifests itself in our schools. The result is a weight of responsibility, an anvil of obligation, now pushing against the outer periphery of what schools can realistically achieve given their inherent limitations. It is no headline to announce that schools mirror the dysfunction of society writ large. With this in mind, I offer the following list of ten things teachers did not have to deal with just a decade ago.

His list includes:

#1: The Inability to Punish Students: This is a story in modern education that is big and is about to get much bigger. A hodge-podge of policies and euphemisms—restorative justice, social-emotional learning, banning punitive actions for defiant and vulgar students—has resulted in a toxic situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools. While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, as is often the case, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country. While suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline, there absolutely must be consequences to destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well behaved and want to learn.

#2: Cell Phone Addiction: The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom. The statistics are jarring by any account: teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cell phone addicts swipe, touch, or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day. The correlation between cell phone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance is beyond question.

#3: Online Bullying: When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself. Nowadays there is no escape and the effects are daunting. One in three children have been threatened online and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell any adults about it. It is not hyperbole or embellishment to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults. We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents. We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. I would like to know from teachers in this blog’s readership if any (or all) of this resonates. What else would you put on the list? What needs to happen to make things improve?

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Beyond Christian Vs. Muslim Politics

I’m at the Faith Angle Forum in Miami Beach. On Monday, the group of journalists assembled here heard from scholars Shadi Hamid and Altaf Husain, talking about Islam and American life, and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, on the subject of Judaism and American life. I can’t remember where I heard this — I think Shadi said it — but it remains on my mind: American Muslims are socially conservative, in general, but have turned firmly to the Democratic Party because they don’t trust Republicans to look out for them.

I get that. It’s also true, though, that there are Christian conservatives who would be willing to vote Democratic, if only out of frustration and even disgust with the GOP today, if they could trust the Democrats to respect religious liberty (read: not to try to shut down our colleges and institutions because we’re insufficiently woke on LGBT rights).

I don’t see any way out of this impasse for either Muslims and Republicans, or conservative Christians and Democrats.

But here is some good news. At least I think so. We have to start thinking beyond politics, to cultural engagement.

Shadi Hamid and I have been e-mailing for a short while, talking about the prospect of finding common ground between traditional American Christians and traditional American Muslims. We planned to talk about it in person when we saw each other at this conference. On Monday night we had a good conversation about it. Shadi is not a conservative, but he’s a Muslim-American political scientist interested in the intersection of interests between Christians like me and Muslims.

We agreed that it would be worth trying to organize a conference at which traditional Christians and traditional Muslims could talk about issues of mutual interest. We agreed that it’s pointless to get together a group of right-minded liberal Muslims and liberal Christians to talk about blah blah blah. The thing we’d like to see is a serious exchange between trads on both sides, to talk about issues of mutual concern in ordinary life — and to explore ways we might support each other.

It’s like this. It’s not easy to be a Christian who dissents from mainstream American consumer life. I hear about Muslim families who want to raise kids to respect God and the traditional family, and to share their faith in community, then hey, if they want to live peaceably with me and my people, then I want to be a blessing to them. In all seriousness, I would rather have them live next door to me than unbelievers, or Christians who didn’t take the faith seriously. It’s not that I think all religious faiths are the same (I certainly don’t), but that I feel a natural sympathy for men and women who are trying to live in a countercultural way out of traditional religious conviction.

Altaf Husain told the gathering today that he and his wife homeschool their kids. Hey, we’ve done that! It’s been difficult, but great. What has the Muslim experience been like? I’d like to know. How can we work together to protect the liberty of parents to homeschool?

We really need to talk.

The clash between Islam and the mainstream in Europe is very different from what we’re dealing with in the US. Maybe if we engage with each other now, here in America, we can head off some of the seemingly irreconcilable problems that Europe now faces. Mostly though, I think we are far enough past 9/11 to where traditionalist Christians and traditionalist Muslims can meet for constructive dialogue. How can we help each other be faithful in a post-Christian, post-religious America? How can we stand together to defend religious liberty?

Are Modern Orthodox Jews interested in joining the conversation? I hope so.

Robbie George, what say you? Let’s put something together.

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View From Your Table

Miami Beach, Florida

Watermelon mojito, while I’m just a-prayin’ for my poor old pal Denny Burk, beat up by the winter that won’t quit:

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