How To Prepare For Coming Crackdown
Lieutenant Colonel (USA, Ret) Alexander Braszko served the country for 22 years as a Military Intelligence and Space Operations officer. He has extensive experience integrating space, cyberspace and information operations capabilities into Army and Joint operations. He deployed to South Korea, Kosovo, and Iraq during his career. After leaving the Army, he became Kansas City, Missouri’s Chief Innovation Officer, where he used his insights into emerging technologies to improve municipal operations. He helped create an Emerging Technology Board in the city, charged with fostering a system of collaboration between city departments, law enforcement, and community representatives on controversial emerging technology initiatives including ShotSpotter, facial recognition software, autonomous drones, and autonomous vehicles.
In other words, the man knows what he’s talking about. He’s also a practicing Orthodox Christian, husband and father to 5 children, and describes himself as “an ardent supporter of data privacy and preserving our Constitutional freedoms.”
Alex Braszko agreed to do a written interview with me, via e-mail. The following responses are his personal answers and in no way reflect official policies of any organization. The emphases in the text below are all in the original text.
Rod Dreher: Thanks for your kind words about my book. Given your background and expertise, what are its most important lessons for Christians?
Alex Braszko: Rod, the most important lessons I garnered from your book are:
1. That we need to remain vigilant to the academic, corporate, and political efforts within our country seeking to fundamentally change and inhibit our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
2. That there are very real machinations ongoing in our country that mimic some of what we saw in Eastern European and Asian countries prior to their falling under the yoke of Communism.
3. That there are specific things we can be doing as Christians to preserve our faith, our traditions, and our values as individuals attempt to take away the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Christian Americans.
4. That we need to be willing to live a life apart from the crowd, but that there are many, many individuals and families like ours, sharing the same sets of values and beliefs we cherish.
5. Finally, we need to be willing to, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong!” (1 Cor 16:13) We need to support our brothers and sisters in Christ as they struggle with persecution from today’s secular world.
It is clear that after the January 6 assault on the Capitol, we will all be living in a very different security environment. I don’t want to put you in the position of saying whether that is good, bad, or otherwise. What I would like to know is what specifically should political and religious conservatives be doing now to accommodate ourselves to this new reality?
First, we must understand that the witch hunt we see taking place today against conservative Americans by politicians and mainstream media will continue for the foreseeable future. Dealing with doxing and public criticism for ascribing to our beliefs is something we should all expect. Hacks into our online accounts, monitoring of our online activities are all realities of the world we live in today. If we have been guilty in the past of sinning against our brother or sister, expressing hate or discord ourselves, we need to repent of those sins and ask God and others for forgiveness of our transgressions and then do them no more.
We need to prepare now for how we will respond when politically motivated and unpleasant events occur in our lives. An important part of that preparation comes from praying beforehand for God’s guidance, patience, and wisdom in dealing with those that literally hate us, want to publicly ridicule us, and physically injure us for our faith. Acknowledge that persecution is coming, begin praying for God’s strength to endure now.
We also need to commit to speaking and living in Truth. Not being bullied into compliance or intimidated for believing what we believe. The next few years will really separate the wheat from the chaff in our churches, and we need to resolve to remain strong in our faith.
From a technology perspective, from a practical perspective, we need to realize we lived without social media platforms in the past, and we can live happily without them in the future. Anything we post on social media must be something we are willing to account for publicly, as if it was getting printed for public record, because that’s exactly what our online and social media comments, posts, blogs are: Public Record. As we witnessed with Parler, no platform or app should be considered private — not Signal, not ProtonMail, despite them being advertised as encrypted. Again, if there’s something you need to say that you don’t want a public record of, you should not be using any means of technology to communicate it.
Also, if we haven’t learned it by now, our smartphones, their cameras and microphones, are windows into our most private spaces, into our very personal lives. While I personally believe my posts, my pictures and videos should be my data, even when posted in a public facing forum, that’s obviously not the case. If I take a picture and hold it up in the middle of a city, that picture in my hand is still my personal property. I believe the same should hold true in our online forums, but that’s not the case.
If your computer, or Smart TV, occupies a central part of your house where you have honest and potentially controversial conversations, you may look at moving it to a more remote location. If you don’t have a RFID or Faraday box for your phones when you have conversations around the dinner table, you might consider getting one, and practice using it now. If you don’t have a small RFID or Faraday case for your smartphone, for when you’re driving around and shopping, you might consider getting one. But whatever you do, you have to practice something akin to what we in the military call OPSEC, Operational Security, to preserve your data privacy. Don’t go to the wrong or compromising sites, don’t assume your phone can’t be interrogated or collected on… don’t assume your photos are private or secure, because they’re not. Even on airplane mode. Even when you think they’re turned off. You’re still being watched on Privacy Mode. You can never truly erase your search history. If you’ve got kids, teach them the value of cyber anonymity, the dangers of posting political rhetoric online.
Can you live without Facebook? Great, get rid of it! Can you live without Twitter? Great, get rid of it. Do you have to use Amazon or for a little extra inconvenience can you support local businesses? Great, then get rid of or limit your Amazon purchases and buy local. Big Tech has been collecting, selling, and profiting from your personal information for years, and you’re getting nothing for it. Why continue to support them as if your lives depended on it? Why act like an addict that can’t let go of social media platforms? Surveillance Capitalism is alive and well; let’s not play into Big Tech’s hands.
Pay attention to how the 6 January Capitol Hill activities transpired. Pay attention to how those conducting criminal activities were caught. Press reports their phones’ IMEIs and IMSIs were collected and geographically located and attributed to individuals as they connected to nearby cell towers. We saw individual photos, videos and comments were posted online to social media and then captured by hackers. Even after people tried to delete their accounts, that information was already recorded in time and space and attributed to those individuals’ names. Do not assume your phone, your computer, your smart tv, your Fitbit are private and controlled solely by you. They are not.
You are a churchgoing man. What should we be doing spiritually to adjust?
As mentioned above, we need to be repenting for our sins, praying for strength, patience, wisdom and God’s guidance in the challenges we face.We need to be reading our Bible and writing its truths on our heart. We also need to be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially for our leaders. Church leadership and government leaders. We need to fearlessly teach our children, loved ones, friends the Truth, the Good News, to hold firm to their faith while the world around them feeds them political half-truths and outright lies. We need to be able to practice our faith at home, read the stories of the martyrs, and remind ourselves how the early Church survived persecution. Also, a good friend of mine reminded me recently that we need to “show real love in every instance, every encounter, every scenario we face.” He hit the nail on the head, and that love goes hand in hand with God’s Truth.
What lifestyle changes should we be making? For example, should people head for the hills? What would that even mean in a networked world?
So, the Benedict Option is a viable option in my opinion! As is moving out to the country, as my wife and I did many years ago. It feels safer out here, surrounded on all sides by friends and family, where we know the local government officials, sheriff’s deputies, and highway patrolmen. We feel we can more easily protect ourselves, provide for ourselves from a survival perspective, and our neighbors notice strangers and let us know when they see them! Honestly, there’s a lot to be said for living in the country. If you can live 30-45 minutes outside a major metropolitan area, in my opinion, that’s the sweet spot.
But it can also be lonely out in the country, which is why living around an Orthodox community, church or monastery, in my mind, makes sense. There is strength in numbers, and it’s comforting to live amongst folks that share the same values and beliefs you do. As Orthodox Christians, we have to drive anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to get to an Orthodox Church. It’s worth it, in our opinion, but it takes commitment.
What does it mean when we live in a networked world? Well, when we visited my in-laws roughly two decades ago, the country was a different world. I don’t believe they even had dial up back then. And if they had cell phones, and that was a big “if”, they were dumb phones. Today, folks around here get fed the same propaganda from mainstream media we all do; it’s the same in the country as in the city. The same sort of conversations are taking place in the boonies as they are in the cities, only with a different slant to the responses, of course. Living in the country is no guarantee that you won’t face persecution in your online forums, online posts and interactions — unfortunately. What it does mean is that you can live without that sort of influence in your life if you’d like, if you choose, without so many leftist individuals getting in your face and in your business.
What role does trust play in this new and fast-onrushing world?
Trust? Trust what, who? I trust God. I trust my wife, my family. I trust a few close friends we have developed over the years and a few neighbors around us. I trust my priest. That’s about it. I don’t trust mainstream media. I don’t trust “scientific experts” who have values different from my own. I trust scientific experts that share my philosophies on life and who share my faith. I don’t trust political parties, which is why I’m registered as an Independent. I certainly don’t trust politicians. I definitely don’t trust China or Russia! I also don’t trust my devices, my apps, my computer, my phone, my iPad, my smart TV. I know Big Tech does not have my best interests in mind when they censor my comments, sell my data, and force their political opinions into my online experiences. As Christians, we’ve learned we can’t trust a simple Google Search, or Wikipedia, as they’re redefining things to fit their narratives.
Bottom line, I don’t put my hope and trust in Pharaoh, in men, in princes, in government and political leaders.
What would you say to people who believe the things you and I are talking about here are alarmist?
My grandfather had a typing business in Russia. In 1917, on a dark and rainy night, my grandfather returned home late in the evening from work. Through the rain, he saw the lights on in his house, but noticed men surrounding it and men inside the house. He witnessed some terrible things being done to his family that night by Bolsheviks as he hid in the shadows, the full details of which he discovered much later, and learned that those men were after him, a White Russian, to “give him the bayonet” because of his political leanings and the fact he was a business owner. One of his children was killed that night, and atrocities committed against his wife and daughter. Communists shattered his world. He returned a few years later after escaping Russia with a group of Cossacks to fight the Soviets. People told him he was being alarmist in the beginning, too. Nothing but the grace of God prevents those same things from happening in our own country today. So, no, I don’t think I’m being alarmist. I think we’re being vigilant, I think we’re being observant, thinking critically about what happened historically in many other countries, looking at similarities taking place in our own country today. And it’s really not good what we’re witnessing.
It’s much easier to stick our heads in the sand, to divert our eyes from Truth and turn to the ease and conveniences offered up to us. We like to tell ourselves, “If we just trust our political leaders, buy into mainstream narratives and secular dogma we hear every single day, things will be easier!.” But we know our hope is in our Savior, in Christ Jesus. As much as he suffered for us, buying into the lies the world feeds us is an insult to His sacrifice and love for us. We need to fight the good fight and run the race for our salvation, because in the end, that’s what truly matters.
There’s a lot more in Live Not By Lies. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. Here is a link to a free, downloadable study guide for the book. It meant a lot to me to have a Christian with a career’s worth of experience in the intelligence field tell me that all the material in my book about surveillance capitalism, and surveillance itself, is dead on target.
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Christianity In Public Life OK Again
Gosh, it seems like just yesterday that the dogma was living loud within orthodox, conservative Christians, which made them a threat to American public life. Now, though, the media tells us that public Christianity is good again, because liberal Catholic Joe Biden is in the White House.
Mr. Biden, perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century, regularly attends Mass and speaks of how his Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies.
And with Mr. Biden, a different, more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality.
Mr. Biden’s leadership is a repudiation of the claim by many conservative leaders that Democrats are inherently anti-Christian.
His rise comes as fewer registered Democrats identify as Christian. Nearly half are religiously unaffiliated or believers of other faiths, a share that has grown significantly in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center; about 80 percent of registered Republicans are Christian.
Well, hold on. Democrats are not anti-Christian when the Christianity does not challenge their political and cultural priorities. Joe Biden is pro-choice and a maximalist on LGBT rights. He even (civilly) married a gay couple in his office when he was vice president. Biden is no opponent of the Sexual Revolution; in fact, his purpose, as we see in stories like this one, is to institutionalize it, both in fact and in cultural perception.
There is no way small-o orthodox, biblical Christianity can be reconciled with abortion rights or with the redefinition of the family, and the negation of male and female. Liberal Christians disagree; I believe they are wrong. Many liberal Christians are also willing to see orthodox Christians and their institutions persecuted by the state for standing on orthodoxy.
If Biden were to advocate for immigrants, poverty relief, and other priorities of the Religious Left, and also advocate for the other side of Catholic social teaching (on family, on the right to life, against gender ideology), there would be some religious conservatives who opposed him, but I think he would be pretty much in the political center of American life. Personally, I would happily take a Democratic president who followed the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching, not just the parts that make the Left happy. But that’s not what’s on offer.
I suspect there is a thrill running up the leg of mainstream media journalists, thinking that finally a Religious Left guy is in the White House, and that’s going to turn things around. Note well that the Democratic Party is rapidly secularizing. It makes room for religious people whose religious views do not threaten the Sexual Revolution.
Of course, Biden faces harsh opposition, not least from other Catholics. The morning of the Inauguration, as Biden went to St. Matthew the Apostle, the Catholic cathedral in the capital, for a Mass attended by Speaker Pelosi and other government figures, the Catholic bishops released a long missive by their conference president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, of Los Angeles, expressing an eagerness to work with the new President, but upbraiding him for holding positions “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” that “would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity,” and implying that Biden’s approach to Catholicism posed a threat to religious freedom. The same Catholic traditionalists who detest Pope Francis detest the new President, and spiteful right-wing resistance may block any progressive initiative from Biden, as it has blocked those of Francis in Rome.
In this moment, it’s strange to think of Joe Biden, for so long a workhorse legislator in a blue blazer, as a redemptive figure. It’s strange that progressives, who are generally leery of Vatican authority, are frankly hoping that American politics will be inspired by the Pope—and hoping that a Pope might move a Democratic President further to the left. It’s strange that a Church whose followers have been harmed and angered by decades of negligence on clerical sexual abuse can still be seen as a source of civic healing. And yet the second Catholic President can hardly afford not to draw on his religion; with the country wracked by a pandemic, a recession, and political violence, he is going to need every source of reconciliation and moral authority available to him.
It’s strange, because Biden’s version of Catholicism really does pose a threat to religious freedom, when it clashes with LGBT rights. Biden’s party famously holds “religious liberty” to be a dog whistle for gay hatred — this, even though staunch gay rights advocate Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown law professor, conceded in this 2006 interview with Maggie Gallagher that there is an irreconcilable conflict between religious liberty and gay rights (Feldblum thinks in these cases, gay rights should prevail). Archbishop Gomez is factually correct.
It’s also strange, because it’s all about projection. Elie writes, “The hope is that the Biden Administration will invigorate American Catholicism, and vice versa.” Well, let me ask: did the Trump administration invigorate American Christianity, and vice versa? I am grateful for the good things Trump did to protect unborn life and religious liberty — and note well that Trump, who is barely a Christian, did these things, while churchgoing Biden is reversing them — but it would be hard for anybody to say honestly that Christianity is in a better position in America in 2021 than it was in 2017, when Trump took office.
Some of that is Trump’s fault, but mostly it’s because there are deep secularizing trends in American culture that are more powerful than any president of either party. Left-wing Catholics and other Christians who put their religious hopes in a political figure are going to be sorely disappointed — as anybody could have told right-wing Christians regarding Trump.
Religion is rapidly declining in the United States, across the board. But the decline is much stronger among people who identify as Democrats, according to Pew data:
The religious profile of white Democrats is very different from the religious profile of racial and ethnic minorities within the Democratic Party. Today, fewer than half of white Democrats describe themselves as Christians, and just three-in-ten say they regularly attend religious services. More than four-in-ten white Democrats are religious “nones,” and fully seven-in-ten white Democrats say they attend religious services no more than a few times a year. Black and Hispanic Democrats are far more likely than white Democrats to describe themselves as Christians and to say they attend religious services regularly, though all three groups are becoming less Christian.
Joe Biden is an outlier in his own party. I wonder how many of Biden’s grandchildren go to mass regularly. I don’t say that to be mean, but to ask how Grampa Joe’s “devout Catholicism,” as his press secretary called it, has been passed down to the next generations in the Biden family. That’s the story — a story that I believe is reflected in this other observation from a different Pew study:
Catholicism has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S. Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as Protestants, or with another religion. By contrast, 2% of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism – people who now identify as Catholic after having been raised in another religion (or no religion). This means that there are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith. No other religious group analyzed in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study has experienced anything close to this ratio of losses to gains via religious switching.
What sense does it make for Catholics of either political side to look to a secular figure to reverse their religious fortunes? American Catholicism is doing a poor job of keeping its children in the faith, period — though the numbers indicate that the loss among liberal Catholics is much greater. That’s not much for conservative Catholics to crow about, mind you, but it tells you something about the kind of people who remain religiously devout in this era of de-Christianization. Again, it tells us very little about Catholicism’s future in America to look to a 78-year-old liberal Catholic. Look to the 18-29 year old Catholics — of whom there are many fewer than one would like.
This is not hard to understand, at least not in principle. Religions that make demands on their followers will be more resilient than religions that do not. Why go to church if all your church asks of you is to conform to whatever is popular in secular culture? And, drawing on the research of sociologist of religion Christian Smith and his teams of scholars over the years — he’s the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism guy — we know that the overwhelming majority of Americans under 40 have no strong religious beliefs. I wrote about this in The Benedict Option. Excerpt:
Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life. It has already happened in most of them. In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they found was that in most cases, teenagers adhered to a mushy pseudoreligion the researchers deemed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).
MTD has five basic tenets:
• A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
• God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
• The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
• God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
• Good people go to heaven when they die.
This creed, they found, is especially prominent among Catholic and Mainline Protestant teenagers. Evangelical teenagers fared measurably better but were still far from historic biblical orthodoxy. Smith and Denton claimed that MTD is colonizing existing Christian churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is “only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition.”
MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering—the Way of the Cross—as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort.
As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians surveyed said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality.
An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.”
These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed—or rather, failed to form—their consciences and their imaginations.
MTD is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now, though that may have been disguised.
“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”
The data from Smith and other researchers make clear what so many of us are desperate to deny: the flood is rising to the rafters in the American church. Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised so much with the world that it has been compromised in its faithfulness. Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?
Nobody but the most deluded of the old-school Religious Right believes that this cultural revolution can be turned back. The wave cannot be stopped, only ridden. With a few exceptions, conservative Christian political activists are as ineffective as White Russian exiles, drinking tea from samovars in their Paris drawing rooms, plotting the restoration of the monarchy.
These same liberal Catholics looked for a “Francis effect” — for the accession of a progressive Catholic pope to invigorate liberal Catholicism by attracting more people, especially the young. Didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen. But conservative Catholics had better not make the mistake of thinking that a more politicized Catholicism, to the Right, is going to do them any good. I get e-mails from faithful orthodox Catholics who are driven to despair by the fact that their parishes are more interested in the emanations from the Trumposphere, and the latest pronouncements of Archbishop Vigano, than they are about the basics of the faith. That’s a dead end too. Struggling to transform the Catholic Church into the Democratic Party at Prayer, or Team Trump at Prayer, will at best distract Catholics from doing the real work of shoring up the church for the hard times coming.
Calling a form of religion “liberal” can mean two different things: On the one hand, a theological liberalism, which seeks an evolution in doctrine to adapt to modern needs; on the other, support for policies and parties of the center-left. In practice, though, the two tend to be conjoined: The American Catholic Church as an institution is caught between the two political coalitions, but most prominent Catholic Democrats are liberals in theology and politics alike.
But more than a set of ideas, liberal Catholicism is a culture, recognizable in its institutions and tropes, its iconography and allusions — to Pope John XXIII and Jesuit universities, to the “seamless garment” of Catholic teaching and the “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council, to the works of Thomas Merton and hymns like “On Eagle’s Wings” (which Biden quoted in his victory speech).
And, of course, invocations of Pope Francis. A decade ago it was a commonplace to regard liberal Catholicism as a tradition in decline. Its period of maximal influence, the late 1960s and 1970s, had been an era of institutional crisis for the church, which gave way to the conservative pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Conservative Catholics felt that liberal ideas had been tried and failed, liberal Catholics felt that they had been suppressed.
But then Francis gave the liberal tendency new life, reopening controversies that conservatives assumed were closed and tilting the Vatican toward cooperation with the liberal establishment and away from associations with conservatism.
Here’s something interesting: in their teachings on economic and environmental matters, Popes John Paul II and Benedict were unquestionably more on the Left, at least on the US political spectrum. The media tagged them as conservatives because those popes held the line on matters pertaining to the Sexual Revolution. That is the thing that matters above all to most Democratic partisans and their allies in the media.
On the other hand, liberal Catholicism sometimes achieves its feeling of universality by simply claiming for itself the whole Catholic-influenced world — sure, he’s no longer a practicing Catholic, but did you know that Dr. Anthony Fauci was educated by Jesuits? — without regard to whether that influence actually amounts to much more than a vague spirituality, a generic humanitarianism.
Which means that the liberal Catholic worldview is constantly in danger of simply being subsumed into political liberalism, with all religious distinctives shorn away — as Joe Biden’s past pro-life positions have now been entirely subsumed, for instance, by his party’s orthodoxy on abortion. Or alternatively, it’s in danger of being effectively taken over from within by rival forms of faith, like the new progressive orthodoxies that are likely to set our Catholic president’s agenda on the social questions of the day.
This is a struggle that is going to take place — and is likely already taking place — within nearly all American churches. White Evangelicalism, especially at the institutional level, is at the moment being shaken by Critical Race Theory, a conflict fueled in part by anger over the Trump legacy within Evangelical culture. There will also be arguments over sexuality and race in other churches, including the Orthodox churches. On Saturday, I am giving a prominent lecture via Zoom, under the auspices of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. I will talk about Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and the challenges facing Orthodox Christians in the post-Christian era.
I will speak as an Orthodox, to an Orthodox audience, but believe me, the things I will talk about are universal within American Christianity. Some prominent progressive Orthodox Christians went all-out to try to get my talk cancelled — these are the same people who gas on about the importance of “dialogue” — but SVOTS held firm. My lecture will be at 2pm Eastern on Saturday, via Zoom. You have to register in advance, though, and space is limited.
To conclude, my advice is that the eye-rolling celebrations in the media of Biden’s Christianity should neither surprise us nor distract us. Again, the media are happy to celebrate forms of Christianity, and prominent Christians, who conform to progressive beliefs. Of course they’re hypocrites, but this is not news. What we theological and moral conservatives should not do is allow ourselves to get distracted by political fighting. I’m not at all saying to be quietist about politics, but I am saying to give politics its proper place. The extraordinary challenges facing Christianity in this de-Christianizing era cannot be met adequately with politics alone. If you are a Christian who is more passionate about Joe Biden or Donald Trump than you are about whether or not you and your family are living the faith in ways that run counter to our consumerist, relativist, online-dominated culture, your priorities are wrong.
What good does it do a Christian to have his favorite politician win the White House, but to lose his children or grandchildren to the faith? I think that so many US Christians — liberals and conservatives alike — focus so intensely on politics because it offers a measure of success. You either win or you lose elections. We like to believe that our religious faction has won when we get a president we like, because it gives us a boost. If I were a liberal Catholic, I would be happy that one of my tribe is now POTUS, but I hope I would have the sense to understand that this is not going to do much of anything to stanch the hemorrhaging out of young people, both from the Catholic Church and the Mainline Protestant churches, which have heavily bought in on religious progressivism. This alarming fact will be covered by what Douthat sees as the strategy of claiming that anybody who identifies in any way as Catholic is Catholic, though it doesn’t actually mean much in the real world. (For example, my parents’ generation is filled with Christians who call themselves devout, but who weren’t big churchgoers, and who didn’t perceive the threat from de-Christianization. You can see the effects of this in their children’s and grandchildren’s generation.)
The kind of Christians who will still be Christian in fifty years are those who have been prepared to suffer for the faith, in ways both small and big. They will be the kind of Christians who see in their religion truth claims that can withstand rejection by popular culture, and even persecution. They will be the kind of Christians who attend churches that demand something of them. They will be the kind of Christians who don’t compartmentalize their faith, taking religion out only for Sundays and holidays, but rather incorporate it into their daily lives.
I don’t believe that what we call “progressive Christianity” today will make it, because the distortions of Scripture and Tradition that progressives have to make in order to affirm the Sexual Revolution are so great that you’re left wondering what, if anything, is binding about a religion whose doctrines and disciplines are nothing but Silly Putty. But a conservative Christianity that does nothing but find ways to sanctify what Republicans or Trumpists believe is not going to have the strength to endure either.
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Well, we are at the end of what for me was a tough week. Below, a bunch of little things worth noting:
I work at a small company in the software industry. We provide our services to various organizations to help them meet government and regulatory requirements, including how the companies they hire for services pose a risk to their business. I work for a fairly conservative company, and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ideology has not taken hold publicly in management, nor has there been anything in online company chat groups.
Below is an article that addresses a consistent thread throughoutLive Not by Lies, as well as your reporting over the past several years: the influence of the power holders on culture. It is from the Credit Union Times, discussing “DEI in 2021:Gender Affirmation Benefits Find More Support Among Employers.” As described, employers, or those in white collar positions of power, are those pushing to have these services provided to employees. There is no indication this is a desired service for anyone other than the employers. And they do their due diligence of course, by quoting the Human Rights Campaign (sarcasm).
A stark quote jumped out to me that seems to demonstrate the utterly contradictory nature of the DEI movement: “Employers want to create a culture where employees feel no one is being treated differently.” Haven’t we heard over the past year’s worth of protests and riots that to treat people the same is to be a racist? It seems the white collar power holders are not listening to their credentialed overlords in the academy, nor their own rhetoric when they put out press releases to support the protests / riots, or their ketman in not rocking the boat.
News From The Monks Of Norcia
They have restored the ruined church on the mountain! Here’s a screenshot from their latest newsletter:
They also sent out a sampling of the texts they listened to during meals last year, as is the Benedictine tradition. Very small-c catholic!
New The General Eclectic Video Podcast
My podcast partner Kale Zelden and I are getting better at this, though the video on my end was scruffy. Here’s our third episode. It’s going to move to TAC soon:
Kamala Harris Explains ‘Equity’
Some readers of this blog say that my criticism of the Biden executive order demanding “equity” in federal employment was too negative. All Biden said is that there should be racial impartiality in hiring, they say. What these readers don’t understand is that “equity” does not mean “impartiality in hiring.” It means that any outcomes that do not reflect ethnic proportionality are understood by that fact to have been racist. We are talking about the difference between equality of opportunity, and equality of outcome. Harris herself posted this short video during the campaign to make clear what they mean:
There’s a big difference between equality and equity. pic.twitter.com/n3XfQyjLNe
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 1, 2020
Biden’s Pro-Trans Executive Order
The president’s executive order this week compels schools that receive federal funding to allow males who identify as females to compete in athletics as women. A reader who is an athlete writes:
The Boston Marathon was not run last year because of Covid-19, but the time I ran at a marathon earlier in 2020 would have put me in 277th place in my age group at the 2019 Boston Marathon.
In the same age group for women, I would have been in the top 10.
They better get ready for the fast broad with the beard, because here they come.
Bari Weiss’s Substack Newsletter
I’ve subscribed to it. Here’s a link to the new one (it’s free for now). Excerpt:
The truth is that Joe Biden is a fig leaf. He is a fig leaf for the deep problems that roil our country, for the totalizing ideologies spreading through the nation like wildfire, and for the dramatic political realignment that we are living through.
I understand people breathing a sigh of relief. I did. But the Joe Biden presidency will require a different kind of attentiveness. The maladies of the Trump era were painfully obvious, sometimes dangerous, and often clownish. QAnon is not exactly subtle. Leaving aside Majorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, Trumpian forces don’t hold much power in American life. But the fringe ideologues on the left are savvy, smart, and organized, with purchase at every level of American culture and politics.
Consider the fact that Hillary Clinton recorded a podcast with Nancy Pelosi this week in which she said of Trump: “I would love to see his phone records to see whether he was talking to Putin the day that the insurgents invaded our Capitol.” And the speaker of the House responded: “All roads lead to Putin.”
Really? That’s still the play after four years?
The group that fell for Russiagate has long owned the culture. Now it’s won the presidency and controls Congress. What will happen?
I’ll leave it to the rest of the press to compete over who can signal the most outrage over a Vogue cover of Kamala Harris:
Opinion | Vogue’s Kamala Harris cover shows that diminishing powerful Black women is still in fashion https://t.co/Q0jKtmB9NH
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) January 14, 2021
Or how to properly praise the Biden administration’s pyrotechnic aesthetic:
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Biden’s Culture War Blitzkrieg
Today is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, which gave unrestricted right to women to abort their unborn children. Over 60 million Americans have died at the hands of an abortionist since then. Yesterday, a reporter asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki about Joe Biden’s pro-abortion views, related to his Catholic faith.
Psaki’s comments came during her first press conference Wednesday, where an EWTN Global Catholic Network reporter asked her about “two big concerns for pro-life Americans” — the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy. The former bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion under most circumstances, while the latter restricts taxpayer funding of abortion abroad. “What is President Biden doing on those two items right now?” reporter Owen Jensen asked.
Psaki responded that the administration would have more to say on the Mexico City Policy, adding: “I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he is a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly. He started his day attending church with his family this morning but I don’t have anything more for you on that.”
In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack. We are deeply committed to making sure everyone has access to care – including reproductive health care – regardless of income, race, zip code, health insurance status, or immigration status.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe. We are also committed to ensuring that we work to eliminate maternal and infant health disparities, increase access to contraception, and support families economically so that all parents can raise their families with dignity. This commitment extends to our critical work on health outcomes around the world.
As the Biden-Harris Administration begins in this critical moment, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all individuals have access to the health care they need.
See, this is why many devout Catholics preferred the barely-Christian Presbyterian Donald Trump to the churchgoing Catholic Joe Biden: one was committed to policies that saved the lives of the unborn, the other is committed to policies that make it possible to exterminate them. Such is the devotion of many Baby Boomer Catholics: an attachment to the Church, except when it interferes with the Sexual Revolution.
It’s not surprising that a Democratic administration is all-in on abortion rights. It is appalling that a Catholic president who presents himself as a “devout Catholic” is.
How do we know when “equity” has been achieved? That’s a very good question. It seems to me that the only definition of “equity” that works is that all groups are represented in federal policies in proportion to their share of the population, or more so — since equity can also require over-representation of these groups to make up for the past. The fact that an individual born, say, in the early 21st Century, has no personal or moral connection to slavery or segregation (au contraire), is irrelevant. She must pay for the past sins of her race.
Biden is therefore enforcing the Ibram X. Kendi view that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.” And he’s enforcing it across the entire federal government and any institution the federal government funds. To show he’s serious, he’s appointed Susan Rice to enforce equity in a “whole-of-government” approach. America is no longer about individual freedom; it’s about identity group power, and its constant management by government.
Biden’s executive order on “LGBTQ+” is also taken directly from critical gender and queer theory. Take the trans question. Most decent people support laws that protect transgender people from discrimination — which, after the Bostock decision, is already the law of the land. But this is not enough for Biden. He takes the view that the law should go further and insist that trans women are absolutely indistinguishable from biological women — which erases any means of enforcing laws that defend biological women as a class. If your sex is merely what you say it is, without any reference to biological reality, then it is no longer sex at all. It’s gender, period. It’s socially constructed all the way down.
Most of the time, you can ignore this insanity and celebrate greater visibility and protection for trans people. But in a few areas, biology matters. Some traumatized women who have been abused by men do not want to be around biological males in prison or shelters, even if they identify as women. I think these women should be accommodated. There are also places where we segregate by sex — like showers, locker rooms — for reasons of privacy. I think that allowing naked biological men and boys to be in the same showers as naked biological women and girls is asking for trouble — especially among teens. But for Biden, this is non-negotiable, and all objections are a function of bigotry.
And in sports, the difference between the physiology of men and women makes a big difference. That’s the entire point of having separate male and female sports, in the first place. Sure, you can suppress or enhance hormones. But you will never overcome the inherited, permanent effects of estrogen and testosterone in childhood and adolescence. Male and female bodies are radically different, because without that difference, our entire species would not exist. Replacing sex with gender threatens women’s sports for that simple reason.
For good measure, Biden also pledges to remove any protection for orthodox religious freedom and individual conscience in “LGBTQ+” areas in his proposed Equality Act, which repeals the relevant sections of Biden’s own Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and also makes sex indistinguishable from gender.
I wonder if Joe Biden even knows what critical theory is. But he doesn’t have to. It is the successor ideology to liberalism among elites, a now-mandatory ideology if you want to keep your job. But Biden’s emphatic backing of this illiberal, discriminatory project on his first day is relevant. He has decided to encourage “unity” by immediately pursuing policies that inflame Republicans and conservatives and normies more than any others.
The thing about lefties and the culture war is that they consider any objection or resistance to what they want to do to be an act of aggression. Biden is undertaking a culture war Blitzkrieg here, but nobody in the media will notice. The rest of us had better.
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Quotas Are Back
If you think that this means he’s asking managers to make sure racial discrimination is not happening in their agency, you’re mostly wrong. All decent people would want to see racial discrimination eliminated in government agencies — but that’s not what “equity” means. You may not understand that “equity,” in Wokish, is not the same thing as “equality.” As the always-useful Translations From The Wokish glossary explains, in its entry on Equity, equity is the word progressives use to describe equal outcomes. If there are racial imbalances in a system — that is, if a disproportionate number of white people are in its management — then that is taken as proof of “systemic racism.” No other explanation is possible. The glossary adds:
Because of the blank slatism and simplistic ideas of power and identity found within Critical Social Justice worldviews, all imbalances of representation in desirable areas of work are held to be caused by these perceived power dynamics. Equity is the intended remedy to this problem, and it is made applicable only (and especially) to positions of status and influence. For example, there is no equity program that attempts to increase the number of female sanitation workers, though there are equity programs that seek to increase the number of female doctors and politicians, and these endure even in high-status positions that employ more women than men. Of particular concern are positions that have influence where power is concerned, including in terms of shaping the discourses of society.
I could be wrong about this, but I feel confident that the equity assessors will never find a system in which there are not enough white people in management. But let’s say it did happen. I would find it demeaning if I had reason to believe that I had been chosen for a job over a better qualified candidate of color, only because my employer had a quota to fill. I would be ashamed, frankly. The only way I could get over that shame and do my job would to be convince myself that the racial-spoils ideology of progressivism were somehow just. But then I would be a liar.
From Live Not By Lies:
It is difficult for people raised in the free world to grasp the breadth and the depth of lying required simply to exist under communism. All the lies, and lies about lies, that formed the communist order were built on the basis of this foundational lie: the communist state is the sole source of truth. Orwell expressed this truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Under the dictatorship of Big Brother, the Party understands that by changing language—Newspeak is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—“holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology.
If the Party says 2 + 2 = 5, then 2 + 2 = 5. The goal is to convince the person that all truth exists within the mind, and the rightly ordered mind believes whatever the Party says is true.
It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you—something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.
In our time, we do not have an all-powerful state forcing this on us. Under soft totalitarianism, the media, academia, corporate America, and other institutions are practicing Newspeak and compelling the rest of us to engage in doublethink every day. Men have periods. The woman standing in front of you is to be called “he.” Diversity and inclusion means excluding those who object to ideological uniformity. Equity means treating persons unequally, regardless of their skills and achievements, to achieve an ideologically correct result.
To update an Orwell line to our own situation: “The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
It really is the same logic as communism: that all human complexity must be flattened to make reality fit theory. More Live Not By Lies:
For example, an American academic who has studied Russian communism told me about being present at the meeting in which his humanities department decided to require from job applicants a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity—even though this has nothing to do with teaching ability or scholarship.
The professor characterized this as a McCarthyite way of eliminating dissenters from the employment pool, and putting those already on staff on notice that they will be monitored for deviation from the social-justice party line.
That is a soft form of totalitarianism. Here is the same logic laid down hard: in 1918, Lenin unleashed the Red Terror, a campaign of annihilation against those who resisted Bolshevik power. Martin Latsis, head of the secret police in Ukraine, instructed his agents as follows:
Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.
Note well that an individual’s words and deeds had nothing to do with determining one’s guilt or innocence. One was presumed guilty based entirely on one’s class and social status. A revolution that began as an attempt to right historical injustices quickly became an exterminationist exercise of raw power. Communists justified the imprisonment, ruin, and even the execution of people who stood in the way of Progress as necessary to achieve historical justice over alleged exploiters of privilege.
So now our federal bureaucracy is going to be run by a racialist lie, and everyone who works within that bureaucracy is going to be compelled to affirm the lie or be considered a racist.
Here’s an example of how progressives think. Two writers at the Five Thirty-Eight site complain that it will be hard for Biden to make a dent in the Mighty-Whitey federal bench that Trump has given us. Excerpts:
During most of Donald Trump’s presidency, Congress was in a state of persistent deadlock, passing relatively few big pieces of legislation. But the Republican-controlled Senate stayed humming, nonetheless — thanks to a steady stream of judicial nominees from the White House.
After only one term, Trump filled 28 percent of vacant seats on the federal bench, including 27 percent of active federal district court judges and 30 percent of active appeals court judges, not to mention three Supreme Court justices. This figure is far higher than for other recent presidents in their first terms — by January 2013, for instance, Barack Obama had appointed just 17 percent of the vacant federal judge spots, and at the end of his first term, George W. Bush had appointed 21 percent. In fact, Obama was able to appoint only a slightly larger share of the federal bench in his eight years in office (31 percent) than Trump managed to do in his one term.
Trump also managed to radically alter the makeup of the courts. His appointees are not only far more conservative than other presidents’ picks but far less racially and ethnically diverse. They’re also fairly young — the median age for Trump’s appellate judges at confirmation is 47 — so given that the median retirement age for appellate judges is 67, these appointees could end up serving for decades to come. And even though Democrats now maintain narrow control of the Senate, putting President Biden in a much better position to make his own stamp on the judiciary than if Republicans still held the majority, Trump’s effect on the courts could be difficult to undo.
Thank you, Trump! As a conservative, I want a more conservative federal judiciary. If achieving that meant nominating a slate of judges that were 100 percent non-white, I would be for it (as long as race wasn’t a criterion for selection). That’s because I care about the convictions of judges, not the color of their skin. Trump understandably outsourced his judicial picks to the Federalist Society, the organization for conservatives in the law. How many persons of color are also legal conservatives?
For that matter, how do progressives treat legal conservatives of color? Ask Clarence Thomas. How do progressives treat people of color who express conservative views at all? Answer: as race traitors.
Listen, I expect Joe Biden’s nominees to the federal bench will be philosophical liberals. Why not? Elections have consequences. About half of America is conservative, more or less, but I don’t believe it’s fair to expect a Democratic president to make half his judges conservative, so that the federal judiciary “thinks like America.” But progressives don’t care about how you think; they care about how you look. They assume that No True Black Person (or Hispanic, or Asian, etc.) would have conservative views. To be a progressive requires having to do so many contortions about these things. Wouldn’t it simply be easier to promote people based on their relevant record and experience, not according to skin color, sexual orientation, and other characteristics worshipped by progressives?
Well, yes, but these are the people now in charge of the executive branch, so we have to live by lies — including the lie that instituting policies that divide and reward Americans on the basis of racial identity is an act of “unity.” Biden reinstated Critical Race Theory training in federal agencies, overturning a Trump executive order. But Christopher Rufo is leading a campaign to fight back against CRT everywhere, especially at the state level. He discusses it here:
President Biden has reinstated critical race theory in the federal government. In response, we have launched a campaign to file lawsuits against schools, corporations, and government agencies that teach the principles of race essentialism, collective guilt, and neo-segregation. pic.twitter.com/KautgNGIIB
— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) January 22, 2021
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Here Come The Soft Totalitarians
Listen to what Obama’s former CIA director has to say in this cheerful clip from Inauguration Day:
.@JohnBrennan: Biden intel community “are moving in laser-like fashion to try to uncover as much as they can about” the pro-Trump “insurgency” that harbors “religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians” pic.twitter.com/SjVXWhPhR8
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) January 20, 2021
Even libertarians. Mercy. I don’t have to think too hard to figure out that John Brennan’s idea of “religious extremists” is broad enough to include just about anybody to the right of Father James Martin, SJ (never heard of him? Ye shall know them by their recent tweets:)
The LGBT community has few images like this. So it is not surprising that they would add their own symbol, the rainbow, in a respectful way, to a beloved image of their mother.
How appropriate that she is weeping, for it her son who suffers whenever an LGBT person is persecuted pic.twitter.com/BlpYTMMBp8
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) January 19, 2021
It will not surprise you to hear that sales of Live Not By Lies are once again rising. People know something bad is coming. I would be honored that Father Dwight Longenecker, the prolific orthodox Catholic priest and writer, gave a strong endorsement to my book at anytime — but these days, when traditional Christians need to understand what’s about to hit us and prepare, I’m especially grateful for his rave. Excerpts from his review:
Rod Dreher’s new book Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents functions like a prophecy in our time. The book’s basic emphasis is, like the message of all prophets–“Wake up people. See what is happening all around you. Destruction is at hand.”
I have written about the “people of the lie” and the inner dynamic of deceit in Immortal Combat and the things I observed there echo through Rod’s prophetic account. The fact that this year has brought about a disastrous presidential election is something Dreher could not have predicted precisely, but the results of the election have swept in Rod’s warnings big time as a fulfillment of his prophecies. No matter what you believe about the legality of Joe Biden’s election, the fact remains that half the country believe Donald Trump and his Trump army were planning a coup. The other half of the country believe Joe Biden accomplished a coup through a rigged election.
Again, no matter what the facts are–the result is that the Joe Biden presidency appears to be propped up by military might. Calling up 25,000 troops to Washington this week was not just for “security”. It was clearly a show of strength by the winning side. It was a display of military might to remind the other half of America who won and who is in charge. Rod Dreher’s prophecy of a soft totalitarianism was perhaps too tame. Soft totalitarianism is a subtle, creeping control of the powers that be. The military display in Washington wasn’t creeping. It was creepy. Suddenly the soft totalitarianism seems to be hardening.
Finally he gives the strong encouragement that family and faith are the bedrock of resistance. There is no room for organized violence or zealous plots to overthrow governments. Instead to be a dissident is simply to follow one’s faith and live a life according to the truths revealed in religion. To live a quiet life, teaching the faith and living the faith even in troubled times–especially in troubled times!
Read the whole thing. The second half of the review is strong praise for a new book by Ralph Martin about the crisis in the Catholic Church.
If you think that simply following your faith and living according to the truths of your religion is quietism, buddy, I have some people you need to meet. The Benda family, which pretty much owns the chapter of my book about the family as bedrock of resistance, explicitly rejected the bargain that many Czechoslovak Catholics of the communist era made: living quietly so they would be left alone by the state. The Bendas believed that doing so would be a betrayal of their God-given duties as Christians. But they also knew that it was pointless to try to mount any kind of violent rebellion against the totalitarian police state. So they rebelled in nonviolent ways, ways that were constructive. Dr. Vaclav Benda ended up in prison for four years for his antigovernment protests in favor of human rights. Their entire flat was bugged (Dr. Benda’s widow, Kamila, showed me the scars on the wall where she and her late husband pulled the wires out after the fall of Communism.) The family and all their friends really suffered for their convictions.
But they won. Even if communism were somehow still in power there, they still would have triumphed over the dictatorship of lies, because they refused to yield to it.
These men and women have something to teach us Americans, now more than ever.
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Covid Cultishness Destroyed Their Fellowship
Did you see Garth Brooks’s walk-off at yesterday’s Inaugural ceremony? The maskless Brooks hugged all the presidents gathered there. They were wearing masks; he wasn’t. If you’re like me, you thought, “Oh no, he wasn’t wearing a mask.” But you might have thought, “Good for him, not wearing a mask.”
It’s not a big deal, what happened yesterday. But it did bring to mind something I’ve been wanting to write about. I have been hearing for weeks now from conservative readers who report that this last Covid year has split their friend groups, and churches. Because I can’t remember who said I could use their letter or conversation, and who said I couldn’t, I am going to do a mash-up that captures the themes I’ve been hearing:
We were all so close, then the pandemic hit. Then some of my friends got into QAnon and related conspiracies, including believing that the Covid vaccine contains a microchip. They have been enraged about masks, and refuse to wear them. My child and I are seriously immunocompromised, so we can’t be around people who don’t take it seriously, because Covid could put us in the hospital. Some of our formerly close group of friends left our church in anger over mask requirements. Those who stayed ended up driving our pastor off because he insisted on masks to make it possible for elderly and immunocompromised people to come to church without fear. Our friends now treat our family like the enemy because we wear masks, look forward to the vaccine, and in other ways violate what they have decided the correct Christian conservative narrative is. This year has shattered our family’s ability to trust the people with whom we were closest. I wonder if we will be friends after all this.
Again, that is not an actual letter, but a boiling-down of e-mails and conversations I’ve been having in the past couple of months. I know a pastor who was run out of his church over MAGA and mask policies, and was so traumatized by it that he left the ministry entirely.
Is this cult behavior? That seems like an extreme statement. But it did come to mind reading this Spectator piece by Mary Wakefield, about how culty people have gotten lately. Excerpt:
‘How are you? How’s it all been? I asked the owner as she passed a cappuccino across the COVID-secure takeaway table. ‘Yeah, you know these are crazy times,’ she replied. ‘But at least everything makes sense now.’ What did she mean? ‘It was all explained to me over the summer, and it’s just mad how much sense it makes! Capitalism, democracy… I just can’t understand how I ever fell for it. The patriarchy have deceived us all. But change will come!’ She laughed, and there it was: the knowing, elated look of the chosen. ‘I’m not sure communism did many people any favors,’ I said. She gave a tight smile, said ‘Yeah. You need to have your eyes opened’, and turned away. When I looked over the road at the estate opposite, the racing clouds made it appear as if the tower blocks were toppling.
If there’s more cult thinking about, the usual explanation for it is the internet. We live in information bubbles, it’s said, constantly reinforcing our own beliefs, each group member egging the others on to more extreme views. But I’m not sure the internet is the real villain here. In fact, it is often the way out of a cult. Steven Hassan, author of The Cult of Trump, is doing the talk show rounds right now, comparing Trump with Sun Myung Moon and David Koresh. Hassan was himself a Moonie for many years, and only escaped, he says, after Google gave him the means to question Mr Moon’s True Way.
The best cult recruiting tool, I think, is simply the terrible global sense of unease. Thanks to the virus, all our carefully constructed ideas of the future are crumbling. We crave certainty, and certainty is what cults do best. If there’s a distinction between a cult and a religion, it’s that certainty is not the same thing as faith. Faith acknowledges doubt and struggles on nonetheless. Certainty is madness.
For the gold-standard crazy cultic certainty, go to YouTube and search for a video made by the Scientologists starring Tom Cruise, in which Tom explains his religion to new recruits, with the Mission: Impossible music in the background. Towards the end of the nine-minute clip, Cruise begins to talk about Scientology’s critics, or Suppressive Persons. ‘SPs?’ Cruise laughs maniacally. ‘Wow. SPs, one day they’ll just read about them in the history books.’ The contempt in which he holds non-believers is astonishing.
And that’s why you can never crack a cultist with argument. The more you argue, the more you try to show them that their thinking might be awry, the more obvious it is to them that you’re part of the diabolical opposition — and that they’re being tested. Persecution only proves the point.
None of my correspondents or interlocutors accused their friends of being culty about all this, but I do detect a feeling of shock and deep sorrow. One, a Christian, said that this past year has been an apocalypse in that she has been forced to learn that the people she thought would be with her through thick and thin actually pushed her out of their fellowship because she believes in mask-wearing.
Are you dealing with this in your life? If so, what are you doing about it?
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Goodbye, Women’s Sports
And so, on the first full day of a Biden presidency, female school athletics is sacrificed to wokeness. From an executive order sent down from on high today:
Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. [Emphasis mine — RD] Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.
This means that schools that get federal funding have to treat biological males who identify as female as if they were female. With this order, the federal government declares that the biological advantage that male bodies have over female bodies, in terms of strength and endurance, does not matter — at least not in schools that receive federal funding. This now vaults males who identify as females to the head of the line for places on girls high school and college teams, and for girls college athletic scholarships.
Among the Democrats, wokeness will always defeat science. This is our new political reality. Also our new political reality: the Democratic Party is the party of science.
A new study suggests transgender women maintain an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers even after a year on hormone therapy.
The results, published last month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, could mean the current one-year waiting period for Olympic athletes who are transitioning is inadequate.
“For the Olympic level, the elite level, I’d say probably two years is more realistic than one year,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Timothy Roberts, a pediatrician and the director of the adolescent medicine training program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. “At one year, the trans women on average still have an advantage over the cis women,” he said, referring to cisgender, or nontransgender, women.
Roberts began investigating the athletic performance of transgender men and women while in the Air Force, working under co-author and physician Lt. Col. Joshua Smalley at a clinic coordinating care for airmen beginning or continuing their gender transition.
Active duty service members are required to take a physical readiness test every six to 12 months. Roberts, Smalley and another co-author, Dr. Dale Ahrendt, realized they had access to robust data on service members before, during and after they started hormone replacement treatment.
The three physicians conducted a retrospective review of medical records and fitness tests for 29 transgender men and 46 transgender women from 2013 to 2018. The Air Force’s fitness assessment includes the number of pushups and situps performed in a minute, and the time required to run 1.5 miles.
They also had records on when the subjects started testosterone or estrogen, the type of hormone used and the number of days from when treatment began to when their hormone levels reached the normal adult range for a cisgender person.
For the first two years after starting hormones, the trans women in their review were able to do 10 percent more pushups and 6 percent more situps than their cisgender female counterparts. After two years, Roberts told NBC News, “they were fairly equivalent to the cisgender women.”
Their running times declined as well, but two years on, trans women were still 12 percent faster on the 1.5 mile-run than their cisgender peers.
Men win again! Funny how this works.
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The Curse Of Ambien
You might have forgotten that I have a paid daily newsletter, Daily Dreher (see info on how to subscribe here).
In the newsletter, I focus on uplifting things, in which I include things that give meaning to life. I wrote last night about my struggle this week to kick my dependence on the sleep drug Ambien. Why would I put it on a newsletter focusing on positive things? Because it’s an example of me putting into action the words I’ve been preaching for a while now about accepting suffering in a spirit that allows us to turn it into a means of becoming holier people, or at least stronger. I don’t think being dependent on a prescription sleep medication has anything to do with holiness one way or the other, but I do believe that kicking the habit is a good thing to do.
I wrote about it last night for my subscribers. One of my readers said that I should republish it here, on my blog, because it might educate and inspire others to avoid the drug, or to get off of it. I am reluctant to make content that people paid for available for free, but I will make an exception in this case, on the grounds that it might give hope and conviction to others who are caught in the same Ambien trap:
I have something kind of serious to talk about tonight, though I like to think of it as hopeful, because I’m taking my own advice about suffering.
Around 2008, I think it was, I was having a lot of trouble sleeping because of anxiety over a family medical issue. My doctor at the time prescribed Ambien, a widely-prescribed sleep aid that was supposed to have none of the addictive properties of benzodiazepine drugs (e.g., Valium, Halcion, Xanax). It was a wonder drug, let me tell you. It was like sliding down a silky chute to a bed made of pink clouds, having a cheerful swarm of Tinkerbells tuck you in under a goosedown comforter, and Burl Ives singing lullabies as you drifted off to sleep. It was not at all like the over-the-counter sleep aids (Unisom, for example) that left me feeling groggy in the morning. Those were like being beaned by a mallet; Ambien was like being bonked ever so gently by a marshmallow hammerhead.
I loved Ambien, as you can tell. If you have ever had difficulty getting to sleep, well, Ambien was here to solve all your problems. Taking an overnight flight abroad? Ambien helps you sleep on the plane. There were no sleep problems that Ambien couldn’t solve.
Then one day, I realized that I couldn’t get to sleep without it. This alarmed me, a bit, but there are bigger things in the world to be concerned about than being dependent on a sleeping pill, so I didn’t really worry about it. It has been many years since I experienced Ambien use as a pleasurable journey to sleepytime. Now, it has to happen if I’m going to sleep at all.
I tried to quit it several times over the years, but the misery was pretty intense. Ambien works by slowing down the brain, making it easier to sleep. Years ago, on one of my aborted attempts to wean myself from the drug, I described a night without Ambien to a friend as like trying to land a plane, but always bouncing back up just before touchdown. It was so difficult, and left me so completely wrecked the next day, that I always just gave up and started taking it again.
As you may recall, I’ve been living in a back bedroom suite at my house, quarantining while awaiting the Covid test results from my wife and daughter, who were both exposed to the virus, and have been feeling under the weather. Three nights ago, I noticed that my bottle of Ambien was missing. I turned the room upside down looking for it, with no success. This was a problem, because not only can I not sleep without Ambien, my brain races like crazy without it. There was a bottle of Advil PM in the bathroom, so I tried that.
It was like trying to gain liftoff in a Cessna powered by a lawnmower engine. I had a truly awful night. I described it to my wife like this: imagine that you are stuck in the cab of a 4WD pick-up truck, stuck in the mud, with the gas pedal also stuck to the floor. Your wheels are spinning at maximum speed, but you can’t go anywhere. Imagine too that your radio is on a station you hate, but the knob is broken, so you can’t change channels, and the volume knob is also broken, stuck at 11. And the electric windows and door locks are not working, so you’re bound to be there until somebody finds you.
That was my Sunday night. On Monday morning, I searched again for the Ambien, without luck. Then I decided that maybe I should take a lesson from what I’ve been saying over and over in this space, about accepting suffering as a way to grow: I decided that I was going to go cold turkey on Ambien, and beat this dependence once and for all.
This is not advised medically, the cold turkey thing. Though Ambien is not as addictive as benzos, it is chemically similar, and withdrawal can be bad. I thought about poor Jordan Peterson, who became addicted to benzos in a similar way: a doctor prescribed them for his anxiety. He nearly died coming off of them. The Internet medical sites say that the smartest thing to do is to work with your doctor to transition to smaller doses, and eventually to go off them entirely in a gradual process. I would have loved to have done that, but as Ambien is a controlled substance, it might have been difficult to get a new scrip for it with the old one only half-done.
I decided to stick with the cold turkey strategy. Last night — Monday night — was almost as bad as Sunday, but a little bit better. I didn’t get to sleep until around four a.m., and when I woke up at 10:30, I had been so restless that all my blankets were on the floor. After I finished the coffee my wife brought to me, I picked up the blankets and started making the bed … and there was the lost bottle of Ambien. It had apparently gotten lost in the folds of one of the blankets when I was making the bed up after the first night.
No more excruciating sleepless nights, with my brain going berserk! All I would have to do is take the little blue pill, and back to sleep I would go.
On the other hand, I have never made it through two and a half days of no Ambien, not in twelve years. Now I had. The worst days of Ambien withdrawal are days three and four, say medical websites. Today was day three. Tonight promises to be a bad night too. But if I can power through tonight, and maybe tomorrow night, I think I can be free of this stuff.
So that’s what I’ve committed to doing. I’m going to give my wife the Ambien when she brings me my supper, and tell her to keep it away from me. I can’t allow the suffering of these past three days and nights be in vain.
I guess this sounds like a big drama concocted out of nothing, but if I’m honest, it has given me more compassion for addicts. I don’t know that I would properly be called an “addict” — from what I read, doctors recognize a difference between “dependence” and “addiction.” Someone who is dependent on a drug treats it like I treated Ambien: as something I need to live a normal life. An addict, on the other hand, will wreck his life, and the lives of others, in pursuit of the drug, and will seek to ingest greater quantities of it to achieve the same high. All addicts are dependents, but not all dependents are addicts.
I can see the meaningful distinction there, and it’s certainly true that taking Ambien doesn’t affect my life in ways that, say, being addicted to opioids, or being an alcoholic would. Nevertheless, I don’t want to be dependent on a drug to get to sleep, and it’s scary to me that ceasing to use a drug causes such extraordinarily miserable effects that I have always gone back to using it rather than suffer through a second night of buzzsaw sleeplessness. So, cold turkey it is.
In talking over the years with other long-term Ambien users, I’ve found that every one of us wish we had never taken the drug. Part of the problem, I think, was that people don’t think of sleeping pills as something to which you can become dependent. I know I didn’t, at least. It seemed like a minor thing when the doctor first prescribed them. This was a category error: I assumed that the dangerous drugs, regarding risk of dependence, were opioids, benzos, and amphetamines. What is Ambien other than a professional-grade Sominex? Turns out that it’s a more powerful drug than I imagined. Now I tell everybody: never, ever start taking these sleep drugs. If I had known when I first started taking Ambien how hard it would be to stop taking it, I never would have tried it.
Why am I bringing all this up in this newsletter? For a couple of reasons.
First, I wanted to talk about how I am attempting to apply lessons I talk about at lot in this space to something in my own life. I wouldn’t consider it a significant moral failure if I went back to taking Ambien, but I will consider it a moral victory if I can make it to the end of this week free of Ambien, because by then, they say, it’s been flushed from your body. This has been a very hard thing to beat, and rather than panic when I lost the pills, I chose to frame this as an opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for many years: beat this dependence. The smart thing to have done would have been to talk to my doctor, lower my prescription dosage, and gradually taper off. Circumstances, however, threw me into the cold turkey situation — not ideal, but I accepted it.
Second, I wanted to express compassion for people struggling with dependencies and addictions. When Jordan Peterson’s dependence on benzodiazepine became public, some people made fun of him for being supposedly weak in character. This was cruel on its face, but especially cruel because Peterson was using the drug as prescribed, and didn’t seek to use them for pleasure. (Many who have become not just dependent on opioids, but addicted to them, started when they were prescribed them for pain.) I don’t think that I have ever actually had a conversation with someone who has been through detox and rehab about their experiences, specifically about the difficulty of withdrawal. To be honest, until now, I never really thought about what withdrawing from a substance would be like — except, of course, after a single night without Ambien, which was enough to put the question out of mind for years.
I’m thinking now about a friend who became an alcoholic — not a bad drunk, but still a drunk. I wasn’t around him a lot, but I know that all of us in his circle worried about him. I had a couple of talks with him, asking him to please get help. He wouldn’t admit he had a problem, though. He eventually died of something unrelated, but now I am thinking about how little I understood what I was asking of him. I regarded his drunkenness as a failure of character, in a come on, man, pull yourself together, you don’t want to be like this way. I resist the total medicalization of addiction, because thinking back to my friend’s life, there were times when he made a choice to lean into alcohol to deal with setbacks, rather than take them on in a more constructive way.
On the other hand, I learned from that same friend once that alcoholism runs in his family — as, alas, it does in mine. Over this past gloomy year, there have been a number of times when I was so bored, sad, and anxious that I would have done just about anything to escape this mood. I have a cabinet full of liquor, but over the past six or seven years, I have lost the ability to have more than one, maybe two, drinks at a time. Anything more and I feel physically bad — like having a hangover, without first having had the pleasure of being tipsy. If I’m honest, it is only the prospect of feeling like crap from even a little drink that has kept me from seeking relief in the bottle in my own bouts with the blues this last year. I thought about this last summer, and my poor buddy, the genial drunk who couldn’t handle his sorrows without booze, and thought for the first time in an alcohol context, There but for the grace of God go I.
I hope I’m not making too much of this. It’s just that as I get older, and see up close how it doesn’t take much for things to go wrong in a life, I find it easier to have compassion for others. I mean, look, being dependent on Ambien is not that big a deal, but lying there last night, desperate to sleep, with an alien in my brain spinning plates, I thought about how much courage it takes for someone who has a serious addiction to commit to detox. If my relatively piddly problem with Ambien is this hard, what must it be like for people hooked on harder stuff?
And I’ll tell you this too: after this experience, I will never let a doctor prescribe an anti-anxiety drug for me, except for one-off uses (like the dental work I had done recently).
Well, last night was another awful night, one in which I don’t think I drifted off till 4 am, and in which I had a nightmare about a nuclear meltdown. But it was a less awful night than the previous two, and I believe tonight will be less awful than last night. According to medical websites, the stuff should be out of my system a week or so after my last dose.
One weird thing about coming off of it is that waking hours are also kind of freaky. You feel not at home in your body, and have periods of fogginess. The good news, though, is that today I started to realize that my perception was clearer, and crisper — which tells me that in twelve years of continuous Ambien use, I had assumed that the thin fog it cast over everything was normal.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’m really glad I committed to it. A physician friend who subscribes to my newsletter e-mailed me about it this morning. He called Ambien “poison — not for all, but for many,” and added:
It is an unnatural and dangerous drug due to selective neurologic manipulation–I truly think the drugs it was intended to replace–benzos and barbiturates–are less psychologically dangerous because they are general, rather than selective, depressants and modulators.And Ambien–like Oxycontin–is certainly addictive, despite the sales pitches from attractive pharmaceutical sales reps at their unveiling.
Yep. Like I said in last night’s newsletter, every single person I’ve met over the years and talked to about Ambien has said the same thing: they want to be free of it, but can’t, because it’s too hard to come off of it. The withdrawal has been so awful that if I had had any idea that I would easily become dependent on it, and that getting off the stuff was so difficult, I would have refused it when my Dallas doctor first prescribed it. I cannot urge you readers strongly enough never, ever to use a prescription sleep drug, or use it for more than one or two nights. I was so naive, thinking that it was just a sleep aid, and the doctor said it would help, so what could it hurt? To be clear, I never abused Ambien, and used it only as prescribed. And I still got dependent on it.
When I posted that newsletter last night, I still had hours ahead of me until I could finally get to sleep, if “sleep” is what you call what I had. As I struggled to calm my racing brain down, I thought over and over about poor Jordan Peterson, and what he dealt with. I wish I had prayed more often for him when news first broke about what he was dealing with. He started taking prescription benzodiazepine to help him deal with intense anxiety after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Had I been in his position, I would probably have asked my doctor for the same medication. You might have done so too. I can’t get it out of my head how easy it was to walk into the Ambien trap. I really was tormented by anxiety back then (like Peterson, one of my family members had had a terrible diagnosis), and Ambien came as blessed relief. If I had stopped using it after two weeks, maybe I would have been fine, but nobody told me about the possibility of dependence or addiction, and even if the doctor had, I probably would have ignored him, thinking that dependence or addiction is something that happens to other people.
Again, I don’t want to make too big a deal about this. I just want to leave you with two things:
- Be merciful to those who are trying to kick a chemical dependence or addiction — to booze, to pills, to cigarettes, etc. — because they’re fighting a huge battle, the difficulty of which you may not appreciate until you find yourself having to do it; and
- Never, ever, ever start using Ambien! It is awesome at first, but it will own you.
UPDATE: Thanks for all the good wishes. Last night — the fourth without Ambien — was the best night so far. I had something resembling normal sleep. I used magnesium and melatonin to calm my brain down, and prayed one round of my prayer rope as I lay in bed. That got me to sleep. Trouble was, I had really terrible nightmares, which I almost never have. Coming off this drug reminds me of the accounts I’ve read of exorcism; the thing is fighting hard not to let me go. But I’ve definitely gotten over the hard part, so this is pretty much a done deal now.
I will say that if I had it to do over again, I would work with my doctor on tapering off the stuff. Cold turkey was a real shock to my system, and, based on things I’ve read this week, unwise.
On the up side, I am startled by how much more alert and energetic I am becoming as this garbage works its way out of my system.
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The Biden Era Begins
I woke up this morning too late to see Biden’s swearing-in. (This week I’ve gone cold turkey off of Ambien, the sleep drug, more about which later; this week, because of it, I haven’t been able to get to sleep until about an hour before dawn.) I caught the last part of his speech. My first reaction: what a relief to have a president who talks like a normal human being. I didn’t vote for the guy, but I’m grateful to hear a presidential speech that doesn’t make me mad — mad, either because I’m angry at the president for what he said or how he said it, or mad with the president at the people or thing he was attacking.
The TV people covering it were startlingly enthusiastic about all of this. I say “startlingly” because I didn’t expect that they would allow their feelings to show quite like this. But they did. This rubbed me the wrong way, not because I’m shocked to discover that journalists are liberal, but because it made me think that this is how press coverage of the Biden administration is likely to be, at least at the beginning: fawning and filled with relief that Orange Man Bad is gone. I was watching ABC, but turned it off because I couldn’t take the gushy tone. I missed this:
ABC News just referred to Biden as “Papa in Chief.”
The media simping is unreal.
— Kassy Dillon (@KassyDillon) January 20, 2021
Gross. Embarrassing. But I kind of get it. Like I said, I didn’t vote for Biden, but after the way Trump and his minions behaved post-election, culminating in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, I am relieved to see the back of him. It’s so exhausting to be wound up constantly. Trump thrived off of anger and conflict. When I saw these tweets about how the Q cultists are melting down, I thought, “Great, now maybe we can be done with them.”
Mood on QAnon forums right now pic.twitter.com/EouHCXOOxL
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) January 20, 2021
Mood on QAnon forums right now pic.twitter.com/EouHCXOOxL
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) January 20, 2021
Incredible – the longtime admin of QAnon’s online home, who propped up mass conspiracies for years, basically goes ‘maybe the real Q was the friends we made along the way, ok well stay tuned for my next project!’ https://t.co/F01RUMUNJN
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) January 20, 2021
Watching Biden’s speech, I was surprised by the amount of relief I felt that the Trump drama is over. Don’t get me wrong: I think Biden’s policies will be bad for America, especially for social and religious conservatives. But I was surprised by the sense of relief precisely because I think that things are going to be pretty dark for people like me. How to account for it?
This letter from a conservative Catholic reader helped me understand it better:
Well today Trump is gone. I also perused a number of your postings as I had unplugged from much of my political reading for a time. It’s interesting to read what others are saying, what I am hearing at my church and what I am feeling. There does seem to be an overall sentiment of exhaustion and desire for, well, just less political engagement.My sense is still that we are seeing the scapegoat mechanism in regard to Trump. He has been defeated and sent away in shame and the hope and desire of people is now bringing about some kind of peace and normalcy. I think most people, even on the fringes whether BLM or MAGA, want peace or they at least want pacification. Already we are seeing with Biden the march of liberal ideas with his Executive Orders. Two of those EO’s will be manifestly anti-life; the Mexico City protocol and opening up about $60 million a year for Planned Parenthood again. The reality is we have a man who solidly identifies himself as a Catholic but will probably be ushering in the most anti-Catholic policies in history. And the bishops? Already the Cardinal of Washington is getting center stage, the USCCB is pledging to work with Biden. (No doubt they should say that, but there is precious little resistance to Biden’s excommunication worthy actions.) If any of us did what he is doing our bishop would tell us we needed to go to confession, at the least. This is one reason Catholics don’t trust their bishops any more, because they won’t stand for anything. They cannot even be unified on protecting the unborn.Anyway, here’s my prediction. People are exhausted, not just by Trump, but by the constant attacking of Trump and by a year of Covid. Here is the fatal mistake people very well may make: they will place Biden on the pedestal of the one who saved the nation and given him and his administration about as much power as they want. In essence, for four years we heard that Trump was dangerous because he had too much power. Just watch as Biden ends up being far more dictatorial than Trump ever was. He’s doing it all in the name of idealistic pursuits and I don’t think there is much will to stop him.I don’t foresee any kind of conflict or fight on the part of most people. What I see is the prime opportunity for a Huxleyan revolution and people are going to welcome it, not just because their attitudes have changed, but because people just want the madness to stop. They think they got rid of the dictator, now they are about to lay down and let the real dictator take over. America is about to be remade.
I know it won’t happen, but it would help the country a lot for conservatives to take some time pondering the fact that their main concerns at the moment are all things that aren’t remediable through electoral politics.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 19, 2021
I’m not sure what Yglesias has in mind, but here are some things that I do, as a social and religious conservative.
First, we are a nation that has forgotten God — and not just people on the Left. There is ample evidence that many of us on the Right have done so. There is no legislative or executive action that can call us to repentance for that. Only our pastors, and ourselves.
Second, the falling-apart of our families is not the fault of the government. The state is not forcing us to give our children smartphones. It’s not the government’s fault that many of them use the smartphones to discover hardcore porn. I would welcome laws restricting or (ideally) banning porn, but we do not have to wait on that to do the right thing. We do not have to have the nanny state teach us how to be faithful spouses, and good moms and dads.
Third, the collapse of community spirit is not the government’s fault. In The Benedict Option, I wrote about how the anti-communist dissident Vaclav Benda responded to the political powerlessness of his side by realizing that politics is more than state action. Caring for the common good can be done by everyone, even those outside of political power. It is an impoverished vision of politics that sees it as only what happens in legislatures, or arguments carried out on social media.
Fourth, the loss of cultural memory is a hugely important thing to conservatives, or ought to be. We are forgetting who we are, in part because our institutions want to re-program us (I write about how this works in Live Not By Lies. ). There is no electoral solution to our universities, our news media, and Hollywood having embraced wokeness. The good news is that we have it within our power to resist this. Benda and other dissidents held classes and seminars where they taught real history, and real literature to those who wanted to know the truth. They did this under a communist dictatorship, in the face of an education system that propagandized the young constantly; what’s our excuse? If you have the means to put your kids into classical schools, or to start one, now is the time to do so. Now is the time to support classical education, with your donations, too. Our greatest obstacle now is our imagination, our lack of creativity.
There are more issues, I’m sure. The point is this: I wish we did not have a liberal Democratic president, but that liberal Democratic president is not preventing us from being better servants of God. That liberal Democratic president is not preventing us from taking better care of our families. He is not preventing us from being better neighbors, and is not preventing us from educating ourselves and our children to understand who we really are as men, as women, and as Americans. Did Donald Trump make anybody a better Christian, a better parent, a better neighbor, or a better steward of our cultural inheritance? Really?
It is not the case that we can either be good at conventional politics or we can be good at these other things. We have to be both. But it is more important to be better at the other things, because any political victory is hollow without them. Trump accomplished some good things in his four years, but to the extent that he convinced a lot of us that his holding power meant meaningful change, it was Pyrrhic. He does not leave the churches stronger, or families closer, or community spirit more resilient, or our culture in better shape — but it’s not really the job of a president to do those things. A president can give us things, but he can’t give us meaning.
Make no mistake, these next four years are going to be hard for religious and social conservatives. But if you ever placed hope in the princes and sons of men, you were wrong, and now you — and I — have the chance to turn away from that, and build a creditable resistance to the spirit of the age. Had Trump been re-elected, a lot of us on the Right would have been lulled into a false sense of security, as Woke Capitalism and the other institutions continued to institute soft totalitarian tactics and policies, but the Republican-voting masses wrongly believed that all was well because Trump was in the White House. Time to go back to the real world. We on the Right cannot keep ripping ourselves apart over Donald Trump. The Senate was a gift to the Democrats; do we want more of this? Besides, there will be more real power in being out of political power, if it compels us to get serious about living faithfully in a post-Christian age. Look back at how much culture-changing power the Left accrued, and exercised, despite Trump being in office and the Congress being Republican for half of his term. We can’t hope to match that, but we can do a lot more than we think, if we get off our butts and get to work.