Rod Dreher

E-mail Rod

Benedict Option In Tyler, Texas

Readers in northeast Texas are invited to hear me talk about the Benedict Option on Friday night (October 26) in Tyler. I’ll be speaking at the Tyler Woman’s Building, 911 S. Broadway, at 7pm.

It’s free and open to the public, but space is limited. RSVP here, and use the keyword BENEDICT.

I’ll be talking about the basic message of The Benedict Option, but adding some new information and analysis since the book came out in 2017. I don’t have any copies of the book to sell, so if you’d like me to sign your copy, please buy it in advance and bring it to the event.

The Tyler newspaper published a piece based on an interview with me. I liked this comment at the end from my host:

“I’ve been writing about Christianity and popular culture for decades now, and I have never been more concerned by reading the signs of the times,” Dreher said. “An old monk in the Italian mountains told me a truth that I took deep in my heart: that Christians who don’t read the signs of the times and come together to live the faith in a more intentional, disciplined way are not going to make it through the trials ahead.”

Seeing a need to start this conversation in Tyler, B3 Ministries, under the direction of Matt Magill, is hosting the event on Oct. 26. Magill was stirred to action after reading “The Benedict Option” because he saw parallels between Dreher’s call to submerge oneself in a Christian community that fosters and grows their faith and the type of community that exists in Tyler. Magill sees that community as a double-edged sword.

“The same reasons that we are so grateful to live in East Texas make us susceptible to a dangerous complacency,” Magill said.

I hope to meet some of you Texas readers on Friday night.

Posted in , . Tagged . One comment

The Monastic Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson (1932-2018) ((Via Navpress)

A reader points to this 2008 interview with Eugene Peterson, the Evangelical giant who died yesterday, as an exemplar of the Evangelical approach to the Benedict Option. Here is Peterson talking about how American Christians tell themselves that ours is a Christian culture, but when you talk to people from outside the West, they don’t recognize us as Christians. They want our materialism, not our spirituality. Peterson told the reporter that he preaches to his congregation about this:

How do you do that? I’m sure that’s not an easy thing for a pastor to handle.

Well, I’m one of them. I live in the same kind of house they do. I drive the same kind of car they do. I shop in the same stores they do. So I’m like them. We’re all in this together.

My job as a pastor is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy. The truth is, there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible.

It’s possible for a few people to break out of society and form some kind of colony, in order to challenge society as a kind of shock troop. But that’s not my calling, and I don’t find it credible to use the language of separatism in a congregation where we’ve all got jobs, where we’re trying to find our place as disciples in the society and do what we can there. If I do that, I lose credibility. I’m using one kind of language on Sunday and another on Monday.

So what I have tried to develop first of all, in myself, is the mentality of the subversive. The subversive is someone who takes on the coloration of the culture, as far as everyone else can see. If he loses the coloration he loses his effectiveness. The subversive works quietly and hiddenly, patiently. He has committed himself to Christ’s victory over culture and is willing to do those small things. No subversive ever does anything big. He is always carrying secret messages, planting suspicion that there is something beyond what the culture says is final.

What would you say are some specific acts of Christian subversion?

They’re common Christian acts. The acts of sacrificial love, justice, and hope. There’s nothing novel in any of this. Our task is that we develop a self-identity as Christians and do these things not incidentally to our lives, but centrally. By encouraging one another, by praying together, by studying Scripture together, we develop a sense that these things are in fact the very center of our lives. And we recognize they are not the center of the world’s life, however much cultural talk there is about Christianity.

If we can develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities, then go to our jobs each day, to our families each night—then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a little bit towards belief and hope, so that when Christ appears there are people waiting for him.

Do we take seriously the prefix in the word subversive, the idea of coming up from under?

I think so. We’re working the depth, the heart of things. The gospel images are images of growth that comes from underneath. A seed, for example, is subsoil and subversive.

I have a friend, about 33, who is a pastor. He’s tall, good looking, a strong personality—the sort of person who could do well on television or with a famous church. But he talks about taking steps off the ladder, and he’s settled in little Victor, Montana. Maybe we need more pastors like him, and more churches that want pastors like him: the pastor who wants to be local, to take seriously a place, and the church that wants to be a community, using the simple materials of its locale.

At least that’s how I understand the pastoral life. I’ve been at Christ Our King Church for 23 years. All William Faulkner knew was two or three square miles of Mississippi, and I guess that’s what I want to do. I want to know two or three square miles of Christ Our King, just know it and keep on knowing it.

Read the whole thing.  The piece is brilliantly headlined, “A Monk Out Of Habit”.

Here’s a beautiful short tribute to the beloved pastor:

Posted in , . Tagged , . 5 comments

Leon Podles Was Right

Cardinal McCarrick (CBS Screenshot)

Without a doubt the most searing document on the Catholic sex abuse scandal I’ve ever read — much more agonizing than this past summer’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, for example — is Leon Podles’s 2008 book Sacrilege, which is out of print and very hard to find now. Here’s a link to Lee’s web page for Sacrilege. Lee is a Catholic, an abuse victim, and a professional investigator who put his skills to work to try to get to the bottom of what happened in the Catholic Church.

I started reading the book in galley form, and couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters. It’s not that it was a bad book — not at all! It’s that the stone-cold realities Lee wrote about — based on police reports, documents, and interviews — were overwhelming to me. Admittedly, I was at a very weak place, having just left the Catholic Church over the scandal. Still, the book was raw. Because Lee is a friend, I knew how much work he had put into it, and how he suffered while writing it.

But it was true, and important.

Now, in Touchstone, S.M. Hutchens talks about how Lee Podles has been vindicated by this year’s terrible revelations of abuse and sexual corruption in the Catholic Church. Hutchens recalls a 2008 post from a Catholic site called “Fringe Watcher” that dismisses Podles as a crazy ranter who was aiding and abetting anti-Catholics. In a First Things item in that same year, Richard John Neuhaus said:

Very different is Leon Podles’ Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (Crossland). It is a rambling essay of more than five hundred pages on a potpourri of items picked up from the public media and the blogosphere, including, along with the kitchen sink, stomach-turning details of abuse, mainly with boys, and a scathing, if familiar, indictment from a conservative perspective of liberal depredations that brought things to this sorry pass. Regrettably, the tone is shrill, and even righteous anger does not justify the author’s suspension of caution and charity in attributing motives. Among the repercussions of the crisis is a publishing stream that goes on and on, which is inevitable.

Ah, Neuhaus. He never could bring himself to see clearly what was right in front of his face.

Anyway, Hutchens says in the new article:

Anticipating a violently negative reaction to his book, before the publication of Sacrilege Leon warned us at an editorial meeting that Touchstone might wish to distance itself from him, and he tendered his resignation as a senior editor. We unanimously refused his offer, for even if he, like our Lord, was a theological freelancer with no strong Temple connections, the masthead of Touchstone, to which we firmly lashed him then, provided more than enough credentialed backing to someone we had always found sober, temperate, and reliable. That his soul was in agony as a result of learning what he did, and that a small measure of his pain was evident in the book, was nothing to us except proof of the kind of man he is.

In his First Things comment, Fr. Neuhaus insulted a man who had spent much of his life in case research with the accusation that his sources were paltry and flawed, “a potpourri of items picked up from the public media and the blogosphere.” In fact, Leon’s work was based upon many boxes of court records (as should have been clear from the reading) that had been turned over to him by another researcher who had quit the project for heartsickness, and whose intended work he successfully finished, only to find it rejected by the commissioning publisher because what he had found was just too painful and offensive.

The most powerful and telling part of Sacrilege, the part with which the Church will have to deal if it ever stops its evasions and increasingly hollow-sounding mea culpas, is the final section, where Dr. Podles deals with the historical and theological roots of the present crisis from the perspective of “a Catholic in good standing.” It is time once again to take up his book and read.

Read the whole thing. 

To be fair to the publisher mentioned above, I was (and remain) friends with those who made the decision not to publish, and I think theirs was a defensible call. It is hard to overstate how raw Sacrilege is. Again, that is not a criticism, but simply an observation. Back in 2002, I met with a major New York publisher — a boldface name — and pitched a book on the scandal. This publisher, a legend known for straight talk, turned me down, saying, “Nobody wants to pay $27 to read a book about priests screwing boys.” That executive was far from prissy; she was making a commercial judgment. I honestly believe that Sacrilege would have been all but impossible to sell in 2008 — and at any point until now.

Since the McCarrick news broke this summer, I’ve had five Catholics approach me to apologize for having said or thought nasty things about me for having left the Catholic Church over all this back in 2006. They’ve all told me that they assumed back then that I was overreacting; now, after what has come out this year, they know that I was telling the truth. I’m grateful for these honorable mea culpas, but they puzzle me a bit, because I’m pretty sure that most of what’s come out this summer and fall was known a decade ago. Right?

Or — this is more likely — the passage of time has allowed me to confuse the facts and stories I had in my head with what was available in public. Often I told people back then that I was only ever to write a small part of what I had learned, and believed to be true, because people wouldn’t go on the record.

It is also undeniably true that a lot of people back then simply could not imagine that the truth was as bad as all that. I hold the late Father Neuhaus more responsible than most, precisely because he was such an insider, and ought to have known better. His insider status, though, and his vanity, blinded him to the ugly reality of the scandal. Like Podles, I personally felt the lash of his tongue for the things I wrote about the Church and clerical sex abuse.

To be honest, I’m not sure how wide a readership Sacrilege would find today, simply because it is extremely dark. But it tells the truth. Catholics and others need to know these things — that these crimes happened, and that men of God covered them up for decades. It is very easy to treat these horrors as an abstraction, because it is extremely painful to come to terms with the barbarism and perversity within the Church. Leon Podles doesn’t flinch in describing exactly what these monsters did. Reading Sacrilege is like watching an exorcism up close and personal. I did not have the strength to get through it a decade ago. I don’t know if I have the strength today. But this book should be in print again, as a witness and a warning.

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that Loome Theological Booksellers has a lot of copies of Sacrilege for sale!

UPDATE.2: Leon Podles comments:

I am 72 and am engaging what the Swedes call döstädning, death cleaning, disposing of my belongings. I had the remaining 500 or so copies of Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church sent to Loome Theological Booksellers https://www.loomebooks.com/, should anyone be interested.

I wrote the book with two audiences in mind: bishops and district attorneys. I sent a copy of the book to every bishop in the United States. I received not a single acknowledgement. I have received notes of appreciation from prosecuting attorneys. The study I did on my web site, The Murder of Irene Garcia by the Rev. John B. Feit, http://www.podles.org/case-studies/Irene-Garza-Case-Study-page1.htmwas used, I was told, by the prosecution to structure their case against Feit. He was convicted.

I am puzzled why the current severe reaction to reports of sexual abuse did not occur after 2002, when all the material became available. Perhaps such a trauma takes a while to sink in. Germans did not really comprehend the horror of the Holocaust until the soap-opera-like Shoah came out in the 1970s.

I was put out when Spence Publishing asked me to write the book (which put me through hell) and then reneged on their contract. What were they expecting? A whitewash? I have been reflecting on Neuhaus’s bizarre reaction. Over the years many people have told me he was a homosexual. He kept repeating “Suppose there was only one incident a long time ago.” Finally, someone on a blog said what was in my mind: “Exactly how long ago was that incident, Father Neuhaus?” Something about my book got under his skin.

I have spoken with Cardinal Schönborn, who read part of Sacrilege, about Pope John Paul’s failure to deal with sexual abuse. He had spoken directly and privately to John Paul about it, and received a totally blank response. Such a failure in fulfilling the duties of his office should have prevented the canonization of John Paul, but canonizations are largely political events, and canonization is now a step on the clerical career ladder.

Benedict tried, more than any pope in centuries, probably since Pius V, to clean up the mess, but he was thwarted and realized he did not have the necessary stamina. The cardinals made the mistake of electing Bergoglio, who had a bad record in Buenos Aires. The cardinals did not know about it, or if they did know, did not care. Francis doesn’t really care. Dealing with cases of sexual abuse is a nuisance, he has made abundantly clear, a distraction from his real interest in trying to appear woke about such things as plastic pollution of the oceans.

McCarrick is but one instance of the culture of clerical pederasty which has grown up in segments of the Catholic Church. Older clerics seduce seminarians and young priests, whom they groom to put into positions of power in the church. Kenneth Woodward has just written about this in Commonweal: Double Lives https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/double-lives. He all but says that Wright in Pittsburgh had this relationship with Wuerl.

Woodward state the obvious truth, which so many in the Church want to ignore: “One cannot deny that homosexuality has played a role in the abuse scandals and their coverup, and to dismiss this aspect as homophobia one would have to be either blind or dishonest. This is one reason the McCarrick case is so important. McCarrick’s targets were young adults as well as adolescents, which fits the definition of homosexual abuse and rape. Like most middle-aged men, whether heterosexual or homosexual, he was attracted to younger bodies.”

Woodward dismisses the claim that clericalism was the sole source of the corruption: “But it wasn’t just clericalism that allowed McCarrick to abuse seminarians and young priests for decades, even though his behavior was widely known within clerical circles. And it wasn’t just his ecclesiastical clout that provided him protection. It was networks, too.”

These networks exist in the Church, extending high into the Vatican. They are powerful and seem to have influence over Francis, who does not want to acknowledge the corruption, because then he would have to deal with it, and he doesn’t want to do that. No one can make him, and he has a bad conscience about his inaction. By his example he is showing bishops how to ignore the corruption and pretend that everything is OK and needs only minor adjustments. This is not true; Francis knows it; and he will have to answer to God – as Viganò has said, and no one loves a prophet

Posted in . Tagged , , , , , . 20 comments

Larry Chapp’s Benedict Option

Readers, I invited Catholic theologian Larry Chapp to write something about the Benedict Option and his family’s project, The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm. I’m proud to publish it below. As you will read, Larry and his wife Carrie are the real deal.

By Larry Chapp

The Catholic Worker believes in creating a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new, which is not a new philosophy but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new. — Peter Maurin

In 1933, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker Movement to keep Catholic laborers from joining the Communist Party. Maurin was a strong advocate of Catholic Social Teaching, believing that the social order could be changed, not through political revolution, but through the living of the Works of Mercy. Lay people living a radical Christianity would transform the world. Day, a convert to the faith, credited Peter Maurin with her own Christian formation. His vision for the movement included roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought, houses of hospitality to practice the works of mercy, and farming communes.

Fast-forward eighty years. In the Spring of 2013, after years of prayerful soul searching, my wife Carrie and I pooled our resources with a former student of ours from DeSales University and started the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in Harveys Lake, PA. Carrie had been introduced to the life of Dorothy Day when she was in college at a time when she was just coming alive in her Catholic faith. Day became her role model – a lay woman living the faith radically. Theologians by training, she and I had spent the majority of our adult lives as university professors and academic administrators. She had students read Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, any chance she could. The student, now Father John Gribowich, had been teaching high school theology and earning graduate degrees in Theology and Art History before entering seminary for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Suffice it to say, none of us had any previous farming experience. In fact, our knowledge of farming was less than zero, since we not only lacked the requisite skills, but we were also filled with all kinds of dumb stereotypes about what farming was all about. But we all shared a common vision of the need to live a more radical Christian life as a witness to our troubled culture.

What drove us to this madness? In a nutshell, it was the growing realization of the radical nature of the crisis we face as Christians in the modern world — the realization that modern culture, since it is now post-Christian, presents the Christian faith with a unique challenge never before seen in its history, one that calls for a more radical form of Christian living as a response.

The naysayers are constantly trying to make it seem as if there is no real crisis here, that this is just business as usual — the Church has faced numerous crises “like this” before and has weathered them all. They poke fun, sarcastically, at people like Rod Dreher for being “alarmist” and “paranoid” and “hysterical”, and so on. But we knew that this is simply not true, that this is a false point of view, and profoundly so. We knew that the way of life we were engaged in — intellectual work for the Church for which we were nicely compensated, living in the suburbs and enjoying trips to Rome and nights out at fine restaurants — was “moral” and “decent” and “not sinful”. But, it became obvious to us that there was an approaching storm for which we were not spiritually prepared. We needed to lead a more radically committed form of Christian existence with a more ascetical focus that would be a pedagogy for our souls.

What all such “naysaying” misses about the crisis we face is precisely the uniqueness of a post-Christian culture with a form of secularity that is the counter image of that which it rejects. In other words, “secularism” is not a one size fits all term. Like all cultural and social realities, it is what it is in virtue of its unique historical context. And modern Western secularism arose precisely as a reaction against Christianity as a public force. As such, its founding narrative, its myth of origin, is a tale of the triumph of science and Enlightenment-based reason (objectivity defined as the enforcing of the fact-value distinction) over the benighted ignorance and superstition of the Roman Church in particular. Therefore, modern secularism is reactive in nature and what it is reacting against is Christianity.

But it was not enough to merely marginalize the faith as a public power. Because what the Church provided (the spiritual glue that held things together) had to be replaced, secularism emerges, as William Cavanaugh points out, as a simulacrum of the Church, with its own dogmas, first principles, eschatology, ecclesiology, and soteriology. Central to this new dogmatism is the belief that the modern secular State alone can “keep the peace”, that it alone can provide us with “progress” and, therefore, “salvation”, and that it alone can preserve us from the “violence” that Christianity brings in its wake. Note well, therefore, a central dogma of this new faith: Christians, especially the “serious” ones, are dangerous to the social order.

Carrie, John, and I, independently of each other, began to get the same intuitions in our prayer life and in our discernment: “Wake up. The old order is dead. The center will not hold. The hour is near. Launch out into deeper water”. We were led to seek a simpler, more secluded life, and to be ready to feed people. The intuition was not that of despair or flight or escape or survivalism or “doomsday prepping”. Our farm is not a “compound” with a defensive perimeter, a year’s worth of dried foods, and some hand grenades buried underground in an old school bus. As befits the pacifism of a Catholic Worker, we do not own a gun. If the Zombie apocalypse happens and hordes of the undead come seeking our canned tomatoes … they can have them.

“I want a change, and a radical change. I want a change from an acquisitive society to a functional society, from a society of go-getters to a society of go-givers.” — Peter Maurin

Rather, the intuition we all got was of the need to live a more radical form of the Christian life than the very comfortable and bourgeois life in which we were entangled. And the word “entangled” here is important, because what we realized was that it was not possible to remain as we were, while striving to be “detached” from what we had. We were too infected with the bacillus of modernity to pull that off. Rather, the intuition was that the form and structure of modern suburban existence (which we were living) was clogging our souls with the flotsam and jetsam of consumerism … of the tyranny of “stuff”, that modern consumeristic capitalism absolutely demands the creation of a kind of “collective of concupiscence” that infects us all with that aforementioned bacillus of “acquisition”, even as we console ourselves with such bromides as “I can own all of this stuff and live the way I do and live a ‘worldly life’ because I am ‘detached’ from it spiritually.” Jesus would beg to differ: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, we realized that our path had to be a more ascetical one, a more radical one, because “business as usual” meant stagnation and decline.

But even more than the irresistibleness of consumerism as a dissolving, moral acid, was the intuition growing within us of the deep nihilism and atheism that undergirds this secular project. Man, viewed as a constitutively worshipping being, is negated in secularism. It must be for the secular project to justify itself — because true worship of the Triune God has a regulative effect in our lives that lifts us out of this broken Kingdom and into the Kingdom of Christ’s resurrected and ascended body. It focuses the mind on “the one thing necessary” and motivates us to ascetical simplicity even as it reminds us that we are citizens of a different order of being, a different “regime”. It relativizes all absolutizing political and social projects insofar as the affirmation of the Kingship of the One God, so central to the act of Christian worship, places the dignity of the person, and thus of culture, outside of the regulative provenance of the State. The secularist therefore understands what many modern Christians do not, namely, that the most “political” thing a Christian does is to worship liturgically. As Bishop Robert Barron points out, when St. Paul declared to his communities “Jesus is Lord” he was saying something dangerous and revolutionary. Dangerous and revolutionary because its affirmation necessarily entails the denial of its opposite: “Caesar is Lord”.

And so, central to our decision to start a Catholic Worker farm, was the realization that it is all for nothing if it is not oriented to the praise and glory of the Triune God. Days on the farm begin and end with the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is the most important thing that we do – and the most “political” thing that we do. We have a small chapel filled with icons and candles and incense. I cannot tell you how often young people visit our farm for the first time and are on our standard “tour” and when they reach our chapel they stop, and their eyes open wide, and they just want to sit and “rest” in that presence. Such is the nature of the thirst and the hunger we all share as a result of the spiritual malnutrition inflicted upon us by our culture.

Readers of this blog are familiar with Rod’s proposed Benedict Option. What we are doing here is an attempt at precisely what he is calling for. Our farm seeks to create a space where people can rediscover the linkages between worshipping the Triune God, study, voluntary poverty, ascetism, localism, working the land, developing artisanal skills, and the rediscovery of “leisure”.

None of this is done out of a false sense of nostalgia for the past or a romanticizing of “the land”. Some of the food we grow is kept for our own use and preservation, but most is given away to others. Sounds simple, but it is actually much harder than we imagined. You must nurture and care for the soil, amending it with compost and livestock manure, but always in the right measure. You must mulch the plants and weed the beds constantly. You must be on your guard against insect invaders and root rot and fungal overgrowth. And throughout it all, you are at the mercy of the elements — as in this past summer where we in the Northeast have suffered through what can only be described as a monsoon of endless rain and little sunshine. You then have to harvest at just the right time and preserve what you have harvested under great pressure because everything is ripening at once and the clock is ticking.

This is how getting back to the land educates the soul. Manual labor expended in less than ideal conditions, with no assurance of positive results, induces either undifferentiated bitterness at the unfairness of existence, or it creates an asceticism of the will where one learns to accept whatever it is God places upon you. As my friend David L. Schindler is fond of saying (quoting Mother Teresa I believe): “Success is not a Gospel category”.

Our vision is rooted in the agrarianism of Peter Maurin. Maurin viewed the Catholic Worker farms as “agronomic universities” where people from the cities, beaten down by the soul-killing forces of industrial, factory-based, capitalism, could rediscover the linkages between “cult, culture, and cultivation”. And while it would be wrong to demonize urban living, there is a very real sense in which Maurin believed that the recovery of a more contemplative and mystical form of existence is best facilitated by a return to the land. Not without reason are almost all Benedictine Monasteries agricultural enterprises. I could go on and on about why this is necessary today, but a short blog post does not lend itself to such analysis. I will leave it to the reader’s good sense to understand why this is true. Suffice it to say that Peter Maurin was a “small is beautiful” localist, communitarian, and back-to-the-lander, long before such things were fashionable.

Following Dorothy Day’s example, my wife and I became Oblates of St. Benedict. We have come to believe that in order to survive the coming storm, a return to some form of monastic spirituality will be required of all of us, including the laity. Some form of a monastic “alternative” to the status quo will be required in order to keep the faith alive and re-evangelize the culture. In short, some form of the Benedict Option will be required.

The Benedict Option calls orthodox Christians to a deeper awareness of the profoundly anti-Christian challenges our culture is putting before us. Peter Maurin always spoke of the three C’s — cult, culture, and cultivation. The only way we will endure the coming storm of cultural barbarity is to form deeply intentional communities of Christian intellectual discourse, moral ecology, and liturgical practice — not so that we can “escape” the world and shun our brothers and sisters who remain within it, but so that we can know ourselves better and come closer to God so as to be better able to serve our neighbor in love.

We have real enemies in the culture. But hatred of our enemies is not allowed to us. And so there is no question of abandoning the culture because that is, quite simply, neither desirable nor possible. But we cannot drink from the same poisonous well, and so we must cultivate new sources of “living water” in order to share it with everyone. And “everyone” means, literally, “everyone”. We cannot be accused of “us vs. them” thinking. That kind of approach is not an option for a Christian. But if you do not “have” a Christian sensibility of the big questions of life, then by default you will “have” the template provided by our culture.

Along with our food production we also raise a small flock of sheep, which is probably the heart and soul of what we do on the farm. Carrie shears the sheep and processes the fleece, which is a very labor-intensive process! She then spins the wool into yarn and knits things for the homeless. There is certainly something very edifying about knitting a wool cap with wool from animals that we raised with love and care and hard work, some who needed our help just to be born. All of our sheep have names, so when my wife knits a cap, I ask her, whose fleece was that? And she will say “Oh that was from Rambo” (our ram). Such experiences mold the soul in positive ways.

Carrie also teaches others what she calls the “fiber arts”. Young people, both male and female, are really drawn to this, and I think it is because artisanal skills have that kind of timeless appeal. When you master a tactile skill, through hard work and repetition, and that skill is related to something as elemental as making the clothes you wear, it does something to the soul. Furthermore, when that skill requires of you an involvement in the developmental process from start to finish, it engenders a sense of pride and accomplishment that breeds the right kind of independent confidence.

And what would a farm be without chickens! We raise our chickens for eggs and give most of those eggs away to our parish. When we have visitors, we love having the little kids collect eggs and just touch a real chicken — there is something magical about it. The chickens also provide us with wonderful manure for compost and fertilizer. Lately, we have had a huge problem with predators killing our chickens. We have foxes, coyotes, raccoons, possums, skunks and weasels — and they all love to eat chickens! So, once again, nature teaches us the law of patience in the crucible of loss and frustrating defeat.

Then there are the court jesters of the farm world: Goats! How we love our goats. Such wonderful, people-oriented animals goats are, almost like dogs. We raise La Mancha dairy goats. We share the milk with our neighbors, but also make cheese and yogurt and soap. But the most fun of all is teaching these skills to others, especially young people. Ever teach a little child how to milk a goat? Pure joy! It is also exciting for so many of our visitors when they get to do something as simple as bottle feed a baby goat.

Another great feature of our farm is that we raise pigs and offer them to churches for pig roast fundraisers. You have not really “tasted” pork if your only experience is the stuff you get from industrial agricultural at the grocery store. Everything we do here is organic. And the pigs we roast have a robust flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. Pigs are highly intelligent but hard to care for. They are destructive, eat enormous amounts of food, and they smell (boy do they smell!). But the end product is one of nature’s greatest achievements!

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is an intellectual side to the farm as well, and this side of our ministry is just as important, if not more so, than all the rest that we do. We host what Peter Maurin called “roundtable discussions for the clarification of thought”, because in order to live lives oriented around the “Good” you first need to have a theoretical and theological understanding of what that means. There are several colleges and universities near us with many young professors in a variety of disciplines who have discovered our farm and are thirsty for the intellectual stimulation that this project brings to the table. Our meetings often revolve around articles drawn from the journal Communio: International Catholic Review, including an article of mine that focuses on Dorothy Day’s views on poverty.

I hasten to emphasize as well that these round table discussions are open to everyone. Truly. There is a “professorial core” group that is essential to its identity, but the focus is on how all of this stuff translates into a faith language that the average person can understand. That is how Peter Maurin structured both his meetings and his writings, which have come to be called his “Easy Essays”. In fact, we have many ordinary, non-professorial people who attend our discussions and they usually end up stealing the show!

We also host numerous groups of volunteers who enjoy getting their hands dirty and witnessing what we do here. Most of our volunteers come from local churches and two local colleges: Kings College in Wilkes Barre, and Misericordia College in Dallas, PA. Pictured below are a group of amazing young people from Misericordia.

Finally, we have an “open farm” policy which means we welcome visitors who just want to come and pray and eat and work and socialize with us. We do not have much room for overnight accommodations, so most people make day trips. If you want to know more about us, you can go to our webpage at www.dorothydaycwfarm.org or our Facebook page under the name

Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm.
Many thanks to Rod for allowing us to share all of this with his readers. Peace and blessings to all.

Below, our Border Collie “Leo” (named after Pope Leo XIII) with our ewe Fern. If you visit, he will greet you whether you like it or not.

 

Posted in , . Tagged , , , . 33 comments

Dolly Parton Put The ‘Honky’ In Honky-Tonk

Is this woman giving a fascist salute? Better ask a woke history professor (DFree/Shutterstock)

O Fortuna! This is incandescent. Jessica Wilkerson is a young white professor who grew up in Appalachia loving Dolly Parton. She went off to college (including doing a master’s at Sarah Lawrence, and a PhD at UNC-Chapel Hill) and had the scales lifted from her eyes when she finally admitted that she “needed to confront Dolly Parton’s blinding, dazzling whiteness.” Read on:

Dolly Parton has explained the reason she longed for [Dollywood, her 150-acre Tennessee amusement park] in the first place: “I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2010. And those jobs, anchored to place, could never be packed up and shipped to another country.

Turns out that after manufacturing plants started closing down in that part of the country, people were happy to have work at Dollywood. Studies show that most workers there like it a lot, though the work can be demanding of one’s time, and the pay isn’t great. One elderly worker who was there for decades says, “If it wasn’t for Dollywood, Sevierville would be on the unemployment line, I’m sure.”

Prof. Wilkerson informs us that Dolly is a hard taskmaster:

On top of that, their managers ask them to perform the emotional labor of hosting people as though in their own home, or, better yet, Dolly Parton’s home.

Oh Lord, no! Please, no more!

Dolly Parton promised jobs to her community; she did not promise well-paying jobs. And while Dollywood does not pay the worst wages in Sevier County or in the theme park industry, the wages are significantly lower than those they replaced as the economy shifted from manufacturing to tourism.

Imagine that: a theme park that depends on tourist dollars doesn’t pay its workers what they’d get at a manufacturing plant. We’re supposed to blame Dolly Parton for … what, exactly? There’s a health clinic onsite for workers and their families, and some pretty good benefits, but it’s not good enough. Wilkerson says some workers complain that they work too many hours, and others claim that they don’t get enough hours to amount to enough in their paychecks. Poor Dolly can’t win. Plus, the company that owns Dollywood along with her are a bunch of Evangelicals. Awful, just awful.

Plus, it turns out that in Prof. Wilkerson’s eyes, Dolly Parton is a pawn of white supremacy. Parton, 72, was born the fourth of twelve children to an illiterate Appalachian sharecropper and his wife, who raised them in a one-room cabin.  It is no surprise that Parton does not keep up with the latest revisionist cultural takes on Southern history. The story of “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede” is cringey, and the phenomenon really does tell an unflattering tale of how white Southern popular culture uses Civil War history in self-justifying ways.

Still, it’s a campy dinner-theater show, an acrobatic hootenanny that’s about two tics away from the Hall Of Presidents exhibit at Duff Gardens. Wilkerson writes about the dang thing as if Leni Riefenstahl had choreographed the thing.

And so, Prof. Wilkerson comes to her sad conclusion: Dolly Parton has bamboozled America!:

But her true genius is in how she has created multiple personas at once so that her fans can choose one that slips easily into their own stories and desires. She’s embraced by feminists and queer folks at the same time she is declared a queen by Confederate apologists. Dolly-as-mountain-girl anchors her to an ancestral white home in the imaginations of white people, while her class-conscious and gender-transgressive performance of whiteness becomes a signifier for white progressives who embrace gender fluidity and working-class iconolatry. She exhibits worldliness at the same she cloaks herself in the symbols of white nationalism.

Dolly Parton has built her empire on and with the debris of old, racist amusements and wrapped it in working-class signifiers and feminist politics. I ignored that fact for a long time because it didn’t fit the script of the feminist, working-class heroine I had conjured. But I also ignored how others’ attachment to Dolly is exactly because of her embrace of Dixie and her complex celebration of whiteness. And I have ignored how whiteness clings.

Confess, you cisgendered white woman! Confess!

Dolly Parton’s mythical story-songs of a mountain childhood and her witty and glitzy hillbilly performance were the secret ingredient to Dollywood’s success and expansion — an expansion that requires the ecological demise of the mountains, that gobbles up tons of water, land, and bodies in order to simulate a white Appalachian past of real hillbillies that Americans love. Is Dollywood, as Jean Baudrillard wrote of Disneyland in Simulacra and Simulation, an “imaginary” that is “neither true nor false”? Is it “a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real”? Does Dollywood and Dolly Parton herself rejuvenate whiteness, fueling it so that it rises up again and again in its Dixie-forms and in its Appalachia-(Scots-Irish-Anglo-Saxon-mountaineer)-forms?

Dollywood gobbling up “bodies”? Well, gosh. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that when you write something that has the words “Dollywood” and “Jean Baudrillard” separated by two letters, that’s a reliable sign that you’re full of sh*t.

Read the whole thing.

In all honesty, Wilkerson makes some interesting points about the cultural construction of Dolly Parton’s image, and what many of her fans see in her. But the overall effect is one of unintentional self-parody. Wilkerson has written a woke deconversion story, the faculty lounge version of a fundagelical stump preacher testifying about how she got saved and repudiated the world of sin. If Wilkerson’s piece were a country song, it’d be called “The Night She Tore Ol’ Dolly Down.”

I’ve never particularly been a fan of Dolly Parton, because her music and her style is not really my thing. But good grief, what kind of crabapple heart do you have to have to hate on Dolly Parton, of all people? Dolly was born into the kind of poverty and deprivation that’s all but unimaginable in America today, and rose out of it thanks to sheer talent and determination, became rich and famous without exploiting herself or being cruel to others. She went home to create a theme park that celebrates Appalachian music and crafts, and provides work for 3,000 local people in an economically distressed part of the state. It’s probably the case that the kind of people who vacation in Dollywood don’t work on  university humanities faculties, and fail to understand that they should now be ashamed of ever having enjoyed The Dukes of Hazzard, and of taking tacky pleasure in a Parton-produced Hee-Haw-ish stage show that touches on Civil War themes without a long face.

Prof. Wilkerson probably thinks that Kornfield Kounty is a Hillbilly Rhodesia, and that “BR-549” is some kind of alt-right racist dog whistle. Progressive cultural politics ruins everything it touches. There is nothing wrong with turning a critical eye onto once-cherished cultural touchstones, and reconsidering them in the light of new information or realities. But denouncing Dolly Parton — Dolly Parton! — as a fraud who conceals her rapacious capitalism and white nationalism beneath a cornpone, cosmetically enhanced façade — well, it tells us more about Wilkerson than it does about Dolly Parton. Why is it that the woke always come across as the most joyless, loveless, and inhumane people?

Hating Dolly Parton is so hard to do that only the intensively educated manage to pull it off. What an achievement.

UPDATE: A reader writes to say that papers like this put him in mind of this passage from George Orwell’s essay “Politics And The English Language”:

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

UPDATE.2: Oh my God. Look at this letter that just came in:

I am sitting by my wife in the hospital as she begins her transition to the presence of Christ. We had come to the mountains for one last visit 2 weeks ago, but once we got here her breathing became so labored we had to go to ER in Sevierville TN, at a hospital Dolly has contributed significantly to — LeConte Medical Center. It is a beautiful hospital, and the staff here is amazing. Just today one of the nurses was lauding Dolly for her generosity in investing so much money back into this area.

My wife, Kristi, was so impressed by the doctors and nurses that before she became comatose she said that she wanted donations sent here — HERE, not our cancer center in Tampa — instead of flowers.

Folks like Jessica Wilkerson are so divorced from reality it is scary and pitiful at the same time. But the juxtaposition of reading that article while sitting here in such a beautiful, caring, and peaceful hospital — funded in large measure by Dolly — was jarring.

If you have a moment, please say a prayer for my beautiful wife, who is concluding her 6 year battle with colorectal cancer here at this place of grace.

Please, please pray for Kristi. And for Jessica Wilkerson.

UPDATE.3: 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

May her memory be eternal. To make a donation to the hospital in Kristi Scott’s memory, click here.

Posted in , . Tagged , , , . 95 comments

America’s Camp Of The Saints Problem

If this didn’t exist, seems like the GOP would have to invent it:

A large group of mostly Honduran refugees, reportedly numbering into the thousands, has crossed into Guatemala in a caravan that is believed headed to the U.S. border.

Hundreds of migrants have arrived at the Guatemalan border town of Tecún Umán, along the southern border of Mexico, James Fredrick reports for NPR. Organizers of the caravan say they are waiting for thousands more to join them in the coming days, before attempting to cross the Mexican border.

The migrants say they are fleeing gangs and poverty. At first glance, it seems like the migrant caravan is a boon to Republicans ahead of the November election. Anger over uncontrolled immigration has been key to Donald Trump’s appeal. It turns out, though, that the situation actually reveals the limits of the president’s powers to control the southern US border. From the Washington Post:

Even as President Trump continues to consider immigration to be a political winner next month in helping turn out his conservative base for the midterm elections, tensions in the West Wing have reached a boiling point. A profane shouting match over immigration this week among top aides prompted Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to storm out of the White House and marked the culmination of weeks of mounting anxiety, several senior administration officials said.

Trump’s own escalating frustration has led him to excoriate aides for not taking more aggressive actions and to offer his own ideas, officials said. He has ruminated this week over the possibility of sending more soldiers to the border, even though thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed there since April with no evidence of a deterrent effect.

The Post reports that Trump is learning what his predecessor did: that the problem is extremely difficult to solve. More:

Trump is pushing for a more muscular response, and he favors sending more U.S. soldiers to the border. About 1,600 National Guard troops are deployed in four states after Trump ordered the move in the spring, according to Homeland Security officials.

But DHS officials say they need more legal and legislative firepower. The vast majority of Central American migrants who reach the border are turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents, claiming a fear of return and a desire to seek asylum. More National Guard troops and the border wall that Trump has proposed would be largely irrelevant, experts have said.

By Friday afternoon, video clips showed the Honduran migrants, having made their way through Guatemala, attempting to cross into Mexico, some wading through a river.

Back in Washington, one senior DHS official put the scene into perspective.

“We see the equivalent of a caravan cross our border every day,” the official said. “We’re catching 1,500 people a day.”

That’s incredible. Fifteen hundred a day!

Since I started this post over the weekend, the migrant horde has grown. From the WaPo:

The caravan of migrants from Central America grew to roughly 5,000 Sunday, a massive group that stretched along this city’s main highway for more than a half-mile.

They spoke in different accents, fleeing different disasters: joblessness in parts of Honduras, a mounting political crisis in Nicaragua, cities in Guatemala where they were sure their children would languish as they had.

And then there were the deportees. Many of the migrants here had previously lived in the United States, for years or even decades, joining the caravan to reunite with their children, or to resume old jobs. They were undeterred by the American authorities who had apprehended them or the U.S. president who promised to keep them out again.

Some of them had returned voluntarily to their home countries long ago, but eventually determined that there was nothing there for them. Now, they were traversing Mexico while President Trump tweeted about their journey, demanding that the migrants apply for asylum in Mexico before continuing north, threatening to close the U.S. border as Mexican authorities appeared to allow the caravan to proceed.

“It’s time for me to go back to the United States. It’s a country where I can live my life, unlike Guatemala,” said Job Reyes, 36, who had spent most of his childhood and teenage years in Los Angeles, attending kindergarten through high school there.

Last week, a PBS NewsHour correspondent reported from Morocco, which has become the latest place from which sub-Saharan African migrants try to launch themselves into Europe. Here’s an exchange he had with one of them:

Question: Are you afraid of the sea?

Man: No, I’m not frightened of the sea. I have no hope in this country. It’s death or a new life. That’s it.

How does a country that does not want itself invaded meet that kind of force — that is, the determination to succeed or die trying?

The reporter added this at the end:

Nations may place obstacles in their way, but dreamers believe any barrier is surmountable.

“Dreamers.” Such media framing! These people are potential invaders. But the media sentimentalize them. To be clear, the media should not demonize them, but neither should it sentimentalize them. That it frames the story in those terms is very Camp Of The Saints.

Why is the Central American caravan a Camp of the Saints problem? That’s the title of an extremely controversial 1973 French novel set in a racial dystopia. It is a frankly racist book, but one based on a highly relevant question. Its author, Jean Raspail, once explained how he got the idea for it. From Wikipedia:

Raspail has said his inspiration came while at the French Riviera in 1971, as he was looking out at the Mediterranean.

What if they were to come? I did not know who “they” were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.

In the book, a massive flotilla carrying vast throngs of migrants from India makes its way to France. Most of the narrative is taken up with France’s preparation for their landing on the southern coast. Raspail’s is a slashing satire of French elites — governmental, media, academic, religious — who have lost faith in their own civilization, and who are prepared to surrender their country to the dreamers unarmed invaders, out of humanitarian motives.

The novel’s racism is offensive and deeply off-putting. This makes it difficult to appreciate what this extremely dark novel gets right.

Raspail — a Frenchman writing about Europeans — foresees a Europe that is no longer morally capable of doing what it takes to defend itself. In fact, the book draws the same conclusion about the West in general. Raspail understands Western civilization to be something of, by, and for white people, though he creates a sympathetic character who was born in India, but who has adopted Western culture and wishes to defend it against invaders from back home.

What the book asks us today is: How far would we go to defend the sovereignty of our nations from invaders who want to cross our borders not with weapons to conquer, but nevertheless to settle here? If 5,000 armed guerrillas tried to cross the US-Mexico border, there’s no question how the government would respond. But if 5,000 migrants, including women and children, tried to do this, what then? Would a US president ever order troops to open fire — and if so, under what circumstances? When, if ever, would lethal force be morally justified against unarmed invaders?

To open fire on unarmed people trying to cross the border would be a moral horror. Surely there are many non-lethal ways to stop this, though it’s interesting to note that the Trump administration can’t seem to get a handle on the problem.

Seems to me that Europe faces a vastly more difficult challenge, for several reasons:

  1. Europe’s southern borders are much harder to defend;
  2. Europe’s unwanted migrants come from the Middle East and, especially, from Africa, which will be a source of seemingly endless migrants for a long time to come;
  3. Europe’s migrants are from non-Western cultures (versus Latin Americans, who are Western and Christian)

So: at what point will a European navy open fire on a boat carrying migrants? If that happens, how will the European public react? If that action is unthinkable, doesn’t that give a tremendous advantage to migrants?

The raw logic of Raspail’s novel says that the only way to defend Western civilization from these invaders is to be willing to shed their blood. In the novel, only a few Westerners are willing to do that, and they fail. The rest collapse, spiritually and morally exhausted.

The book is a kind of alt-right pornography, and I found it frequently repulsive to read. Yet looking at that migrant caravan heading north, that “numberless disinherited people of the South” who like a tidal wave, are marching north toward our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier — it’s impossible not to think about Raspail’s ugly prophetic work.

How far, ultimately, are the United States and Europe willing to go to control their own borders in the face of people who believe they have nothing to lose by trying to cross the frontier? And: at what point do most of us cease to believe that we have anything worth defending — and a majority of us come to believe that those numberless disinherited people from the South are “a kind of solution”  to our terminal malaise?

(I would like the discussion in the comments boxes to focus on the questions in the previous paragraph, and not on random pro- or anti-Trump potshot-taking. These are deep existential questions that Europe and the United States are facing now, and will continue to face this century — Europe far more than the US.)

Posted in , , , , , , . Tagged , , , , , . 168 comments

Adrian Vermeule’s Ivy League Papstprinzip

Ultramontanism left and right: leading Catholic progressive Massimo Faggioli (left) and hard-right Catholic integralist Adrian Vermeule (right) (Photo via Faggioli’s Twitter feed)

He’s blocked me on Twitter, but a friend sent me this tweet from Adrian Cardinal Vermeullarmine, the Catholic convert of two years who has fashioned himself into a Rex Mottram for the Ivy League rightist intellectual set. If the Pope says its raining, but no moisture is falling from the sky, from Adrian’s point of view, it really is raining in a spiritual sense, but we’re too sinful to see it. This is Mottramism.

What’s completely bizarre is that Prof. Vermeule, a Harvard Law school star, positions himself much to the right of the conservative mainstream — but has embraced an intellectual position that requires him to celebrate everything Pope Francis does. How, exactly, does one go from angrily defending Pius IX’s 1858 kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, the Jewish child who had been secretly baptized by a Catholic servant, and who was removed from his home by agents of the pope, so that he could be raised Catholic. (Here’s a thoughtful recap of the meaning of the affair today, from the Jewish magazine Mosaic.) Because Vermeule blocked me on Twitter, I can’t find and post any of his tweets denouncing First Things magazine for its editor’s apologizing for having published a review essay defending Pius IX’s actions.

Many leading conservative Catholics spoke up to clearly affirm that Pius IX had been wrong to have had the Jewish child kidnapped. But Vermeule — sorry, Cardinal Vermeullarmine, after the Counter Reformation Cardinal Robert Bellarmine — staunchly defended the 19th century pope’s deed. This is what happens when your ideology commits you to defending whatever a pontiff does.

Lately His Eminence has been tearing into Catholics — even traditionalists like Michael Brendan Dougherty — who criticize Pope Francis on traditionalist grounds. They have pointed out that the things Francis is saying and doing radically undermine the Catholic Church’s teaching in various ways, but Vermeule, the patriarch of Ivy Ultramontanism, sees in Francis’s critics an undifferentiated mob of de facto Protestants who must be condemned and combatted. What’s completely weird is that this far-right Harvard Law professor finds himself in total sympathy with Father Thomas Rosica, a progressive who said recently of the pontiff:

Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is “free from disordered attachments.” Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.

And if this insane suggestion from a group of fathers working at the Youth Synod in Rome now gets the approval of Pope Francis, Cardinal Vermeullarmine will defend it too with the vigorous loyalty of a pickaxe-wielding Rumanian miner rushing down from the mountains to defend Comrade Ceausescu:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Why do I care? Because a reader sent me this Vermeule tweet from this morning:

Think how far gone into the fever swamps of Mottramist ideology you have to be to identify as a product of “obsessive bitterness and rage against the Catholic Church” a book built around a celebration of the wisdom and practice of traditionalist Benedictine Catholic monks, one that highlights at least two orthodox Catholic communities as exemplars for the entire Christian world? Recently in Italy, The Benedict Option was praised in a speech by Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the private secretary of Benedict XVI and prefect of the Papal Household. Monsignor Gänswein ended his remarks like this:

Therefore I have to confess sincerely that I perceive this time of great crisis, one that is evident to everyone, mostly as a time of grace. In the end, we will be “set free” not by a specific effort, but by the “truth”, as the Lord assured us. Within this hope, I look at the recent accounts made by Rod Dreher for the “purification of the memory” requested by John Paul II; and hence, with gratitude, I read his “Benedict Option”, as a marvelous source of inspiration. In these last few weeks, nothing else has provided me as much consolation.

I don’t think I have to worry much about Vermeule’s crackpot diagnosis of my book — which I’m sure he hasn’t read — and my fine self having any influence outside of a tiny group of ideologues, who are equally ignorant of the book I’ve actually written. From that Vermeule thread:

Well, gosh, I say this on page 7 of The Benedict Option:

These monasteries kept faith and learning alive within their walls, evangelized barbarian peoples, and taught them how to pray, to read, to plant crops, and to build things. Over the next few centuries, they prepared the devastated societies of post-Roman Europe for the rebirth of civilization.

It all grew from the mustard seed of faith planted by a faithful young Italian who wanted nothing more than to seek and to serve God in a community of faith constructed to withstand the chaos and decadence all around them.

What I find fascinating about him is how even the finest minds can become possessed by an abstract idea and its logic, to the point of near-insanity. Vermeule’s slavish ultramontanism commits him to defending a modernist pope hammering away at the foundations of Catholic teaching.

A reader emails this screenshot of a subsequent Vermeule tweet this morning:

Of course Cupich had plainly not read the book either, as is obvious from the content of his remarks. Still, it’s fascinating to see Vermeule and his followers lining up with anti-traditional modernists like Cupich.

It would be wrong to think of Vermeule’s crankery as merely eccentric. A clue as to how the right-wing ultramontanist Vermeule joins hands with Rosica and Cardinal Cupich can be found in this short 2017 essay by Vermeule, on the political and religious thought of Carl Schmitt — this, based on a Schmitt book published before Schmitt became a Nazi. Vermeule writes:

Here we arrive at the heart of Schmitt’s vision for the future of the Church and its role in a society increasingly dominated by technical rationality. Schmitt’s prediction is that such a society would eventually consume and destroy itself; and a central thesis of the book as a whole is that our liberal-technical society is itself just such a society.

Schmitt is unfortunately vague on the precise mechanisms of self-destruction. But from the larger context of his thought we can extrapolate to fill in the remainder of the picture. The state becomes overrun by rent-seeking interests and a depoliticized managerial politics, while citizens relapse into a kind of apathetic and hedonistic privacy, dominated by consumerism and a consumerist approach to political life. At a certain point, however, the thinness of the regime’s claim to loyalty, and the accelerating pace and increasing burdens of relentless creative destruction, jointly become intolerable. The sheer plasticity and restless liberationism of the regime exceed the populace’s appetite for freedom, and a kind of rebellion against the principles of the regime itself will occur. The populace craves the return of “strong gods” (in R. R. Reno’s phrase) and summons them. It is not impossible to discern the beginnings of such a process in our own era, as Reno indeed does. The economic-technical state ultimately turns out to be self-undermining, because it rests upon a defective psychology and anthropology.

How then to understand the role of the Church in the setting of a society careening towards this endpoint? My suggestion, which is consistent with Schmitt’s vision, but goes beyond what he articulates, is that the Church serves as a kind of ark, whose vocation is to preserve the living tradition of the Verbum Dei amidst the universal deluge of economic-technical decadence, and the eventual self-undermining of the regime.

There are a number of distinct structures or vehicles that are available to carry out the Church’s vocation as a guardian of memory. One is a museum, a static space for unliving or frozen objects. Another is a zoo, a static space for living beings. Museums and zoos have their place and value, but a third and higher vehicle of guardianship is the ark. Unlike a museum, an ark houses living beings, who breed, reproduce, and change over time. Unlike a zoo, an ark does not remain in place, but carries its beings on a journey with a discernible aim, even if that aim is, for the time being, merely survival.

Hmm. My guess is that Vermeule sees the figure of the Pope, not the Church itself, as the Ark. It’s a crucial difference. Catholic traditionalists like Michael Brendan Dougherty maintain that the Pope is bound by the tradition of which he is a guardian. I’ve not read widely in Vermeule, so please correct me if you have, and I’m wrong, but it seems clear to me that Vermeule believes that the Church is the Pope. If Francis leads the Church away from its authoritative tradition, towards modernist forgetting, well, Cardinal Veullarmine will provide the intellectual rationalization for whatever the Leader says.

How that can be squared with anything in the Catholic tradition, I don’t know. Seems to me that Cardinal Vermeullarmine is adapting for Catholic use the German concept of Führerprinzipwhich, note well, slightly predates the Nazi Party. From Wikipedia:

The Führerprinzip was not invented by the NazisHermann von Keyserling, an ethnically German philosopher from Estonia, was the first to use the term. One of Keyserling’s central claims was that certain “gifted individuals” were “born to rule” on the basis of Social Darwinism.

The ideology of the Führerprinzip sees each organization as a hierarchy of leaders, where every leader (Führer, in German) has absolute responsibility in his own area, demands absolute obedience from those below him and answers only to his superiors. This required obedience and loyalty even over concerns of right and wrong.

How does a self-identified orthodox Catholic justify blind deference to the person of the Pope, even when that Pope says and does things that appear to contradict the authoritative teachings, and the traditions, of the Roman Catholic Church?

Papstprinzip, is how.

(No, I’m not calling Vermeule a Nazi. I’m saying that his Schmittian follow-the-leader-at-all-costs Catholicism puts him in the absurd position of defending a Pope who is tearing apart the things that he, Vermeule, professes to value. This is in no way conservative. It’s radical.)

Looks like I owe an apology to Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine for having associated his name with Pope Francis’s Harvard disciple:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

If any of you are a closer readers of Vermeule than I am, and have a better explanation for where he’s coming from with all this, please speak up. I’m reminded of Catholic blogger Mark Shea’s hopeless Mottramism from 2002-05, when he showed himself incapable of imagining that Pope John Paul II was failing in his handling of the scandal. Shea kept putting forward on his blog a theory that amounted to “John Paul has a secret plan to end the scandal, but we’re too sinful to see it.”

UPDATE: Reader Adamant says my reading of Vermeule is incorrect, and offers this lengthy piece Vermeule once wrote in First Things as evidence for that conclusion. I’m not sure. Certainly I would agree with most of what Vermeule writes here. I believe, though, that the main difference is that he, as a Catholic integralist, sees a future in Catholics steadily marching through the institutions. Leaving aside the fact that non-Catholic Christians, as well as nonbelievers of all kinds, would likely not want to live in a confessional Catholic state, there is no getting around the fact that most Catholics in the modern world would not want to live in that kind of state.

An integralist might say that if they knew what was good for them, they would want to live in a confessional state. Okay. But the Catholic Church in the 21st century, at least in the West, can’t even get most of its own people to agree on more fundamental Catholic teachings than whether or not Catholicism should be the religion of the state. How can you line them up behind the project of Catholic integralism when you can’t even get most Catholics to show up at mass on Sunday? When — see here — two out of three support gay marriage, and slightly more than half support legalized abortion?

The general thrust of the Benedict Option idea is an answer to this 2004 insight from the church historian Robert Louis Wilken:

Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture, because in recent generations this culture has become dangerously thin. At this moment in the Church’s history in this country (and in the West more generally) it is less urgent to convince the alternative culture in which we live of the truth of Christ than it is for the Church to tell itself its own story and to nurture its own life, the culture of the city of God, the Christian republic. This is not going to happen without a rebirth of moral and spiritual discipline and a resolute effort on the part of Christians to comprehend and to defend the remnants of Christian culture. The unhappy fact is that the society in which we live is no longer neutral about Christianity. The United States would be a much less hospitable environment for the practice of the faith if all the marks of Christian culture were stripped from our public life and Christian behavior were tolerated only in restricted situations.

If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day. There is great wisdom in the maligned phrase ex opere operato, the effect is in the doing. Intention is like a reed blowing in the wind. It is the doing that counts, and if we do something for God, in the doing God does something for us.

The Benedict Option does not call for total Christian withdrawal from public life. It does call for prioritizing both the re-evangelization of Christians and strong discipleship. The day might come when Roman Catholics, or Christians in general, will be called to offer political leadership as confessing Christians. They — we — will not be ready for that call, or worthy of that call, if we do not undergo intensive reform now. Seems to me that the Achilles heel of Vermeule’s concept is its dependence on the stability of the Church of Rome, and the resilience of its moral authority. Again, it’s so bizarre to watch a right-of-center Catholic twist himself into knots to defend Pope Francis, who is using papal authority to undo traditional Catholic teachings for the sake of accommodating liberal modernity. If the Holy Roman Pontiff cannot be relied on to uphold and defend magisterial tradition, where does that leave Catholic integralists? The only way to defend their position is to accept dogmatically that whatever the pope decides to do is right because the pope has decided to do it.

Right? What am I missing?

Posted in , . Tagged , , , , , . 64 comments

View From Your Table

New Orleans, Louisiana

James C., at work tonight behind the camera at Luke in New Orleans.

Posted in . Tagged , . 3 comments

View From Your Table

Toulon, France

The reader writes:

This isn’t your usual VFYT in Provence; it’s a piece of the American South in France. My husband, two children and I are visiting my husband’s grandmother in Toulon, France. She lives in a 150-year-old farmhouse, and we’re having Sunday lunch in her front yard under a recently deceased acacia tree. Grandma is an excellent cook, but today I’m at the helm and made chicken salad from a dear friend’s bonafide Church Lady potluck recipe. Those dark little muscadet grapes in the salad taste like heavenly rosewater sweetness. We had it with lovely croissants from the bakery (much cheaper here!), terrine de campagne, a nice rosé and my mother’s recipe for Cuban-style rice pudding.

Grandma is faster and sharper than you or me at 97 and still drives stick, paints and holds forth on any subject. It’s a 24-hour pilgrimage to get here from our home and we’re happy to make the trip. She’s kind of grandma who would invite all four grandchildren to spend summers with her and (now late) Grandpa every year–our living treasure. Bon appétit!

Adelaide, Australia

The reader writes:

Here’s a quick pic of the view from my table after brunch at a friend’s place in the Adelaide hills. I don’t take pictures often so didn’t think to take one before the food was finished (delicious savoury crepes filled with mushrooms, cheese and spinach). Also a bonus pic, our neighbour at his table 20m away.

Look who was feasting nearby while they ate:

 

Posted in . Tagged , , , . 3 comments

Transgenderism: Trump’s Common Sense

Andraya Yearwood (L) and Terry Miller (R), male-to-female transgender high school track stars (Good Morning America screenshot)

Well, will you look at this:

The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.

A series of decisions by the Obama administration loosened the legal concept of sex in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing sex largely as an individual’s choice — and prompting fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept. Conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, were incensed.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

More:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.

Read the whole thing. 

Naturally, the Times is freaking out. Look at this headline:

You could just as easily write, “Trump Administration Eyes Defense Of Women’s College, High School Athletics”. If women don’t want male athletes who identify as women competing as women and defeating them, thanks to their superior strength, then they should be grateful for this potential common-sense, science-based move by the administration.

For example, consider the case of Andraya Woodward and Terry Miller, two biological males who identify as female, and who have been wracking up wins in female high school track events. More:

Terry and Andraya came in first and second place, respectively, in the 100-meter race at the State Open Finals on June 4. Terry also won the top prize for the 200-meter dash.

“I was expecting it,” Terry told ABC News’ Linsey Davis of the backlash she’s faced as a trans athlete. “Every day, I would go home, search up ‘track and field high school Terry Miller.'”

Some online comments have been harsh, Terry said. Critics complain that she and Andraya both have an unfair advantage, after having been assigned the male sex at birth. The critics say the male testosterone hormone gives them a leg up in sports.

Andraya told ABC News that she decided “the summer before ninth grade” it would be more appropriate for her to run on the girls’ team because she identifies as female.

So these teenagers have the power to deny the reality of biological sex, and in so doing rewrite the rules of female athletic competitions to disempower biological females. Why on earth are women standing for this? Wokeness is kryptonite for the left.

Contrary to the hysterical Times headline, if approved, the new proposed Title IX rules wouldn’t mandate discrimination, but would only establish in law that schools receiving federal funds have no Title IX obligation to give transgendered people what they want. For example, there will be no federal mandate to open female locker rooms and bathrooms to boys who identify as girls. Like I said: common sense.

Thank you, Trump.

UPDATE: This isn’t a Title IX affair, but it shows why the Trump administration is on the right course. Rachel McKinnon, a Canadian man who identifies as a woman, just won a world championship race for women cyclists.

Some biological female athletes say trans females have an unfair competitive advantage — both because of sex hormones and due to inherent strength differences.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Rachel McKinnon said it doesn’t matter if transgender women have an unfair competitive advantage, because the most important thing is to make sure that trans individuals don’t feel oppressed.

“Focusing on performance advantage is largely irrelevant because this is a [trans] rights issue,” McKinnon told USA Today. “We shouldn’t be worried about trans people taking over the Olympics. We should be worried about their fairness and human rights instead.”

Right, so the women who are disadvantaged by having to compete against biological men should just shut up and go away, because that’s the cost of making people like McKinnon feel like natural women.

Insane. And deeply unjust.

UPDATE: People are out of their minds. Trump is only thinking of returning people to the status quo of a few years ago. Denny Burk reminds people of reality:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

UPDATE.2: Interesting observation from reader Edmund Charles:

This is a type of reverse Kavanaugh, where mothers who want the best for their daughters and spend weeks of their lives each year transporting them to soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, gymnastics, lacrosse, and dozens other girls-only practices and games, can see that the left is threatening not only their daughters childhood, i.e. having fun playing sports, but in many cases jeopardizing their chances to play collegiate athletics. When moms feel the playing field isn’t fair while they invest so much time and money into their daughters’ athletic careers, don’t be surprised when they vote Trump in 2020, the same way the moms of sons worry about how the left will treat their sons post-Kavanaugh.

Posted in , , . Tagged , . 178 comments
← Older posts