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The Search For Hope

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Scott Lucas of Buzzfeed is not a Christian, but he called Christian scholars to see where we should find hope in hard times. This jumped out at me:

“We don’t have any special wisdom. We don’t have special answers,” Steven C. van den Heuvel, professor of systematic theology at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium, told me. That’s a little unsettling to hear from the editor of Historical and Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Hope, published earlier this year, and one of the leaders of the Hope Project, a social science effort to measure hope.

What he meant is that he doesn’t see a clear role for his denomination in the larger community: It can nurture its own faith but doesn’t add to the larger conversation. “I stand in Europe in a secular context,” he said. “Essentially, the church doesn’t play a big role here. We are even more irrelevant than before.”

In Belgium, the virus — rather than drawing people toward faith — has brought a secular communion. “The guiding moments early on were the press conferences of the prime minister,” said van den Heuvel, when the nation would gather, at home in front of their televisions, to connect, find meaning, and mark the time in rituals.

I thought he might tell me how the secular world could draw lessons on how to have hope from the Christian world, but I was wrong. In fact, quite the opposite; van den Heuvel is looking externally.

Oh brother. That guy. A Christian theologian who believes that Christianity offers no special answers to the problem of hopelessness is like a doctor who doesn’t believe in medicine. What is the point of it all? One professor does not represent an entire institution, but if that’s how they roll at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, then they should shut the thing down and open a pub in the building. Let the dead bury their dead.

Much better is the response he received from Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner:

Ephraim Radner seemed slightly surprised to talk to me. In August, he published an article titled “Theology After the Virus” on the website of the religious journal First Things, in which the professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College argued that Christians’ failure to offer anything to the outside world pointed to a need to retreat from the secular world. Out of the streets, back to the monastery.

“Churches have had little to say during this period beyond platitudes: encouragement, social responsibility, mutual care,” he wrote in his article — idle talk unsuited to the demands of modern life, let alone the pandemic.

His point was bracing and, to my ears, correct.

“There will be a deep thirst to forge some theological ‘response’ to the Time of the Virus,” he wrote. “I already hear exhortations from Christian leaders, reminding us that the present time is stirring up new powers of Christian proclamation. But most of this energetic cheer, I confess, seems to come down to ramping up current and long-standing commitments to justice, economic reinvention, democracy, environmental sustainability, and generic ‘hope.’”

All fine goals, but nothing particularly theological about them. Those sound like the hopes held by a political party or a book club. What do they have to do with faith?

For Radner, that’s an indictment of the sort of hopes offered by the Christian churches; they don’t offer an independent vision of what to hope for.

There’s more from Radner and others in the Scott Lucas article; read the whole thing.

This is a good place to bring up what Admiral James Stockdale said about hope and optimism. This is from a discussion of the “Stockdale Paradox,” as it emerged in the Jim Collins book Good To Great:

Collins told the story of Admiral James Stockdale who was a POW during the Vietnam War. Collins notes, “It just seemed so bleak—the uncertainty of his fate, the brutality of his captors, and so forth…how on earth did he deal with it…?”

When Collins asked that very question directly to Stockdale, he replied, “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Collins followed with another question: “Who didn’t make it out?”

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart….

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose —with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

For years I have talked in this space about how Christian hope is not the same thing as optimism. Optimism assumes that everything is going to work out fine. Christian hope is the conviction that even if things do not work out fine in this world, that our suffering has ultimate meaning, if we join it to Christ’s sacrifice. This is why the elderly ex-prisoners of conscience that my Slovak friend Timo Krizka interviewed for his project about those imprisoned by the Communist regime over their faith told him that their time in prison was some of the most joyful of their lives — precisely because they felt so close to God there. From Live Not By Lies:

Several years ago, Križka set out to honor his ancestor’s sacrifice by interviewing and photographing the still-living Slovak survivors of communist persecution, including original members of Father Kolaković’s fellowship, the Family. As he made his rounds around his country, Križka was shaken up not by the stories of suffering he heard—these he expected—but by the intense inner peace radiating from these elderly believers.

These men and women had been around Križka’s age when they had everything taken from them but their faith in God. And yet, over and over, they told their young visitor that in prison they found inner liberation through suffering. One Christian, separated from his wife and five children and cast into solitary confinement, testified that he had moments then that were “like paradise.”

“It seemed that the less they were able to change the world around them, the stronger they had become,” Križka tells me. “These people completely changed my understanding of freedom. My project changed from looking for victims to finding heroes. I stopped building a monument to the unjust past. I began to look for a message for us, the free people.”

The message he found was this: The secular liberal ideal of freedom so popular in the West, and among many in his postcommunist generation, is a lie. That is, the concept that real freedom is found by liberating the self from all binding commitments (to God, to marriage, to family), and by increasing worldly comforts—that is a road that leads to hell. Križka observed that the only force in society standing in the middle of that wide road yelling “Stop!” were the traditional Christian churches.

Timo goes on to say that he finally understood why despite the fact that his generation was so much more free and wealthier than their parents and grandparents, they suffered from the pain of anxiety from the instability of the world. The old people who had had everything taken from them had to find hope in God — and they, in turn, passed that secret on to their young interlocutor.

I think that my 2017 book The Benedict Option will draw a number of second looks now and in the days to come. It’s about building small forms of Christian community, and taking on the kinds of practices that will create a resilient Christianity for this post-Christian era. It’s about creating something beyond platitudes, something that arises out of a realistic — in the Stockdale sense — appraisal of where we are in this world, and where the church is. I wrote about this to a great extent earlier today, in the Paul Kingsnorth Riding The Wave post. Heaven knows I am completely opposed to the theological progressives within Christianity. I don’t want to hear the happy-clappy middle-class optimism of the usual preachers, who really don’t have anything to say to a country coming apart at the seams. Nor do I want to descend into the bilious miasma of the chronic conservative Christian complainers, whose only passion for the faith seems to be in griping. Nor am I interested in the nostalgic America-worship of the  Patriot Churches, who come across as the right-wing mirror image of the Christians who make left-wing politics the core of their religious experience.

Where is hope? Let me ask you readers: where do you see hope these days? Do you think Christians have the answer? Why or why not? If you don’t see hope around you, can you talk a little about what hope would look like — that is, how you would know it if you were looking at it? Are you capable of receiving hope if it were offered to you in an unfamiliar form?

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Liberal Media Managing Biden Narrative

Tony Bobulinski, Hunter Biden business partner. Why don't you know him? Ask the liberal media (Source)

Ross Douthat writes about how the media have ignored the Hunter Biden corruption stories. He says it’s a meta-story about media power concentrated in the hands of a few people who care more about controlling the Narrative than reporting the news. Excerpt:

On the one hand, the new information is not the Biden-slaying blockbuster suggested by the New York Post headlines and some Trump supporters. But neither does it fit the description offered by NPR’s managing editor for news last week, explaining why they were only covering it as a media story: “We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.”

Oh yeah, NPR. I turned it on Sunday morning while driving. Guess what they were talking about? Race! Guess what they are always talking about? Race! Guess how many different opinions about race they offer? One! NPR is so deep in the ideological tank that they actually invited Comrade Ibram X. Kendi on last week to record a 17-minute interview on — ta-daah!antiracism. 

How many times has Kendi appeared, or has his name come up, on a NPR program in the past year? According to a search of NPR.org, fourteen times. How many times has the black conservative Shelby Steele’s name come up (he made national news in some outlets when Amazon initially refused to stream his documentary about Ferguson)? Zero. How about John McWhorter — not a black conservative, but a black intellectual who has had critical things to say about progressive discourse on race? Once. How about prominent black conservative intellectual Glenn Loury, who often podcasts with McWhorter? Zero.

You get the idea.

Anyway, back to Douthat and Hunter Biden:

In fact, it’s not a distraction to have new insight into a potential First Son’s business dealings — especially given that the saga of the younger Biden is a prime example in how a milder-than-Trump form of corruption pervaded the American elite long before Trump came along, with important people and their families constantly finding ways to get rich in the shadow of the Pax Americana without ever taking anything so crass as a bribe.

It is not a coincidence, as some of my Times colleagues note in their story, that “the countries that Hunter Biden, James Biden and their associates planned to target for deals overlapped with nations where Joe Biden had previously been involved as vice president.” Nor is it a coincidence that the areas of Hunter Biden’s particular interest, China’s and Russia’s near abroad, were particularly important foreign policy zones under recent Democratic presidents. And given that pre-Trump American foreign policy in these regions was a conspicuous failure — with China tilting totalitarian and Vladimir Putin outmaneuvering the West — the fact that Biden’s nearest relative was trying to influence-peddle in both places is a useful reminder of why the establishment that’s likely to reclaim the White House next week lost power in the first place.

More specifically, Bobulinski’s story and the email evidence both suggest that Joe Biden took at least enough interest in his son’s dealings to have a meeting during the Trump presidency with his business partners. This isn’t proof that he partnered with Hunter or profited in any way, but it seems like evidence that he wasn’t particularly worried about keeping his son’s sketchy salesmanship at arm’s length. That seems like information worth knowing: not a scandal on a par with some of Trump’s, not a front-page bold-type screaming headline, but something that belongs in the pages of a newspaper, because it’s interesting news.

Read the whole column. I was out in a local restaurant picking up take-out for lunch, and ran into an old friend. We talked about the election while we waited for our food. We talked about how much we both despised the media, and how they are all in the tank for Biden. He’s a Trump guy, and I’m not, but we agree on how rotten the media are — and how this is going to get worse, no matter who wins next week.

Speaking of media management, there were Black Lives Matter riots in Philadelphia last night after police shot a black man who was coming at them with a knife. A protester ran over a Philly cop last night and broke his leg. Here’s how the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer looks right now:

They’re managing the story because Pennsylvania is a swing state, and talking about race riots and protesters breaking the legs of cops is not a story that helps Joe Biden.

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Paul Kingsnorth, Riding The Wave

Paul Kingsnorth, at home in County Galway

I hope you got to see my interview with the English writer Paul Kingsnorth from late last week. In it, he explains how he ceased to be an environmental activist when he realized that nothing is going to stop catastrophic climate change. Instead, he devotes himself to figuring out how to adapt to the inevitable, and how to make meaning out of what he’s seeing.

It’s a way that resonates deeply with me. I do believe that climate change is happening, and that if humanity could stop it, we’re not going to do so, because the cultural forces at work the world over push back against it. I focus my concern and my work, though, on the de-Christianization of our culture. I believe we are living through a similar catastrophe. Kingsnorth’s “riding the wave” strategy (my phrase, not his) seems to me to be the most sensible approach.

A reader points to this passage in the hourlong Dutch documentary about Kingsnorth that I embedded in the previous post. The reader cues the passage here. Listen to how Kingsnorth answers the filmmaker’s question:

The reader who pointed to that moment in the documentary is a traddish Catholic who has struggled mightily with the various crises roiling the Catholic Church. He says:

Part of the reason I liked listening to Kingsnorth on being a recovering activist is because his attitude to the environmental movement is like mine to Catholicism. He’s not angry. He still believes in what he believes in. But he no longer thinks he has any real ability to do anything about it. His expectations have changed. He has peace about it, in his own little nook (and a pleasant one it seems!) of the world. To me, that’s not defeatism, but maturity. There’s wisdom in that. Of course, I see the problems in my church. Up close, a lot of the time. They are immense. But I’m a Catholic and am doing the best I can to carve out a space for me to live that in the world.

I think that is really wise. As you can well imagine, I hear from readers all the time who are going through real crises, especially in their religious lives. I was e-mailing with one the other day who is feeling overwhelmed by anger at Pope Francis, and at the institutional Catholic Church, which is falling apart in many ways. He feels powerless to do anything about it, because the truth is, he pretty much is powerless to do anything about it. I have been where he is, and my rage at the men — bishops and some clergy — who were destroying the Church undid me. It is not possible to live at that level of constant tension and anger without it tearing you apart.

As I have written, one of the landmarks on my way out of Catholicism was realizing that I was only keeping the faith by force of will, but the icon of Christ that I was presenting to my children was one of deep anger. If my kids looked at me as an example of what it meant to be a Catholic Christian, they would have seen a miserable ragemonkey. And oh, did I ever have reason to be! I realized one day that I was laying the groundwork for my children to become atheists. If following Christ turned their father into that, why would they want to do it? I arrived at the point one day in which I simply did not believe that my eternal salvation depended on being in communion with the Roman see. Still, leaving Catholicism was for me like an animal caught in a trap who chews off his paw to escape. That is not a statement about Catholicism; it’s a statement about me, and the pain of losing my ability to believe as a Catholic.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that this could happen to you in any church. I have heard enough stories from Evangelicals about the things they have gone through in their own church cultures to know that that this kind of suffering is ecumenical. I was sucked into it within Orthodoxy a few years after my conversion, and realized one day that I was like the dog from the Book of Proverbs (“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” — Proverbs 26:11). I had to make a strong resolution not to get involved in such matters, for the sake of my own spiritual health.

This goes strongly against my own grain. There is something about the masculine spirit that wants to fight. When I was a Catholic, towards the end of that journey, I wanted to throttle Cardinal McCarrick and those corrupters of boys and men, and punch the lights out of those church bureaucrats who knew how bad it was, but who didn’t lift a finger to stop them, for whatever reason or reasons. I was furious too at all the lay Catholics who chose to look the other way while the Church was being destroyed, because they didn’t want to be troubled by facing reality. All of my instincts on this were healthy and right — I still believe that. But I lacked prudence. Those passions, I could not govern them, and it ended with me exiting the Church.

It’s a weird thing, because I could not possibly be happier that I found Orthodoxy. Still, that experience was the most important lesson of my life. I had this idea that if I just kept banging up against the walls of the decaying edifice, that something would change, that eventually people would wake up and clean out the stables, and restore the Church. I felt that to cease acting with such passion was to break faith with the abused children, and with the families that the bishops and their lawyers had run over. It felt cowardly, and I couldn’t surrender to it.

Until one day I woke up and realized that the only passion I had at all for my Catholic faith was anger. That’s it. No love of Christ, no charity for anyone, no joy, nothing: just anger. That’s when I knew it was over. I could no longer do any good for Christ, for the Catholic Church, for my children, or for myself. Sometimes I read the comments sections on conservative/trad Catholic blogs, and I see men like I once was: consumed with justified rage, but lacking all prudence, such that the people who know them probably see their Catholicism as a curse, as a source of torment and misery. They have lost Christ, and don’t even know it. But the people who live around them do. Their children do, or will one day.

I strongly recommend that you read Paul Kingsnorth’s essay collection Confessions Of A Recovering Environmentalist. Here is a link to his 2010 essay of the same name. Excerpts:

I am 37 now. The world is smaller, more tired, more fragile, more horribly complex and full of troubles. Or, rather: the world is the same as it ever was, but I am more aware of it and of the reality of my place within it. I have grown up, and there is nothing to be done about it. The worst part of it is that I can’t seem to look without thinking anymore. And now I know far more about what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing, all over the world, to everything, all of the time. I know why the magic is dying. It’s me. It’s us.

He writes about how as an environmentalist, he found himself embedded in communities of activists who were obsessed with “solutions” that involved deploying mass technologies to solve the problem of carbon emissions, but who seemed to have lost the point of why they became environmentalists in the first place:

I realised that I was dealing with environmentalists with no attachment to any actual environment. Their talk was of parts per million of carbon, peer reviewed papers, sustainable technologies, renewable supergrids, green growth and the fifteenth conference of the parties. There were campaigns about ‘the planet’ and ‘the Earth’, but there was no specificity: no sign of any real, felt attachment to any small part of that Earth.

Here’s a link to a 2013 essay called “Forty Days,” in which Kingsnorth reflects on his withdrawal from environmentalist campaigning. Excerpts:

Many people wrote to me – and still write to me – telling me how much they liked this essay [“Confessions Of A Recovering Environmentalist”]; how it had connected with them, even put their own feelings into words. But others were, shall we say, unimpressed. I wasn’t quite prepared for the barrage which this extract brought upon me from activists and campaigners, though perhaps I should have been. I was condemned as a burnout, a doomer, a nihilist making matters worse by running up the white flag. If I wanted to “withdraw”, I was told, that was fine: I could go off and be depressed in the corner, but I had no right to tell other people about it. I needed to shut up and let the activists get on with their work of Saving The World.

Looking back on this, I can see their point. If I were still deep in campaigning mode, perhaps I would feel the same if somebody else who had stopped doing it told me I was wasting my time. Yet something about this niggled at me. The main point I was making, when I talked about withdrawal, was not about walking away from engagement with the world. To me, in fact, it seemed almost the opposite. I dwelled on this for some time, and then came back to it last year in a kind of sequel to my first essay, which I called “Dark Ecology.” It was another exploration of what a post-environmentalist world looked like, and of what still seemed to make sense to me, personally, in a situation in which none of the answers I had previously believed in were working any more.

At the end of the essay, which appeared in the third Dark Mountain book, I laid out five courses of action which seemed appropriate to me in a world in which climate change, population overshoot, economic collapse and mass extinction were not future problems to be prevented but realities we were already living through. First on my list was withdrawal, of which I wrote:

Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance—refusing to tighten the ratchet further—is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.

More:

There is something out there, beyond the rational mind, beyond the everyday commitments, beyond the cities in the valleys and the cities in our heads, which we need and have needed for much longer than we would care to admit. Every spiritual code, every religion, every indigenous culture, every society, in fact, before the advent of modernity, has seen an act of withdrawal from the excesses and excrescences of the world as a spiritual necessity. The lives of the Christian Desert Fathers, the khalwa of the Sufis, the Dark Retreats of the Taoists, the exercises of St Ignatius: days, weeks, months of withdrawal were, still are, central to all major religions. The retreat to the desert or the forest, and the return with wisdom to the village or the town, runs like a silver brook through our folktales and fairytales, myths and legends. There is a reason for every story.

Sometimes you need to go, and sometimes you need to stay away for some time. The world we have created is terrifying in its complexity and power and in its ability to destroy the small, the precious, the immeasurable and the meaningful, inside you and in the places around you. Perhaps to a political activist, sitting by a stream in a forest seems like self-indulgence in the face of mass extinction and climate change, but it is the opposite. If you don’t know why that stream matters, you are not equipped to protect it. If you have forgotten how to listen to it, you may end up on the wrong side, as so many have before you.

If you don’t go out seeking, if you don’t retreat, if you don’t put yourself into the wilderness with nothing to carry you, you will never see what you need to shed or what you need to gain. You will never change. And if you never change, neither will anything else.

Read it all.

What does this have to do with the Catholic reader who finds wisdom and guidance in Kingsnorth? I remember something my wife said to me, around the year 2000, after we had seen the last guest off from a boozy dinner at our apartment in Brooklyn. All of us were Catholic, and all of us men present — one of us a priest! — had spent hours griping about the Church. My wife shut the door on the final guest, then turned to me and said, “We need a lot less Peter in this house, and a lot more Jesus.” In other words, she was telling me that we men never talk about the faith except in terms of the institutional Church, and its theology and politics. We were missing the entire point of the Christian faith.

I don’t recall how I reacted to that, but knowing my age at the time — 33 — and my mindset, I’m sure I didn’t take it seriously. That combative mindset was with me when I first started writing about the abuse scandal in the summer of 2001. I could never have seen it coming, but this was the flaw in the foundation, the thing that caused my ability to believe as a Catholic to collapse. A priest once quoted to me an old monsignor, commenting on the bright young seminarians from his diocese selected to go study in Rome, at the North American College: “Those poor boys. They leave here in love with Jesus, and they come home in love with the Church.” Well, that was me. And it was my undoing. Only by the grace of God and the gift of Orthodox Christianity am I still a Christian. If I had somehow remained Catholic, then the Francis papacy would surely have done me in, either by driving me out or by turning me into some kind of monster consumed by furies.

Kingsnorth: “If you don’t know why that stream matters, you are not equipped to protect it. If you have forgotten how to listen to it, you may end up on the wrong side, as so many have before you.”

For crusaders engaged in battles within the Church, if you do not know why Jesus Christ matters, and all the gifts of Christ in the church matter, if you have forgotten how to listen to Him, and to Him speaking through the liturgy, the devotions, and all the rest, then you will lose the faith, even if you stand rigidly and coldly at mass on Sunday, white-knuckling it through another bad homily, and struggling to contain your disgust at how rotten it all is. Believe me, I have been that man. The magic was dying within me, and I did not understand why. What will you say one day when your children, all grown and departed from the Church, say, “Dad, we didn’t want to end up like you, mad all the time”?

Paul Kingsnorth has not ceased to believe in the things he believes regarding Nature, and the crisis consuming it. But he has a realistic idea of what he can and cannot do about the crisis. His way of resisting disorder is to withdraw, and to build a small place in which he can raise his children to love the natural world, and to gain a measure of peace within the noise and disorder of the modern world. He took responsibility not for the world, but for himself and his family. It’s important that he does not blame Them for the crisis — that he recognizes that he himself is part of it. The same is certainly true of me and the crisis within the Catholic Church. I did not abuse kids, and God knows I did not defend abusers. Maybe even my passionate advocacy for victims did some good. But I too allowed myself to be caught up in a destructive cycle. Maybe this is you too.

I’m thinking this morning of a middle-aged German Catholic who happened to be in Rome a couple of years ago when I was there giving Benedict Option lectures, and came to hear me. Afterward, he told me that he and his Catholic friends back home have accepted that the German Church is going to collapse, probably in their lifetimes, because so many people are leaving it. This man struck me as calm, even serene. He said that they decided that it is up to them to keep the Catholic faith alive. They are preparing themselves and their families for this eventuality. They aren’t raging at the Pope or the German bishops, though heaven knows they have every reason to. They have accepted that that would be pointless. Rather, they have stepped back and thought about what things they need to do, in this time and in this place, to make it possible to continue their life in Christ, as Catholics, amid the decline and fall of the institution in their country.

I wish I could talk to that man again. He strikes me as Kingsnorthian in his orientation towards the Church and the world. He is not deceived about the severity of the crisis in the Catholic Church, and within what remains of Christian civilization. He knows he cannot save the Church — but he believes that he can save the corner of the Church over which he has some responsibility: in his family, and in his Catholic community. That has to be enough. He has peace, and I bet his children — he told me he has a large family — look to their father and see the peace of Christ, being steadfast and faithful amid the storm.

And so, when I consider the way Paul Kingsnorth has chosen to live in the world — a world that is collapsing — I too see wisdom and maturity. I see that action really is not always more effective than inaction. I see a form of the Benedict Option — that is, what I am trying to do with the Benedict Option: create resilient communities within which faith, hope, and love can survive the unfolding collapse. Communities and ways of life in which we can experience, to borrow Kingsnorth’s words, real, felt attachment to any small part of the Body of Christ.

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Justice Barrett: God Bless America

Scene at the White House tonight

Look at that scene at the White House tonight. A black Supreme Court justice swears in a female Supreme Court justice. Both of them are religious believers. Both of them are conservative. They are hated by many black people and women on the Left, because they don’t conform to identity politics stereotypes. But I know their biographies, and I cherish them and respect them. When Justice Thomas was born, in 1948, there had never been a black man on the Supreme Court. When Justice Barrett was born, in 1972, the first female justice was still nine years away.

And now look at the two of them at the White House tonight. They stand for what is best in America.

This is a great day for America, and it was brought to us by the Republican Party (especially Mitch McConnell), and President Donald Trump. I complain about both of them a lot, as a not-entirely-gruntled conservative, but on this hugely important issue, they delivered. Thank you.

 

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Annals Of Crazy White Ladies

Completely stable supermodel Emily Ratajkowski is nervous about bringing a pale penis person into the world (Vogue)

The supermodel Emily Ratajkowski muses in the pages of Vogue about her pregnancy. She’s having a boy, and reading this, I see that that poor pale penis-having kid is in for hard times:

I’m scared of having a son too, although not in the same way. I’ve known far too many white men who move through the world unaware of their privilege, and I’ve been traumatized by many of my experiences with them. And boys too; it’s shocking to realize how early young boys gain a sense of entitlement—to girls’ bodies and to the world in general. I’m not scared of raising a “bad guy,” as many of the men I’ve known who abuse their power do so unintentionally. But I’m terrified of inadvertently cultivating the carelessness and the lack of awareness that are so convenient for men. It feels much more daunting to create an understanding of privilege in a child than to teach simple black-and-white morality. How do I raise a child who learns to like themself while also teaching them about their position of power in the world?

My friend who is the mother to a three-year-old boy tells me that she didn’t think she cared about gender until her doctor broke the news that she was having a son. She burst into tears in her office. “And then I continued to cry for a whole month,” she says matter-of-factly. After a difficult birth experience, she developed postpartum depression and decided that she resented her husband more than she’d ever imagined possible. She told me she particularly hated—and she made an actual, physical list that she kept in her journal, editing it daily—how peacefully he slept. “There is nothing worse than the undisturbed sleep of a white man in a patriarchal world.” She shakes her head. “It was hard to come to terms with the fact that I was bringing yet another white man into the world. But now I adore him and can’t imagine it any other way.” She also eventually learned to love her husband again. The sound of his perfect sleep next to her at night is now tolerable.

You have to stay very far away from crazy white ladies like Emily Ratajkowski, her friend, and the privileged neurotics who publish Vogue.

 

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Happy ACB Day, But …

Amy Coney Barrett (Notre Dame Law School)

By midnight tonight, if the Lord tarries, Amy Coney Barrett will be the newest justice on the US Supreme Court. God knows I’m grateful, especially given my conviction that the federal judiciary is going to be the last line of defense for religious liberty and other First Amendment freedoms in next couple of decades, as the country turns left on social issues, and secularizes.

It’s important, though, not to overinterpret this. Ross Douthat tweets:

He’s right about that — and that’s a truth that so many of us on the Right do not want to hear.

It is really quite something, the pushback I get from my fellow conservatives, especially religious conservatives, when I tell them that voting conservative matters far less than they think it does. Some of them freak out, as if I’m telling them not to vote, which of course is not true. If Trump had not won, and Republicans had not held the Senate, we would likely not have three SCOTUS justices from the ranks of the Federalist Society. That’s not nothing.

But Ross is right: for social conservatives, what has having the GOP appoint fifteen of the last nineteen Supreme Court justices won us? The country has moved massively to the Left on social issues, and the Court has been there to both ratify and advance these changes. The Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy was the avatar of liberal Republicanism in judicial power. But we should keep in mind that if things had gone the other way on, for example, Obergefell, the decision that found a right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution, all that would have meant is that states would have retained the power to legislate marriage rights. By now, 2020, nearly all states would have gay marriage, I feel certain — if only because the power of Big Business to compel legislatures to make it happen would have been felt.

Besides, for better or for worse, most Americans support same-sex marriage rights. Unlike in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court, in its Obergefell decision, was only slightly ahead of the national consensus on this contentious social issue. The thing that the socially conservative Right cannot bring itself to reckon with fully is how all those years of Republican victories did nothing to create a socially conservative nation. As I wrote in The Benedict Option:

Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either. So what if those around us don’t share our morality? We can still retain our faith and teaching within the walls of our churches, we may think, but that’s placing unwarranted confidence in the health of our religious institutions. The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”

Don’t be fooled by the large number of churches you see today. Unprecedented numbers of young adult Americans say they have no religious affiliation at all. According to the Pew Research Center, one in three 18-to-29-year-olds have put religion aside, if they ever picked it up in the first place. If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty.

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.”

Read it all in The Benedict Option.

You cannot build a meaningful social conservatism on that kind of society. Christian Smith’s survey (the one I quoted there at the end) was taken a decade ago, and there is no reason at all to think conditions have improved. Indeed, we now know that Generation Z is the least conventionally religious generation in American history — which is not to say that they don’t have spiritual longings. It’s just that they are channeling them into left-wing political engagement. 

This represents a catastrophic failure of conservative religious and social power, regarding shaping the next generations. If this is not a rebuke to the strategy of “vote Republican, and the culture will take care of itself,” I don’t know what it would take.

I would like to live in a conservative society, but we cannot have that kind of society if the people don’t broadly share conservative virtues. You cannot vote that into existence. I would also far, far rather lose elections but see my kids, and grandkids, keep the faith, than win elections but watch them all lost to the faith. We have a situation on the Right in which more than a few of us have de facto made a religion of politics. It’s easy to find conservative Christians panicking over the possibility of a Trump loss, but a lot harder to find them expressing the same level of concern about the loss of the young generations to the Christian faith.

It’s not an “either/or” situation — either you can be concerned about politics, or you can be concerned about faith. That’s a false choice. You should care about both — but it’s a matter of priorities. If you, as a religious believer, don’t make the practice of the faith and passing it on to your children your most important concern, you are making a big mistake. One of the most important things you can read is this 2004 essay by Robert Louis Wilken, the historian of the early church, in which he warns that the demise of Christian culture is leading inexorably to the demise of Christian faith. Excerpt:

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.

We Christians like to sneer at the phrase “cultural Christianity,” because it carries with it the sense of just going through the motions, of substituting the outward forms of the faith for an inward encounter with God. There’s something to that, but people (like me) who fall back on that critique tend not to see that a culture that is Christian makes it more plausible to engage God on that deeper level. At the moment I am deep into the Sigrid Undset novel Kristin Lavransdatter, set in medieval Norway (you have to get the 2005 Tiina Nunnally translation — it’s important). It is a strange and wonderful feeling to enter into a world so fully imagined as a Christian culture. Of course people still sin, and sin boldly, but their understanding of who they are and what they are to do is framed by their Christian culture, and the Narrative that it proclaims in their holidays, their feasts, their fasts, their rituals, their way of speaking — all of it. Reading Kristin Lavransdatter is to understand the truth of what Prof. Wilken says in his essay.

It is also to force one to face how radically post-Christian, indeed anti-Christian, late modernity is. There’s a fantastic book coming out next month, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, by the contemporary church historian Carl Trueman. I cannot say enough good things about this book, and I don’t want to down that rabbit hole in this blog post, which is already too digressive. The point I want to make is that Trueman’s book explains how we got to this point with great lucidity. If you want to know why the ostensibly conservative political party can have appointed fifteen of the last nineteen Supreme Court justices, and yet in that same time have seen the country move hard to the social left — well, Trueman’s intellectual history of modern times will clarify.

Back to Douthat’s tweets. How is it, do you think, that the Great Awokening, which began around 2013, accelerated massively under Donald Trump’s presidency? How is it that Big Business, heretofore understood as a pillar of political conservatism, has gone all-in on social progressivism under Donald Trump (nota bene, it started before Trump, but has been pedal-to-the-metal since his election)? If Trump is re-elected, we are going to see all the institutions of soft power in America go even more fanatically to the left.

And so we arrive at a Catch-22 for social conservatives: vote for Trump, and watch the left’s soft-power triumphs accelerate throughout the culture; vote for Biden, and watch the left’s power accelerate through the executive branch. Either way, the battle is going to intensify, and the odds are very much against us. Only too late are we learning that politics is downstream from culture.

Listen, I get it. I get why my fellow conservatives don’t want to hear this. It’s a miserable place to be in! But we need to face reality with clear eyes, not blinded by false optimism. I am thrilled that Amy Coney Barrett is going to be a Supreme Court justice by day’s end, and I’m grateful to President Trump for nominating her. But let’s not lose sight of the immensity and the complexity of the challenges ahead for religious and social conservatives. Most of the power in American life resides outside the political process. If conservatives these days make too much of politics, it’s because that’s the only realm of power in which we stand a chance at winning.

(Say, readers, Disqus has been more unstable than usual. I’m finding that if I approve the newest comments first, the system is more stable. I hate that, because they appear out of chronological order, but it seems to make it more likely that they will appear at all. Please bear with me as I try out this new system.)

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America’s Coming Troubles

Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

I’ve been part of an email exchange among Orthodox Christian friends, talking about what they believe is the coming suffering, even persecution, and wondering whether we will be strong enough in the faith to endure. A reader also wrote:

The condition of our country now reminds of me of when my marriage was ending a few years ago. My ex-wife and I had got to a point where we both knew that there was nothing left, but we kept on because neither one of us could bring ourselves to end it. We were staying together out of habit, until finally that got to be too much. I feel like that’s where we are as Americans. The difference is my ex-wife and me had already gone through all the fighting with each other and had settled into a cold war for a couple of years before we went to a lawyer for an amicable divorce. I’m scared that Americans still have a lot of fight left in us. We’re going to see that after this election, no matter which way it goes.

When I read things like that, I don’t know how to process them. I can’t imagine what a real civil war would look like in America today. Spain 1936, yes, but not a country like ours, and not because we are somehow more virtuous; rather, it’s about the structure of the country, and our advanced economy. Antifa will fight. Neckbeard right-wing militias will fight. But the rest of us? Really? Are there any political principles over which you would take up weapons and shoot your neighbors?

I don’t want to say that it couldn’t happen. It’s just very hard to imagine it getting to that. As readers of this blog and my book Live Not By Lies know, my view is that the elites will eventually subdue the population with an American version of the Chinese social credit system. The technological infrastructure already largely exists, as I write in the book. I am confident that a victorious left will push to make sure that something like Trump could never happen again. The great challenge facing faithful Christians and other dissenters will be surviving with our faith and/or our principles intact, when most people around us are capitulating.

Today the Washington Post published a story about how so many Americans on both the left and the right expect the country to come apart after the election. Excerpts:

One week before Americans choose their path forward, the quadrennial crossroads reeks of despair. In almost every generation, politicians pose certain elections as the most important of their time. But the 2020 vote is taking place with the country in a historically dark mood — low on hope, running on spiritual empty, convinced that the wrong outcome will bring disaster.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant who has been convening focus groups of undecided voters for seven presidential cycles. “Even the most balanced, mainstream people are talking about this election in language that is more caffeinated and cataclysmic than anything I’ve ever heard. …”

More:

“I didn’t take it seriously for a long time, but in the last six weeks, it’s become very concerning,” said Michael Barkun, a political scientist at Syracuse University who studies political extremism. “This idea that the other side winning the election will produce a precipitous decline and the disintegration of institutions is completely at variance with American history.”

Historians say that in past bouts of insecurity and self-doubt, Americans often focused on foreign threats — the ideological battle with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the worry about unrest in the Middle East after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

But now, the worry on the right that a Democratic win would plunge the nation into catastrophic socialism and the fear on the left that a Trump victory would produce a turn toward totalitarianism have created “a perilous moment — the idea that if the other side wins, we’re in for it,” said Peter Stearns, a historian of emotions at George Mason University.

“The two sides have come to view each other not as opponents, but as deeply evil,” he said. “And that’s happening when trust in institutions has collapsed and each group is choosing not to live near each other. It seems there’s no middle ground.”

Read it all. 

It could have been a really interesting piece, but it’s mostly about how this is All Trump’s Fault. This is why I don’t trust the mainstream media anymore: the people who produce these stories seem completely incapable of comprehending the world outside the broad left-wing narrative. They’re not wrong about Trump being a chaos agent, but even after four years of him, the dominant forces driving the left have no sense of why so many people on the right stand with him — or at least feel more secure standing by him than they do about the left being in charge.

One thing the Post reporter could have talked about, from a non-partisan point of view, is how America really is in a pre-totalitarian state, judging by the factors in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins Of Totalitarianism. This is a significant part of Live Not By LiesIn my book, I talk about these factors that Arendt said are present in a society ripe for totalitarianism:

Loneliness and social atomization. Totalitarian movements, said Arendt, are “mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals.”

“What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world,” she continued. “is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the ever-growing masses of our century.”

She wrote those words in the early 1950s, now considered in these Bowling Alone decades to have been a golden age of communal solidarity. This past January, before the long Covid-19 emergency, health insurer Cigna released results of a survey finding that 61 percent of Americans consider themselves to be lonely. Young Americans are far lonelier than the old: seven in ten Millennials call themselves lonely, with nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Gen Zers self-diagnosing as such.

Loss of faith in hierarchies and institutions. Loneliness is politically significant because it leaves the masses hungry for a sense of community. In a healthy society, an individual could find fellowship and common purpose through the institutions of civil society – political parties, churches, civic clubs, sports leagues, and the like.

But Americans have been dropping out of mediating institutions steadily since the 1960s. Meanwhile trust in basic institutions – political, media, religious, legal, medical, and so forth – is at dramatic lows. Young adults under 40 are the most religiously unaffiliated generation in American history, and though strongly liberal and Democratic in their political preferences, are also the least likely to embrace a political party.

Embracing transgressiveness. In both pre-Bolshevik Russia and pre-Nazi Germany, elites reveled in acts of rebellion that made fun of traditions and standards, moral and otherwise. They immersed themselves in baseness, and called it liberation. They also took pleasure in overturning institutions and established practices for the sake of outsiders.

“The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it,” wrote Arendt. Her words apply with eerie prescience to the upheaval on today’s university campuses, within the media, and elite culture in general.

Susceptibility to propaganda and ideology. Whether out of cynicism or misplaced idealism, the willingness to surrender one’s moral responsibility to be honest for the sake of a politically useful narrative opened the door to tyranny. In pre-totalitarian nations, wrote Arendt, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.”

You can see these factors generally in our society, across left and right, though they manifest in different ways. I worry far more about the left, though, because again, it controls all the major institutions in this society — and the activist left really is totalitarian in its mindset, in the sense that it wishes to eliminate anything that it finds to be evil. Here’s a great new piece in New Discourses, by D.L. Devonshire, about the qualities of Woke Totalitarianism. Excerpt:

Anyone who has ever been in a totalitarian country, including this author, who has spent considerable time in a number of them, will keenly remember the existence of a layer of tension that is always present, not in the background, but in the foreground. The vibe of baseline tension permeates to the core atmosphere of the interhuman environment, not just in certain kinds of interactions, but in all of them, on a collective, societywide basis. It is created by the background existence of the totalitarian authority, its ever-watchful eyes, the pervasiveness of its enforcements, and the severity of its punishments. It forces every person, every time he steps out of his house, and sometimes even within it, i.e., around his own children, and especially around his computer, to mind the integrity of the compartment between his free internal thoughts that live inside his head and his unfree external behavior out in the world. It requires every person, as he conducts his normal daily interactions with others, to always take great care with every word or silence, every action or non-action, to hew correctly and with sufficient enthusiasm to the mandated party line.

As Wokeness opposes individualism on its face, to be in the Woke state of mind it is important that each individual think primarily as a member of the greater collective (what they redefine as “authentically”), and not his own individual thoughts. People are directed to think about the substantive elements of Woke doctrine all of the time, to take them into consideration in everything they do, and to always be on the lookout for deviants. Like other totalitarian architectures, it insists on always being top of mind.

When everyone is walking eggshells not some of the time, but all of the time, when everyone is afraid of making a mistake, of speaking the wrong word or not speaking the right one, of forgetting to say something when it is required, or of inadvertently doing or saying anything that could be interpreted, correctly or incorrectly, as a “microaggression” against a Woke disciple or any member of an honored group, this is the sort of material out of which the totalitarian fear layer is brought into existence. Every active dissenter from Wokeness feels its tensile force already, whether consciously or subconsciously, in the rapidly increasing tightness of the demands this alien doctrine is now imposing on us, and the life-altering consequences of non-compliance with or ignorance of Woke expectations. There will come a time when its presence will be undeniable, when the entire population, even the most naive and politically inexperienced, will come to experience it for the first time. At that point, as Wokeness enters the mature phase of its development, it will fast be approaching the peak of its powers, and all but impossible to oppose or defeat.

The emergence of the fear layer, concurrently with the sudden irruption of Woke doctrines and enforcement protocols into the mainstream of public life, confirms beyond any doubt that Wokeness as a movement is not consent-based, it is power-based. Its authority is not requested, demanded, or solicited; it is imposed. Submission to its rules and repetitive declarations of allegiance and adherence to it are absolutely compulsory and are a part of the movement’s ritual. Power is exclusive to the Woke, but that power may be rescinded from any person at any moment, on any arbitrary basis, especially from members of dishonored groups.

This is something the left is doing right now, wherever it holds power. Look at this Real Clear Investigations piece about how woke penitence has penetrated the workplace. This all comes from the left — again, because it has captured the leadership elite. Excerpt:

Like a growing number of organizations around the country responding to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, Duke is adopting anti-racist advocacy as an organizational mission. That mission doesn’t mention time-honored workplace goals like color-blindness, meritocracy, or equal opportunity; instead, its target is the so-called complicity of America and its citizens in “structural racism,” “oppression,” and denialism.

“I feel like my employer is calling me ‘racist’ and I then saying I must agree,” the doctor, who requested anonymity, told RealClearInvestigations. He said he is troubled that Duke’s leadership is imposing its political ideology on staff, implicating employees in a sweeping moral narrative, and dedicating itself to the task of “uncovering this hidden racism the employer is sure lurks within.”

Workers are coming under increasing pressure to support social justice programs on race and gender that would have been considered radical just a few years ago and too divisive to be injected into the workplace. Now an organization’s commitment to fighting racism and identity-related “phobias” increasingly involves encouraging, pressing, or even requiring workers to get behind the company’s social justice mission. And it can spell trouble for employees who balk or publicly disagree.

All of this is in place with Trump as president. If Trump goes, as seems likely, it’s going to accelerate with the executive branch behind it. If he somehow wins re-election, then it will also accelerate in the private sector, though maybe, just maybe, the executive branch will find ways to fight it. Either way, we are in for troubling times.

One of the most important things for all of us dissidents to grasp is that we will not be able to rely on our usual institutions. We cannot wait to be led. I was really struck by this piece on the traditionalist Catholic website One Peter Five, by someone who writes only as “A Homeschooling Catholic Mom.” She says:

I just finished Rod Dreher’s outstanding new book, Live Not by Lies.  I knew his book discussed the coming soft-totalitarianism, and I was hoping for some ideas of HOW to react to such persecution coming from secular actors, whether the state, big corporations, or both.  Dreher provides great encouragement, explaining that it is through small groups that the faith will survive.  It was a network of anti-Communist actors, both religious and secular, that fought the state-sponsored totalitarianism.  And it was small groups of faithful who encouraged one another and even spread the Gospel despite the oppression from the state.  Dreher sees the need for small groups of believers to band together as western civilization crumbles into a post-Christian wasteland.  Indeed, it seems that soft-totalitarianism that is overtaking our woke society and unless we provide our pinch of incense at the altars of anti-racism,  the LGBTQ agenda, and Communism, we will be ostracized, persecuted, and intimidated.

However, after Pope Francis’ recent bombshell support of same-sex unions, I see that small groups will be necessary even to protect ourselves and our faith from an onslaught of heresy from the Vicar of Christ himself.  My heart aches for the souls who are going to be misled by the heterodoxy coming from the Vatican.  The parallel Churches spoken of by Archbishop Vigano are manifesting themselves before our very eyes.  The faithful vs. the woke.  The orthodox vs. the heterodox.  And it is devastating.

She goes on to talk about how much good came out of a group in her parish that gathered to pray the Rosary together. She says below things that would have made the late Vaclav Benda laugh out loud with joy. This is the kind of thing he and his family did under communism, to fight the atomization:

 We must form Rosary groups, make and eat dinner together, let our children play, and build one another up in our faith.  Regular meetings to read and discuss the scriptures in preparation for Holy Mass, Bible studies, catechism lessons can follow football, soccer, and ultimate frisbee.  This is how we combat atomization.  This is how we spread the faith.

And make no mistake, as Dreher emphasizes, these small groups need to be in-person.  If the suppression of the New York Post story has taught us anything, it is that our time on the internet is limited.  When we are de-platformed, our twitter accounts suspended, and our websites blocked, we must have in-person small groups to help one another survive.

Reaching out to others takes courage.  We will be rejected.  Plans will fall through.  Kids will fight.  Human relationships are messy, but the mess is worth the effort to build up a community where we are.  We cannot control the Holy Father and we cannot ensure every priest is communicating the faith properly.  However, we can choose the environment in which we raise our children in the faith, while reaching out to those around us.  We are the hands and feet of Our Lord.  I do not have the platform to reach everyone in the world with the truth of the Gospel, but I can reach out to those in my community. I can evangelize those who are in front of me.

Read it all. 

She’s right. This is on us — all of us. If you have the support of your church’s pastor, great. But don’t sit around and wait for somebody else to get things going. I cannot emphasize often enough the visionary Father Tomislav Kolakovic, who was not discouraged in the 1940s by his bishops telling him he was being alarmist. He organized Slovak Catholics to build the social and spiritual infrastructure they needed to live the faith under communist oppression, before it struck. From Live Not By Lies:

Father Kolaković knew that the clericalism and passivity of traditional Slovak Catholicism would be no match for communism. For one thing, he correctly foresaw that the communists would try to control the church by subduing the clergy. For another, he understood that the spiritual trials awaiting believers under communism would put them to an extreme test. The charismatic pastor preached that only a total life commitment to Christ would enable them to withstand the coming trial.

“Give yourself totally to Christ, throw all your worries and desires on him, for he has a wide back, and you will witness miracles,” the priest said, in the recollection of one disciple.

Giving oneself totally to Christ was not an abstraction or a pious thought. It needed to be concrete, and it needed to be communal. The total destruction of the First World War opened the eyes of younger Catholics to the need for a new evangelization. A Belgian priest named Joseph Cardijn, whose father had been killed in a mining accident, started a lay movement to do this among the working class. These were the Young Christian Workers, called “Jocists” after the initials of their name in French. Inspired by the Jocist example, Father Kolaković adapted it to the needs of the Catholic Church in Slovakia. He established cells of faithful young Catholics who came together for prayer, study, and fellowship.

The refugee priest taught the young Slovak believers that every person must be accountable to God for his actions. Freedom is responsibility, he stressed; it is a means to live within the truth. The motto of the Jocists became the motto for what Father Kolaković called his “Family”: “See. Judge. Act.” See meant to be awake to realities around you. Judge was a command to discern soberly the meaning of those realities in light of what you know to be true, especially from the teachings of the Christian faith. After you reach a conclusion, then you are to act to resist evil.

Václav Vaško, a Kolaković follower, recalled late in his life that Father Kolaković’s ministry excited so many young Catholics because it energized the laity and gave them a sense of leadership responsibility.

“It is remarkable how Kolaković almost instantly succeeded in creating a community of trust and mutual friendship from a diverse grouping of people (priests, religious and lay people of different ages, education, or spiritual maturity),” Vaško wrote.

The Family groups came together at first for Bible study and prayer, but soon began listening to Father Kolaković lecture on philosophy, sociology, and intellectual topics. Father Kolaković also trained his young followers in how to work secretly, and to withstand the interrogation that he said would surely come.

The Family expanded its small groups quickly across the nation. “By the end of the school year 1944,” Vaško said, “it would have been difficult to find a faculty or secondary school in Bratislava or larger cities where our circles did not operate.”

In 1948, the Communist Party seized power in a putsch. Everything Father Kolakovic, who had been expelled from the country in 1946, warned of came true. The Family became the backbone of the underground Catholic Church, and the only means of anticommunist resistance for the next four decades.

There is a reason I dedicateLive Not By Lies to this hero of the faith, this happy warrior, though I am not a Catholic:

The reason is that he was not only unafraid to see the painful realities in front of the Christians of Slovakia, but he was not willing to sit quietly and wait for it to happen. Father Kolakovic acted.

We are not powerless in this moment. We can act to help each other through these crises, and to prepare for the struggles ahead. Remember what Father Cassian Folsom told me in 2015, in Norcia? That the only Christians who are going to make it through what’s coming will be those who do some version of the Benedict Option — that is, living and working together in deep faith and strong community. Do not think that politicians will save us, or be able to save us. Or bishops, or anybody but ourselves, with God’s help.

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View From Your Table

Devon, England

The reader writes:

Thought I’d share the view from my table this morning – deep in the English countryside in Devon, with a pot of hot tea, with Vaclav Benda’s collected writings. I’ve been so inspired by him having read Live Not By Lies that I invested in him for my holiday reading.
What a man. And, in the face of great evil, still so funny in a way that only those with confidence and hope can be. This cracked me up, from “A Small Lesson in Democracy” — a story from when he was losing his university job after signing Charter 77:
“[The director of the institute] regretted my inadequate sense if responsibility with regard to my five small children, and contrasted this with the sleepless nights he spent on their behalf. He went on to say he suspected that my good mood issued from a hidden income from abroad. Thinking about the undesirable state of my family finances, I wanted to make a sharp protest, then however the hidden treasures laid up in heaven occurred to me… Since I had some doubts as to whether the director would consider heaven to be a domestic or foreign institution, I confined myself to a restrained reply
May we keep the same good mood in the days ahead.
The Benda family is always good company!
I should start doing VFYTs again. Don’t know why I got out of the habit of doing them, but I think we could use them again. The rules are this: take an image of what it looks like to be seated at your table. Don’t take a photo of what’s on your table alone, but rather show it in broader context. We want to get a sense of place, even if that place is only the interior of your own home. Also, no faces (I’ll make an exception for people in the distance, in a crowd).

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Paul Kingsnorth’s Alexandria

Paul Kingsnorth, near his home in County Galway, Ireland (VPRO)

Regular readers know that I am a fan of the writing of Paul Kingsnorth, an Englishman who lives with his wife and two children in rural County Galway, Ireland. You will recall a short piece of Kingsnorth’s fiction, “The Basilisk,” that I linked to here over the summer. I discovered his essays a few years ago — in particular, “In The Black Chamber,” on the meaning of sacredness and wonder sparked by a visit to prehistoric cave paintings in France. At the time, Kingsnorth was an atheist, but was on a quest for the eternal.

Kingsnorth spent most of his adult life in the environmental movement, but had come to believe that the fight to save the earth from climate destruction had been lost. He helped launch the Dark Mountain Project, a way of responding to the collapse through writing and art, by reckoning with what it means to live with hope in the ruins. In 2014, The New York Times Magazine profiled Kingsnorth, explaining in detail why he believes what he believes. Excerpt:

Instead of trying to “save the earth,” Kingsnorth says, people should start talking about what is actually possible. Kingsnorth has admitted to an ex-activist’s cynicism about politics as well as to a worrying ambivalence about whether he even wants civilization, as it now operates, to prevail. But he insists that he isn’t opposed to political action, mass or otherwise, and that his indignations about environmental decline and industrial capitalism are, if anything, stronger than ever. Still, much of his recent writing has been devoted to fulminating against how environmentalism, in its crisis phase, draws adherents. Movements like Bill McKibben’s 350.org, for instance, might engage people, Kingsnorth told me, but they have no chance of stopping climate change. “I just wish there was a way to be more honest about that,” he went on, “because actually what McKibben’s doing, and what all these movements are doing, is selling people a false premise. They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t, and you know that, then you’re lying to people. And those people . . . they’re going to feel despair.”

Whatever the merits of this diagnosis (“Look, I’m no Pollyanna,” McKibben says. “I wrote the original book about the climate for a general audience, and it carried the cheerful title ‘The End of Nature’ ”), it has proved influential. The author and activist Naomi Klein, who has known Kingsnorth for many years, says Dark Mountain has given people a forum in which to be honest about their sense of dread and loss. “Faced with ecological collapse, which is not a foregone result, but obviously a possible one, there has to be a space in which we can grieve,” Klein told me. “And then we can actually change.”

Kingsnorth would agree with the need for grief but not with the idea that it must lead to change — at least not the kind of change that mainstream environmental groups pursue. “What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad? And that’s not a series of questions that have any answers other than people’s personal answers to them. Selfishly it’s just a process I’m going through.” He laughed. “It’s extremely narcissistic of me. Rather than just having a personal crisis, I’ve said: ‘Hey! Come share my crisis with me!’ ”

You might think of Kingsnorth as a Gen X English Wendell Berry. In fact, he selected and wrote the introduction for a 2019 collection of Berry essays, The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry. You can read Kingsnorth’s selected short fiction and essays on his website here.

This week, Kingsnorth published his latest novel, Alexandria (Gray Wolf Press), a dystopian tale of a remnant community living in eastern England about a thousand years into the future, after the seas have risen 60 meters, and all human civilization has been destroyed. Like most futuristic science fiction, it’s really a novel about ourselves and our time. The questions Kingsnorth explores in the novel have to do with the meaning of the human person, and the struggle between the Body and the Machine. I don’t typically read fiction like this, but I found the book hard to put down, because it intersects with so many of my own concerns. I recommended Alexandria to Zack Stentz, the screenwriter of a couple of Marvel films, and sci-fi projects. He tweeted this week:

The other day, I sent Paul some questions via e-mail, and received his answers back this morning. Here’s our conversation:

Alexandria is set in a dystopian future, almost a millennium after the collapse of civilization under the pressures of global climate catastrophe. I first discovered your writing years ago, with your Dark Mountain project. Why are you so interested in apocalypse?

I think to answer that question you would have to look deep into my twisted soul! In some ways, I just have a natural tendency to see a glass half empty. But I also think it is increasingly hard to be anything but apocalyptic when we look to the future if we are being honest. I worked as an environmentalist for years, and it’s impossible to look at the current state of the Earth without foreboding. Culturally, too, it’s hard to argue that the West, or indeed much of the rest of the globe, is in a healthy place at the moment. Maybe it never has been. Still, I’m pretty convinced by the claim that we are in a cultural decadence. The divisions and the tensions are rising across the board, and we have no unified sense of what we are or where we are going or what we believe or stand for.

I tend to think that civilisations have a natural life cycle — a rise and fall — as do empires, and that the West is at the end of one of those cycles now. My country, Britain, once owned half the world, and sucked much of its wealth out for its own gain. After World War Two, we sunk into post-imperial decline, and we’ve been in that decline all my life. Your country took over the imperial mantle, and now it’s your turn to experience the collapse. This is what happens to empires, so there is some justice in the world.

This can all seem pretty apocalyptic. Something that is interesting to me, though, is the original meaning of the word apocalypse, which of course is ‘revelation’ or ‘unveiling.’ In apocalyptic times, a lot is revealed that was previously hidden. The covid virus alone is unmasking so much of the unworkable and unreal nature of modern life: it is fundamentally unsustainable in so many ways. We were living in an illusion, and now the illusion is shattering.

You believe that there is no stopping climate collapse at this point. I have said the same thing about the cultural collapse of Christianity in the West, with my Benedict Option project. We both agree, I think, that humankind needs to shed its optimism, and instead look for the kind of hope that can give resilience. This approach infuriates people. Why the rage, do you think?

Let’s look at the modern mind, and especially the modern Western mind. What defines it? I think it might be a desire for control. We are desperate to believe that humanity can build paradise on Earth. Millions upon millions of people died in the last century alone in pursuit of that goal. We believe that we are, in the words of technotopian thinker Stewart Brand, ‘as gods, and we have to get good at it.’ But we are not good at it, and we never will be, because we are not gods. We are a species which has caused a mass extinction event, changed the climate of the whole planet and turned half of the world’s ancient forests into tables and toilet paper: all in pursuit of ‘progress.’ We can create marvels, but we are not in control of where they take us. We are now at a point where we cannot stop the runaway train.

But we hate hearing this! If the modern West has a religion, it is the religion of Progress — the faith that things will continue to improve for us all as a result of our cleverness: that the arc of history bends not only towards justice but towards endless material improvement. I genuinely do believe that we have an almost spiritual commitment to this notion. Questioning it, in that context, is virtually blasphemous. It infuriates people, and they call you all sorts of names. Without progress, what do we have left?

Let’s talk about Alexandria, which is the third of a trilogy. How does it relate to your two previous novels, The Wake and Beast?  

A decade ago I started writing a novel about the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. I wanted to tell the story of the largely unknown underground resistance movement which fought against the Normans. As I wrote, a problem emerged. My narrator was an eleventh century man but he was speaking 21st century English. In reality he would have spoken what we now call ‘Old English’, a Germanic language which is virtually unrecognisable to us today. I couldn’t make his voice work. What I ended up doing was creating my own version of Old English — a shadow tongue, as I called it — which was intended to convey the feel of the speech patterns of early medieval England. It was a challenge, but it was fun.

By the time I’d finished I developed the mad idea that this would be the first book in a loose trilogy which would span two millennia of time, and would trace the path of one line of people in the same place across history. My second book, Beast, was set in the present day — that was published in 2017. Alexandria is the last book in the series. It’s set a thousand years from now, in the same place as The Wake. There are a lot of echoes, but it’s also a book that stands alone. It can be read without even knowing the other two exist; but if you have read them, there will be an added layer of richness to it. The common theme of all the books is the relationship between people and the land — and the notion that the land is a lot more sentient and aware than we might give it credit for.

The first thing that leapt out to me about Alexandria is how this remnant community is organized around religion. It’s a pagan earth religion that appears to have been cobbled together from the ruins of memory — for example, the myth of the Fall of Man is a combination of the Judeo-Christian myth and the pre-Christian Odin myth. It turns out that religion is absolutely central to this novel, though Christianity has clearly not survived the collapse. Why is this novel so centered around religious practice and consciousness? 

Partly because this is what I am interested in at present. All novels, even novels set a millennium in the future, are really just reflections of the writer’s inner landscape. But more broadly because of a realisation that has been creeping up on me for some years now, and which has really entirely changed my worldview: that religious practice and consciousness is central to human life, and always has been.

I grew up in a post-religious country, and as a young man I largely viewed religion as an antiquated irrelevance, if not an actively hostile force. That has changed over time, for many reasons. Studying history, and trying to work out what has gone wrong for us today, has brought me back again and again to the primary claims of any serious faith: the importance of humility, love of others, self-control and respect for creation. The fact that many religions have so often failed to practice these goals doesn’t negate their truth. My own understanding of history and other cultures, has brought me around now to almost the opposite view to the one I used to hold. Now I think that religion is perhaps the best, maybe even the only, way to direct humans towards humility rather than pride. And humility is what we need in the face of the ecological crisis we have created.

I’ve learned a great deal here from my wife, who comes from a Punjabi family. Watching some of my close family practice the Sikh religion, which at its best is a beautiful expression of charity and community, has shown me what faith can and should do; and how much better that way of life is than the kind of deracinated consumer individualism that has replaced it in the world.

Alexandria, in some ways, was designed to have this argument out at length, perhaps at least partly so that I could make up my own mind about it. Is faith a necessary component of a worthy human life, or a superstitious hangup from another age? There are characters in the novel who push both perspectives, and others.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but we can say that the survival of humanity depends on how the remaining people regard the body. Why is the body so central? 

The central question that runs through the novel — the question that has riven humanity and created an entirely new world — is to what degree humans should live within the bounds that nature has set for them, and to what degree they should attempt to break them and remake the world in their own image. Really, that the question has been at the centre of the human project since we planted the first crop or fashioned the first axe. Today, in the dawning age of transhumanism, it takes on a new urgency.

We now have the technologies available, or on the horizon, to resurrect extinct species, genetically modify plants and animals to create versions we find more useful and — most ominously — entirely remake the human body so that it resembles a new species; one created by us rather than by God or nature. I have met people who are thrilled by this prospect and are working to make it happen. I think it’s pretty clear that the fundamental redefinition of the building blocks of life itself is the next phase of ‘progress’. Some people find that thrilling – the final conquest of nature, if not its abolition. I find it terrifying — arrogant, hubristic, the final frontier in our war against life and against limits.

In The Abolition Of Man, C. S. Lewis wrote: ‘human nature will be the last part of nature to surrender to man. The battle will then be won …  but who, precisely will have won it?’ That’s the question my book is asking.

In my own recent book, Live Not By Lies, I have written about how soft totalitarianism is coming upon us in large part because we want to use technology to be free of natural limits, and to avoid suffering in our bodies. I was startled to see these themes playing out in Alexandria too. The temptations the techno-totalitarian’s emissary offers to the remnant make a lot of sense, if suffering in the body is a curse from which one wants to be free. Religion and mythology are the only meaningful sources of resistance to this anti-human techno-totalitarianism. Is that true in our own world?

The big issue — the resounding global question, the one we are so desperate to ignore — is the reality of limits. The importance of acknowledging limits is at the heart of the green movement — or at least, it used to be. The greens today are very much a part of the global techno-machine which seeks to use technology to overcome the problems that technology has created. Back in the day though, the environmental argument was all about limits and how we could live within them. Limits to growth, limits to pollution, limits to human population size, limits to consumption, limits to behaviour: the questions were around what they should be, whether they were flexible, whether they were right or wrong and whether and how they could be enforced.

This is really, I suppose, the classic divide between the small-c conservative and the progressive minds. The conservative wants to conserve, to protect, to nurture; at least in theory. The progressive wants to move ‘forward’ to something better, to improve the world by remaking it according to our lights. Classical environmentalism was conservative in that sense. Roger Scruton wrote a thick book about this conservative vision of environmentalism; not that many conservatives were listening. They were too busy shilling for big business to bother about conserving anything. This old, rooted version of the green worldview is maybe best exemplified in your country by the great Wendell Berry, who is still down in Kentucky enunciating it. But there’s no doubt that the old greens have lost, as has anyone who wants to meaningfully conserve anything in the age of liberal techno-capitalism. Limits are now for fools and romantics and reactionaries. All problems are to be solved in one way: more, bigger, faster. In the age we live in, growth and progress are the only games in town. That’s been the case for a long time now.

I only realised relatively recently that this was actually a religious question — or at least a spiritual one — and that’s one of the great themes of Alexandria, which I was working out as I wrote it. Religions impose limits: on our desires, our passions, our will. They require us to live within boundaries, to obey God, and the best of them require us too to respect nature — Creation — and our bodies, and the shape and form they impose upon us. Religions require self-control, limits on our appetites, respect for those shapes and forms rather than a desire to break them open. Take away the notion that God wants us to live within given limits, and to exhibit self-control for the greater good, and you get the kind of free-for-all we have now in which every limit we see in any area of life is a form of oppression to be attacked and destroyed.

So the short answer is that, yes, traditional religion can be a real source of resistance to the techno-machine, though in the real world it has often completely failed to be, and has just as often helped it advance. For any path I’m aware of it though, it would seem like a requirement to stand against it. Take Christianity: it’s long bemused me that anyone who follows a man who said things like ‘woe unto ye who are rich’, and made his views on wealth, greed and cupidity crystal clear, could possibly support the existing order and its values. And if God created the world and ‘saw that it was good’ — six times! — then how can we justify mining and poisoning it for our own short-term gain?

I think we could make a convincing case that society in the West today is based on the seven deadly sins – not on avoiding them, but on pursuing them, as active goals. We have to each work out where that leaves us as individuals.

I recently participated in an online seminar about an excellent new book about bioethics, written by Carter Snead, a Catholic scholar who argues that we need to return to an older, richer view of what it means to be human. He says that the anthropology of “expressive individualism,” one that seems the human person as essentially will unencumbered by anything unchosen, is not only unrealistic, but is taking us to some dark places. I agree with him, of course, but during the seminar, I brought up Alexandria as an example of how important it is to fight these lies not just with nonfiction arguments, but with good storytelling. In fact, I think it’s more important, because the storytelling of expressive individualism is the controlling myth of our civilization — and it makes it harder for ordinary people to accept the plausibility of solid arguments like Snead’s. What kind of stories, and storytellers, do we need today, in our crisis? How can they be formed, and how can they be heard? 

This was the question at the heart of the Dark Mountain Project, which I co-founded a decade ago. Dark Mountain was — still is — a cultural movement which is looking for new stories, and new ways of telling them, that will rise to this challenge. When I conceived that project I was wondering where all the fiction writing was that was really engaging with the world as it is – engaging with the crisis – rather than as we would like it to be. I wondered how much contemporary fction would look simply irrelevant to future generations: as if we were writing silly fancies while the world burned. I thought that a lot of writers, possibly including me, were in denial to some degree; still writing as if everything would be fine. Our manifesto declared that everything would not be fine and that we should tell stories as if that were true. I don’t know if we succeeded, but the work is ongoing.

Do you have religious belief and practice? What kind of religious belief and practice will we in the West need to embrace if we are going to resist the Machine?

Well, let’s first acknowledge that the West is ground zero for the techno-utopian tragedy that is unfolding around us. It’s what the Native American activist Russell Means called the ‘European mind’ that created the rational, spiritless, utilitarian world that ultimately leads us to Lewis’s abolition of man. That manifests today most obviously in the the Silicon Valley technotopians who want us to upload our minds to the cloud so that we can live forever after death in silicon transcendence – a twisted echo of the Christian story. These people are the ones who control how we communicate, and who frame our ways of seeing.

That’s another way of saying that we — modern, Western people — made this mess, but we don’t seem to know how to clean it up. Maybe we don’t want to. But we should also remember that Means’s ‘European mind’ is really the modern mind — the one which embraced rampant individualism, ‘progress’, love of money and the pursuit of the passions, all of which have eaten us from within. The cultural manifestation of that is the kind of decadent uber-liberalism you write about so penetratingly. The economic manifestation is consumer capitalism, which has destroyed cultures and landscapes worldwide like nothing before it. The ‘left’ tends to push the former while the ‘right’ shills for the latter, but they are two sides of a coin, and they both eat away at our souls.

But there was another West before modernity, just as there was another East or South before we exported modernity to the ‘developing’ world. There are still other Wests that exist alongside the main stream of progress, growth and endless upheaval and uprooting. Our challenge now, I think, is not so much to go back, which is never possible, but to go through. To go through the disintegration that modernity is unleashing and to find some better, more rooted, kinder values again on the other side of the decadence and ecological meltdown. To rediscover the deeper, better aspects of our heritage. Those would be the values of community, self-sacrifice, love of place and nature, rootedness in a sense of the sacred — and actually the baseline Christian virtues: love God and your neighbour, and really try to mean it. I’ve not come across a better ethic to live by. Again, we’re back to limits.

You ask me about my practice. I have been on an increasingly intense spiritual search for a decade, which has taken me through a long immersion in Zen Buddhism, and more recently through various forays into neo-paganism, mythology, gnosticism — you name it. Actually I think my search for some kind of objective truth goes back perhaps even to childhood. My love of nature and my desire to protect it was in many ways driven by what I think now was a religious sensibility — as I wrote in this essay a few years back.

But something was missing from all of this. It turns out that something was God. And 2020, in that respect, has been a revelation to me — literally. I found myself being dragged kicking and screaming earlier this year towards the one place I never thought to look: which is to say, to my own ancestral faith, Christianity. This is a journey that has come upon me entirely by surprise, and it’s only just beginning, so I’m not going to try and lock it down with words, or even pretend that I really understand what’s happening. But something big is going on, and it’s not my doing. I’ll just say that the world has taken on a completely new shape, and I’m still gaping at it. One day I might try and write it down.

I’m not renowned as an optimist, but actually I think that the global machine we have built will not last, because the way we are living is spiritually, as well as ecologically, unsustainable. I don’t believe now that a human culture can last for any length of time unless it has a spiritual core: unless it is built around some path to God. The paths may differ through history and across cultures, but I can’t think of a single example of a culture that has existed without one. That’s one of the themes of Alexandria: if you don’t worship what is greater than you, you’ll end up worshipping yourself. The result of our self-worship — of our rebellion — is climate change and the death of the seas. We’ll have to find a truer path, because this way of living is driving us mad and destroying the ground it stands on. But there’s a fire to be walked through first. I think we’ll emerge unrecognisable, but I think we must.

The book is Alexandria, published this week by Gray Wolf Press. Find links to booksellers here. Visit Kingsnorth’s own personal page for the book here.  If you enjoyed this interview, take a look at this 2019 Dutch documentary about Kingsnorth, his ideas, and his life in rural Galway.

 

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Courage And College Republicans

Mark Wiltz, president of Nicholls State College Republicans, and CR secretary Jade Hawkins (illustration via Brushstroke)

This week I drove down to Thibodaux, Louisiana, to give a Live Not By Lies talk at Nicholls State University. Thibodaux is Cajun country. It is not the Bay Area. It is not the Upper West Side. It is not New England. It is a conservative place. But earlier in the week, the Social Justice Warriors made their malign presence known on campus in a big way.

Last weekend, the campus College Republicans chalked pro-Trump messages on the sidewalk. Such as:

 

“Geaux Trump” is the most Louisiana MAGA thing ever.

Anti-Trump students had a meltdown. Over chalk. On a sidewalk. Here is a parade of fragile students speaking out at an extended student government meeting, all of them outraged that other students expressed a political opinion — support for the re-election of the President of the United States — that caused them anxiety. I’ve cued the video to the first speaker. There’s a long line of them:

This is just embarrassing. I started out my college years at LSU (1985-89) on the political left, and active on campus. It would never have occurred to any of us to have appealed to university authorities to silence the College Republicans. It would never have occurred to any of us that anybody on campus with any political opinions should be compelled to be silent. We actually liked to argue! Crazy us, we thought learning how to argue with our opponents was a good thing.

After the student government meeting, Nicholls State president Jay Clune responded thus:

That’s it? The president sat through a long meeting in which student after student said, in various ways, that the expression of support for Donald Trump was illegitimate, and ought not to have been heard on campus, because it upsets people. If the College Republicans broke state law by putting chalk on a sidewalk, surely that is an extremely minor offense, but okay, slap them on the wrist. If I were a college president, though, I would be seriously alarmed that so many of the students under my authority did not seem to grasp the fundamental liberal values of free speech and free thought. This was a teaching moment, but Dr. Clune whiffed.

It got worse. On Wednesday night, after my talk — which went well — I had dinner with a couple of professors, their wives, and a young student couple who are at the center of the controversy: Mark Wiltz, president of the College Republicans, and his girlfriend Jade Hawkins, the CR secretary. That day, Jade had gone to her classes accompanied by a campus police officer because of numerous death threats she had received from fellow students. Not at Oberlin, not at Evergreen State — at Nicholls State, in Thibodaux, Louisiana!

Here are some of the things she and Mark received. I spent some time later perusing Nicholls student social media to find more of it:

“That boy” is Mark Wiltz:

One student worker at a university office decided that she was going to go on a strike in protest of the fact that Republican students who had received death threats were accompanied to class by police officers for their protection:

 

Lo and behold, she got fired! Good! But now she cannot believe that she was actually held accountable for her actions. Dr. Perry did the right thing.

Anyway, it was a genuine shock to me to hear all this, and to imagine that it was happening on a small public university campus here in a ruby-red state — and that the college president was not taking a clear and unambiguous stand against those students who would threaten violence against these conservative students, who would use racist invective (“Coonkaylen”), and who would demand that political speech that makes them feel uncomfortable be silenced. Nicholls State is a university, not a day care or a seminary.

After I returned home, I asked Jade Hawkins if she would be willing to be interviewed via e-mail. She said yes. Here’s our conversation:

RD: When you and I met for dinner, you had spent the day being escorted to class by a campus police officer. Why was that necessary? What happened at Nicholls?

JH: After the negative response to the Republican chalking some students and others took to social media with threatening messages. Saying that we need to “watch our neck” or deserved to be snatched up, one even went as far as asking to borrow an ak [AK-47 — RD]. I was worried about my safety on campus. The officer was there to help me get from class to class because I didn’t want to risk being harmed but I also didn’t want to miss classes and fall behind.

I’m shocked that this is happening not at Yale, or Oberlin, or one of the “usual suspects” schools, but at a small public college in a very conservative state. What does this say about the left in your generation?

I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is the whole left, I have close friends with different political views than me. But what is sad in this instance these students never really wanted to have a conversation or hear us out. They went straight to attacking us in large groups on social media. Being able to speak freely and have disagreements is one of the great things about our nation, and I will not let this group scare me into silence for issues I believe is right.

I gave a talk about Live Not By Lies at Nicholls, and was well received. I could tell that there were some people in the audience who didn’t like my message, but they were respectful. To what extent are these Social Justice Warriors representative of the student body?

I do not think that this group is the student majority, I just think they’re the loudest. I have received multiple messages and phone calls of support from students who are admittedly scared of speaking up for me in public. They’re afraid of getting the same kind of backlash that I am experiencing. That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised about how well your talk was received, as I feel as if students really heard you and respected what you had to say.

In your opinion, how has the university’s administration behaved? It is shocking to me that the Nicholls leadership hasn’t taken a firm, unequivocal stand against this kind of harassment from the left.

In my opinion this has been handled very poorly and that is so upsetting me. Our university President sent an email stating that our chalking was against state law and university policy yet he never sent one condemning the threats, harassment and bullying of students by students. These messages and examples were sent to them on Monday and there has yet to be any statement from the university despite their “No Tolerance” policy.

You are dating the head of the Nicholls College Republicans, who is black. I see on social media that he has been viciously criticized, in racist terms, by other black students. What has this been like for him?

He makes me so proud in the way that he never lets others’ words get the best of him. He knows he’s a good man and that’s all that matters. If anything this has just given him motivation to stand true and firm in what he believes in, and has given him more of a reason to proudly vote Trump 2020.

As we discussed a bit at dinner, when I was in college here in Louisiana in the 1980s, we had liberals and conservatives on campus, but we found it possible to argue without turning to hysterics and threats of violence against each other. So much has changed. What kind of country will we have when these students who believe the way to get what they want is to scream, emote, and threaten people with violence, graduate and go out into the world?

To me, the thought of that is worrisome. I want to be able to have a conversation and come to compromises or at least agree to disagree. Yet if there is no open dialogue, how is anyone going to be able to share ideas?

There are people on the right and the left who see what is happening to you all at Nicholls, and who want to help you stand strong. What can we do for you?

The best thing anyone can do to help is to stand firm in your beliefs. Don’t let anyone silence you, but don’t shut down conversation either. If we all start working towards having respectful conversations that would help us all.

The kind of courage that Jade Hawkins, Mark Wiltz, and the Nicholls College Republicans are showing is an example to us all. President Clune, please take notice. Louisiana state legislators, you do too. No student in this state, black or white, liberal or conservative, should have to go through what these young Republicans are enduring. Maybe the CRs should not have chalked without permission, but that is of far less importance than the atmosphere of illiberal bullying that has arisen out of the campus left in response.

UPDATE: Sorry, I misread the “AK” above — it’s AK-47, not axe — I’ve corrected it.

This e-mail went out to the parents of the Little Colonels Academy, a campus day care:

Parents,

The year 2020 has been a very challenging year in many ways for family, friends, and colleagues. Some of these include COVID-19, political unrest, and peaceful protests occurring on campuses nationwide.

As we continue to navigate these challenges, it seems that new challenges arise that test our strength, determination, and perseverance.These situations can be frightening for young children who are not yet able to comprehend adult matters. In an abundance of caution, we will be making the following changes at LCA effective immediately and will continue until further notice:

● Nature walks

○ All nature walks have been suspended until further notice.

○ Children will be provided with additional outdoor play time on our AMAZING new playground as much as possible.

● Heavier campus police presence

○ You may see a heavier campus police presence in the vicinity of the center. This has been requested to provide an extra layer of security for your little learners.

● Drop-Off (7:00am – 9:00am)

○ Only essential personnel will be allowed access to the center.

○ Parents will bring children to the entrance of LCA where Mrs. Katie, Mrs. Sarah, or Mrs. Jen will be available to retrieve children. ○ Children will then be escorted to their classrooms by an available teaching assistant.

● Pick-Up (3:00pm – 5:00pm)

○ Only essential personnel will be allowed access to the center.

○ Children will be escorted to Mrs. Katie, Mrs. Sarah, Mrs. Jen, or Mrs. Jaycie. One of these ladies will then escort your child/children to meet you outside the entrance of the center.

○ We ask that – when possible – parents call ahead [deleted] so we can prepare children for pick-up. Please leave a message if needed as we may be unable to immediately answer the phone.

Again, we are tremendously grateful for your understanding and patience as we strive to continue to provide a safe and developmentally appropriate environment for your little learners. LCA has been extremely blessed with the continued support provided by LCA families, members within the Nicholls community, and Nicholls administration. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or additional concerns.

How about that. The radical campus left at Nicholls State has forced a campus day care to suspend normal operations because they cannot guarantee the safety of little children.

Tell me again how the Left is all about social justice. This mob needs to be brought under control. President Clune, expel those who threaten violence. Defend those little children. Defend the college students under your authority. Defend your university.

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