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Were The Christian Martyrs Losers?

Matt in VA is one of my favorite regular commenters here. It’s not that I agree with him always — sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t — but that he’s almost always intelligent, and makes me think. I’m going to post a long response he made in the comments section of another thread, to a criticism I made of him. I said:

This blog’s commenter Matt in VA is not a Christian, is gay, and is on on the Right. He repeatedly denounces me for being soft, and unwilling to engage in violence to defend the Right.

To which he responded:

I can’t be a very good or clear writer if this is the impression you’re getting. Sorry!

My politics are practically a Xerox of Steve Sailer’s. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him advocate violence. I do think he is more perceptive and clear-sighted than anybody else writing about our culture and our politics today and I’d sign up for a philosopher-kingdom of his were it on offer. It’s silly to expect any of the rest of us, or more than one or two of the rest of us, to be that brilliant. But we could at least be brave. We could at least be courageous. That is not asking too much of us.

Do you really get the impression that I expect *you* to be violent? Sorry! Taking tougher *stances* and being harder in what one is willing to *write* — sure. That would please me! For instance, if you do believe that we are entering a new Dark Age, I would think you might — maybe it’s a failure of imagination, maybe it’s just that *I* can’t imagine feeling that way and *not* wanting to fight, not wanting to say, “I will do what I can to not let this kind of world that I foresee come into being”. But fight is of course going to mean different things for different people. Here’s the thing — I think all of us human beings should fight. Including the 90 year old grandmothers. But what *fighting* looks like will be different for different people. Liberals do *fight*. That doesn’t mean they all bust kneecaps! But they take various actions to ensure that their beliefs and values are not pushed out of the public square. That looks different for different people.

I’ve given this example before. But people used to say to their daughters who got pregnant out of wedlock, “Never darken our doors again.” In other words, they used to *enforce* with *consequences* their values. Not (necessarily) with violence, but with consequences. And it was *cruel*! Of course it was cruel. But if you are not willing to enforce what you believe to be true, if you always cede public ground to those who *will* enforce the values that they believe, you cannot be surprised if the world becomes *their* world. Somebody ends up doing the enforcing. And enforcing comes in a lot of forms. Think about orthodox Christian parents with gay children. I’ll willing to bet that 75+% of the time, it’s the children — once grown– who give the ultimatum, “deal with this/accept it or I’ll cut you out of my life,” and the parents fold, because they love their son or daughter and cannot bring themselves to lose him or her. The gay person is more *committed.* This is how a small minority can establish the public-sphere understanding of even something as fundamental as biological sex/gender.

Now– take the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.” The Seventh-Day Adventist said he wouldn’t fight, he would not kill, himself. But he certainly did everything he could to help his fellow soldiers! He didn’t spend the war telling them that what they *really* should be doing was laying down their arms, too, and that violence should *always* be eschewed by Christians so he was going to criticize them all through the battle!

As for the Christian thing… For what it’s worth–perhaps nothing, perhaps less than nothing– I believe Christianity is true. I know I am not orthodox, and I know that orthodoxy is both very important to you personally and very important, objectively speaking. I’m not trying to argue with your description of me or tell you how you must refer to me.

Lastly — since you quoted a Weekly Standard writer — let me point out that the Respectable Conservative Right never, but never, but never criticizes Israel for using violence, and instead all of its pundits immediately jump to defend Israel’s every violent action, whether asked to comment on it or not. And I don’t find the argument “Israel is different, they have it very bad, it’s literally surrounded by hostile nations, it’s nothing like here” when you just wrote a book saying that we are facing a new Dark Age — which sounds pretty damn bad! I don’t believe that the Respectable Conservative Right is anywhere near as pure and Christian-martyry as they claim to be when comparing themselves to Trump. And for goshsakes, what about the Iraq War, which Weekly Standardites did more than almost anyone else to bring about? You know what, I get it. The Respectable Conservative Right scolds and tone-polices because, even though they *support* and *advocate* for massive amounts of violence, they see the actual fighting as beneath them as something for the peons and Middle Americans to do.

In a system like ours where there is no accountability — where the Weekly Standard writers are never, but never held accountable in any way for their Iraq Wars — yes, I don’t know that I see tarring and feathering, or even Judge Lynch, as a terrible travesty of justice. If I’m not to become *fond* of such things — sure, I’m on board, I promise to not get fond of it!

I appreciate the clarification, and I apologize for saying he’s not a Christian. I genuinely though he wasn’t.

Matt’s comment makes me think that I must be doing a poor job of explaining my point of view, though I also believe that there is a genuine difference between us. Let me see if I can better define the similarities and the differences.

I think people like Matt see me as being a conscientious objector in the culture war because I don’t believe that conventional tactics do much good anymore, or at least can’t do for us cultural and religious conservatives what we want them to do. It’s not that I believe in surrendering; it’s that I’m skeptical of what victory on these terms means.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. A local school board is considering imposing a pro-transgender policy on schools. It’s everything that GLAAD would want: trans access to preferred locker rooms, trans participation on preferred sports teams, mandatory use of preferred pronouns, etc. Do I think Christian and culturally conservative parents should fight this? Damn straight! Organize. Show up at the school board meetings. Do your best, even if they hate you.

You might win. But if so, then what? What, exactly, have you achieved on a deeper level?

I wrote recently about a liberal friend who teaches in public high school in a conservative state. She told me that the teenagers in her high school are heavily pro-LGBT, even though their parents are not. She said that the parents have no idea at all what their kids think about these things — and she’s thrilled over it. Her school has no LGBT policies now, and I can imagine, based on our conversation, that if the local school board tried to implement them, there would be at least some parental objection. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this happened, and that parents prevailed.

A victory wouldn’t be meaningless, but it would be superficial, and therefore almost  meaningless, because the parents have already lost the moral imaginations of their kids. These kids have been formed not by their parents, nor by their churches, but by popular culture. In a few more years, the prohibition will fall by popular demand, because the conservatives have already lost the battle that counts.

What strategy do I recommend? Fight the battle at the school board, but make sure that you are also fighting the battle in your home and in your churches. By “fighting the battle,” I mean confronting head-on the propaganda from the Sexual Revolution, providing a robust counter-narrative, and living it out. It’s often said in classical Christian education circles that most parents who send their kids to those schools are running away from something bad, as distinct from running towards something good. A Christian friend in a Southern state told me recently that he believes that most parents in his local classical Christian school want their kids not to be liberal more than they want them to be deeply formed as Christians.

Because I believe that many of the most important battles have already been lost, and are unwinnable, I believe that “fighting” has to happen at a deeper level. On the school front, for example, either homeschool or create alternative schools, like classical Christian schools. There simply aren’t enough conservatives to “take back” public schools, even if it were possible. What’s more, creating the structures of an alternative ethos — e.g., a new school — is pointless if there is not also a counterrevolution in the hearts and minds of the kids and the parents who are part of that community.

In The Benedict Option [1], I mention the daughter of an Evangelical friend who told me that meetings of the parachurch Christian youth group to which she belongs is where the kids who are smoking, drinking, and sleeping with each other go once a week for their dose of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. She didn’t put it exactly that way, obviously, but her point was that there was nothing seriously Christian about the group. That kid spoke of the group as if it were more of a vaccination against taking the faith seriously than any kind of true aid to discipleship. Based on conversations I’ve had with Christian pastors since The Benedict Option came out, I don’t believe that it’s right always to blame the leaders of these groups. Often it’s the parents, who insist that their kids go to these groups to get the Christian formation that they (the parents) are unwilling to give them at home.

Many of these pastors face a difficult dilemma: do they turn these unserious kids away, even though that group may be the only contact they have with the faith, or do they try to accommodate them, even though it means watering down the purpose of the group? One pastor I know said that the serious Christian parents in his church’s youth group were starting to pull their kids out because the kids who were only there because their moms and dads made them come were making the whole thing pointless.

I believe that youth pastors have to start turning away those who are unserious about the faith, and about learning the skills of Christian discipleship. It’s hard to be a serious Christian in this post-Christian, and increasingly anti-Christian, world; young people who want to do so need as much help as adults can give them. Kids need a challenge. The daughter of my friend — the kid who was alienated from her local parachurch Christian group — is the kind of kid who is the future of the church. Conservative Christians who are interested in fighting the culture war, but who aren’t interested in training young people like her in authentic Christian discipleship, aren’t serious. They are being nothing but a chaplaincy to the individualistic, post-Christian social order.

Andy Crouch puts my point into perspective in this post from a year ago. [2] He titled it “A Rough Assessment Of The Two Major Premises Of Rod Dreher’s Book”:

1. Social hostility and legal restrictions will undermine the viability of many Christian institutions, and significantly limit individual Christians’ participation in many professions and aspects of public life, in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 20%

Portion of journalistic coverage of the book devoted to this claim: 90%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 98%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 50%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 5%

2. Due to a lack of meaningful discipleship and accommodation to various features of secularized modernity and consumer culture, the collapse of Christian belief and practice is likely among members of the dominant culture (and many minority cultures) in the United States within a generation or so.

Portion of The Benedict Option devoted to this claim: 80%

Portion of journalistic coverage devoted to this claim: 10%

Portion of social media buzz (pro and con) devoted to this claim: 2%

Likelihood of this claim being true: 90%

How much this should cause acute distress for those who believe that Jesus is Lord: 100%

See, this is why I am skeptical of exhortations, à la Matt in VA, to “fight.” Most conservative Christians have only the vaguest idea what they ought to be fighting for — or where the most important battle lines truly are. You know the kind of people who are doing some of the most significant fighting right now?

The CIRCE Institute [3].

The Society for Classical Learning.  [4]

The Association of Classical Christian Schools. [5]

The familiar model of conservative Christian culture-war engagement is badly outdated. We lost as surely as the French Army failed to prevent the Germans from taking Paris in 1940. To hear a lot of Christian conservatives talk, the thing to do is to keep strengthening the Maginot Line, even though the Germans are drinking Champagne on Champs-Elysées. The kind of culture-war fighting that matters now is more of a French Resistance model, even though that too is a flawed analogy. I prefer the Benedictine monastery model, adapted to the 21st-century laity: building up countercultural institutions to generate a way of life capable of outlasting the barbarians, and ultimately converting them.

This requires a more radical way of thinking and being in the world. It’s hard to see this, but highly politicized Christian figures like Robert Jeffress are collaborationists (to continue the metaphor). They think of themselves as bold warriors for the faith, but in fact they are unwittingly helping the enemy in all kinds of ways — chiefly, in my view, by totally misleading their people about the true nature of the struggle. The much more common kind of collaborationist is the bishop or pastor who prefers to believe that the status quo is manageable, and that we aren’t in any kind of crisis at all. Do not expect any kind of meaningful leadership from these people. Do not wait on them before you act. It’s not going to happen. Again, the analogy is flawed, but if we’re talking culture war, I’m arguing for Christians embracing the spirit of General de Gaulle, [6] who led the Resistance from exile. An even better analogy would be to embrace the spirit of Poland’s Solidarity, who had no weapons with which to fight the communists, but who built their resistance through the power of faith and social solidarity. The Poles were conquered materially, but they were not conquered in spirit. What did the Poles do to resist from 1979 until the fall of communism? That’s the kind of fighting I’m talking about.

Going back to Matt’s point, I think he is generally right about the power of those who are willing to enforce what they believe to be true. The thing is, I can’t accept, not as a Christian nor as a human being, that if one of my children were to come out as gay, that my faith obligates me to cut them out of my life. I hope I have raised my children to believe, in turn, that if one of them were gay, they would not cut their parents out of their life, even though their parents cannot and will not affirm their homosexuality. If my adult gay child demands that I affirm their homosexuality, or pay the price of them exiling themselves from my life, then I will accept their choice to cut me off, because I cannot and will not affirm as true what I believe to be untrue. The choice of exile, though, will have been my child’s, and not my own.

If the price of “victory” is to sever human relationships, then what kind of victory is that? Don’t get me wrong: sometimes, there really is no other choice. We live in a fallen world. But these ideologues on both the right and the left who rejoice at crushing the wrong-thinkers — they give me chills. They reduce human beings to abstractions. I do not believe that schools should embrace transgenderism, for example, but I also do not believe that kids suffering from that particular delusion should be harassed or hurt. Rather, they should be treated like the children of God that they are. That does not mean that they should get whatever they want. But there is a baseline of human dignity that cannot and must not be denied or erased.

This is why I think that the gay man who sued his friend  of a decade, Baronnelle Stutzman, the Washington florist, over her politely declining to arrange flowers for his gay wedding, is something like a monster. That he would crush that gentle soul, and compel this woman who had been kind to him, knowing he was gay, and sold him flowers for years, and befriended him, all because she would not violate her Baptist conscience — I find that sickening. I would also find it sickening if there was a florist in town who wanted to serve a gay couple at their wedding, and Christians tried to destroy her business to make an ideological point. You can say that I have squishy principles, and you might be right. But my general approach is Christian personalism, in the John Paul II style. [7] It’s the only one I see as compatible with my Christian faith. In 1968, Wojtyla wrote:

I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical significance and the mystery of the PERSON. It seems to me that the debate today is being played on that level. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even much more of the metaphysical than of the moral order. To this disintegration, planned at times by atheistic ideologies, we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the mystery of the person.

My fundamental view is that when we start to pulverize individual humans for the sake of ideological principle, we open the door to great evil. Even when we must take hard stands and enforce them, we should struggle to keep before us at all times that we are dealing not with abstractions, but with human beings.

Matt is correct that power often goes to the audacious. This month has been LGBT Pride Month. I look at all those parades, and I see them as victory marches, but more deeply, I see defeat. Pride is a deadly sin, in all its guises. I see as much idolatry in the Pride marches as I do in Pastor Jeffress’s right-wing nationalist church worship services. [8] I believe that Christians stand to lose their hearts, their minds, and even their souls if they succumb to either. I would rather stand with Baronelle Stutzman than with the triumphant victors of the Pride marches. I would rather stand with the Iraqi Christians who lost everything in large part because of America’s invasion than with Pastor Jeffress’s chest-thumping nationalism. I would rather stand with the Prisoner rather than the Inquisitor. [9]

If in victory, you become like those you defeated, where is the true victory?

Matt, you say that you believe Christianity is true. I accept that. Where, then, does mercy figure into your vision? I can see justice, sort of, but mercy?

I guess this is a way of saying that I have moved, over the course of my Christian life, from total sympathy with the Robert De Niro character in “The Mission” to sympathy (but not total) with the Jeremy Irons character. “The Mission” is one of my all-time favorite movies. The fact that it does not offer a clean-cut moral is one of the reasons it’s so great. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I can point out that the central conflict is between two Jesuit priests in colonial South America. One (De Niro) believes that Christians can legitimately use violence to prevent their enslavement by any means necessary. The other (Irons) believes that martyrdom is the preferable course of action. Which one is right?

Most of my life, that has been a fairly easy question to answer: De Niro. But I have never been able to entirely dismiss the stance the Irons character takes. In the particular circumstances of the film, I would still say that De Niro’s character has a right to do what he does. But I have come over the years to appreciate the higher wisdom, and reason, behind the martyrdom approach. Irons’s character knows that the mission’s congregants have no chance against the greater force of Empire. He advises accepting a martyr’s death, as Christ did, for a higher cause.

Every Christian culture warrior has to face the fact that Our Lord could have called down legions of angels to defend him and defeat his enemies … but he did not. Why not? What was he after? How should that guide us? It seems clear to me that from Matt’s point of view, the martyrs were nothing but losers. That’s one way to look at it. But it’s not an authentically Christian way to look at it.

Not all who refuse to pick up the sword, so to speak, refuse to fight. We Christians have it on good authority that the most important battles are spiritual.  [10]

88 Comments (Open | Close)

88 Comments To "Were The Christian Martyrs Losers?"

#1 Comment By Seven sleepers On June 27, 2018 @ 3:25 pm

[NFR: We got us an Integralist here. I wish Integralists would take a minute to think about what role the recent Cardinal Archbishop of Washignton, the gay predator Uncle Ted McCarrick, would have played under an Integralist regime. — RD]

I never thought about this until your pointing it out.

But seriously, I wish you would think about it some, and let me know what you came up with: you have the pulpit. I bet I could prove you have it a** backwards. No pun intended.

And before throwing around terms in a pejorative sense, lest we forget who did the running across squares to kiss rings, there IS a version of Christian government that has sailed right over your head, it appears. It is betwixt confused Republicanism (as in wanting us to get back to reasonable ol Republicanism without the throwing Priests down wells kind, like your other post) and Jesuitical fanatical monarchical devotion (ala your obsequiousness circa the early oughts). Integralism is exactly what every “Christian”, Catholic or Orthodox believed, prior to the ascendancy of the French revolution.

I’m sorry, you wanted to go back to our Christian roots of 1776? Pfft…

But go on…tar the Integralist! (of which the tarslinger knows < 1%)

Btw, what does the Russian Orthodox Church that you are a member of have to say about this? Nothing? Or the EP? Too busy talking about the environment? Never defined?

#2 Comment By shona G On June 27, 2018 @ 3:36 pm

In response to one of the comments, Gandhi was not only a Hindu but a practitioner of Christian Anarchism. At Tolstoy farm there were Hindus, Muslims and Christians living as Christian Anarchists, following pacifism, communal living and finding within Holy scriptures of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam a mutual history of love of our fellow humans as the fundamental source of all that is sacred.
When we use that source it becomes apparent that we are never asked to enforce our moral values on others. If you don’t believe in abortion don’t have one but nowhere does Christ say u can stone anybody else for having one. Nowhere does he say that u can force the man to fast when his heart is not dedicated to fasting. Christianity is not in danger ‘Christian’ fascism is.

#3 Comment By Sam M On June 27, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

Red Hen Wannabe,

“I really hope one of youur children turns out to be gay…”


“if you are the type of person who can simply not see the love, dignity, commitment and self-sacrifice that is plainly there in gay relationships as much as in straight ones”

If you are the kind of person who can’t see how this is bigger than gay/straight, you are hopeless. I’m straight. My mom would never have permitted me to share a bed with a girlfriend, even if we had 5 kids together and had cohabitated for 20 years. Because we would not be married. Our level of commitment and self sacrifice would be immaterial.

At any rate, thanks for clarifying. Rod is right. The standard IS, truly, to affirm and celebrate. Anything else is rank bigotry.

#4 Comment By Haigha On June 27, 2018 @ 4:18 pm


“Group-centered morality can often take a left-wing form, and historically often has (communism, various forms of pre-modern collectivism, and so forth).”

I don’t disagree, but I don’t see the pole that I characterized as “detached” or “conservative” as being more “group-focused”, or the pole that I characterized as “empathetic” or “progressive” as being more individualistic, in the first place.

Individualism is usually associated with the idea of getting one’s deserts (for good or ill), with self-reliance, with a degree of acceptance that some people will fall through the cracks. Communitarianism/collectivism is usually more associated with assertions that are prompted by empathy: that we are all our brothers’ keepers, that *someone* (i.e., government) MUST solve every troubled or disadvantaged person’s personal difficulties, etc.

Or, to put it another way, I don’t think that a static focus is necessarily more “individualistic”, or that a dynamic focus is necessarily more “collectivist”.

#5 Comment By JonF On June 27, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

Sam M
I think it’s perfectly reasonable for all of us to take the attitude “my house, my rules”– as long as the rules are not totally absurd of course. But many of us who do not smoke have no problem asking smoking guests not to do so in our homes. Ditto with booze: if, for some reason or other, you don’t want alcohol in your house it’s your right to ask guests not to bring any. Or their pets if you don’t like those animals. And along those lines I see nothing wrong in a host asking non-married overnight guests not to sleep in the same room.
But once you’re talking about people behavior that does not take place in your home, then you have to acknowledge that your writ ends at our your property line and you have no business trying to impose yourself (except in circumstances with your own minor children) on what people do that is not criminal when they are not under your roof.

#6 Comment By JonF On June 27, 2018 @ 4:31 pm

The problem with supermarket tabloids is that they very often normalize if only inadvertently, the very scandals they trumpet. They used to lover them a good gay scandal back in the day. But when they repeatedly “outed” people (actors, singers, even political figures) who are reasonably popular they were actually spreading the message of “We are everywhere” and they made homosexuality more not less acceptable no matter how salacious the actual articles were.

#7 Comment By mrscracker On June 27, 2018 @ 4:50 pm

Allen ,
What a beautiful comment you made.
God bless you & your family.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 27, 2018 @ 5:03 pm

Jesus raised their dead, healed their sick, fed them, forgave their sins, and gave them hope. They still crucified Him.

The problem with this sort of “they” narrative is that while there was undoubtedly some overlap, those whose close relatives were raised from the dead, those whose sick were healed, those who were fed, were three different collections of people, those who were forgiven a different overlapping universe, those given hope yet another, and those who crucified him included a number who were entirely excluded from the other universes mentioned.

That’s always the difficulty saying too many things about “they” and “them.”

And, yet, the Gospels outline a clear process for excommunication.

Epistles, yes. Gospels? Please be more specific. “Shake the dust off your feet” doesn’t count.

#9 Comment By Anondustrious On June 27, 2018 @ 5:22 pm

“When I came out to my father as a teenager, he said “Son, it is not my way, but I love you and will always defend you.” In later years, I brought by bf/lover home and slept in my old bed with him. Were these acts of affirmation or bestowals of dignity or both?“

It was probably an act of appeasement on his part, and certainly an act of disrespect on your part. He had given a measure. Why couldn’t you have?

#10 Comment By William Tighe On June 27, 2018 @ 6:19 pm

Déjà Q said:

“The ruling magistrate is evil. All political means of removing the magistrate have been tried and have failed. In this case, it is the duty of Christian men to remove the magistrate by force, using the sword. Historical examples: Bonhoeffer’s involvement in plot to kill Hitler, and the American Revolution.”

George III the 18th-Century Hitler! What a lot of rubbish!

#11 Comment By Canaille On June 27, 2018 @ 6:32 pm

Yeah, Matt in VA is awesome.

With regards to ‘fighting’, I felt like I always understood his meaning and I’m glad to see it confirmed here. He’s talking about contesting the public square and utilizing some of the Left’s methods, like marches, demonstrations, street theatre, instead of the lazy, non-confrontational, and cowardly methods of Respectable Conservatism of ceding theses spaces and placing all your faith in the notion that one’s ideas are so well-constructed, so inherently superior that their ultimate triumph is assured (who knew that National Review conservatives could be so Marxist?). Heck, I think actual physical violence is the last thing he would recommend (though not entirely off the table, either).

What you both seem to agree on – and what separates you from Establishment Conservatives – is the need for courage. Fighting takes courage, but so does martyrdom. And the propaganda value of martyrdom (either physical or emotional) has been amply demonstrated throughout history – Christians in Rome and blacks in the 60s come to mind. There is a lot of emotional power and beauty in seeing someone stand up for their ideas, get hit … and neither fight back nor back down. The message being sent is “my ideas are more important than my physical safety, more important than my social standing, more important than my livelihood.”

#12 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 27, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

“Fran, if you must bring Saint Canstantine the Great”

Calling Constantine, the murderer of his own relatives to consolidate his power, a saint, means the relatively more moral Trump could be canonized any day now and a lot quicker.

There’s a giant cross at Arlington National Cemetery, too – but look closely – it really is a sword, as befits the canonization of those who serve an idolatrous War Jesus.

#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 27, 2018 @ 6:43 pm

” His biggest argument was how we could vote for Trump, a man he said, ‘Who wanted to see people like me dead.’ ”

That’s not even rational, let alone factual. Trump unfurled a rainbow banner, proclaimed his support for homosexual marriage, noted he’d invite Bruce Jenner as guest host on his show, and sought their support.

This is akin to the hysteria pushed early on that Trump is an anti-Semite and Jew hater. Hardly, since he even went all out to move the embassy to Jerusalem and follows the foreign policy cues of Benjamin Netanyahu, who proclaimed him, “Donald Trump, my good friend.”

Too bad the young man is so easily deceived and manipulated – and I’d say, not just about this one thing.

#14 Comment By Northmoor On June 27, 2018 @ 6:59 pm

I hear you – but then you go and write things like “I hope he sues them into the ground” or “these are horrible people deserving of judgment” and I think your true spiritual guide is St. Michael, who both strikes down the Lord’s enemies and weighs the souls of the dead. But maybe you’re just struggling along like the rest of us, trying to find the right balance. In any case, despite the musings on martyrdom here, you’re most certainly not one of St. Sebastian’s angels.

Speaking of that, and Pride Months and parades and such: without getting into the sinfulness aspect (I can’t), there was a wise feller who once noted that pride is not the opposite of shame. They are two sides of the same coin, that coin being an unhealthy fixation on the self. True love subordinates the self, and is outward-looking. Where large groups of self-fixated people gather to proclaim their love – that’s where you find hypocrisy.

#15 Comment By William Tighe On June 27, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

Those wishing to learn more about pre-Constantinian Christian martyrdom in its historical context would do well to read W. H. C. Frend’s Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus (Oxford, 1965: Blackwell; repr., 2014: Wipf & Stock). It is clear and lucid, and at times opinionated. Frend (1916-2005) taught at Cambridge, then Glasgow, and when on the verge of retirement was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

More recent studies – inspired, it would seem, from reviews I’ve read, by a kind of “hermeneutic of suspicion” – are two books by Candida Moss (b. 1978), formerly of Notre Dame, now of Birmingham (UK): Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Ideologies, and Traditions (Yale, 2012) and The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (HarperCollins, 2013).

#16 Comment By Karen Scott On June 27, 2018 @ 8:52 pm

If you’re serious about having your children “on fire” for Jesus, move to Redding, CA where Bethel Church is (iBethel.org). Or to San Francisco where Francis Chan is (reading scripture app). He left a mega church in S. CA to start many churches elsewhere. There are a number of similar churches, like the two mentioned, throughout CA, and the U. S. But, adults have to die to self first, and then the move will be easy.

#17 Comment By Nate J On June 27, 2018 @ 9:04 pm

@Siarlys Jenkins:
“Epistles, yes. Gospels? Please be more specific. ‘Shake the dust off your feet’ doesn’t count.”

– – –

From Matthew 18:15-17

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

I respect your depth and breadth of knowledge, SJ, which is why I do enjoy getting one over you every once in a blue moon. 😉

#18 Comment By Turmarion On June 27, 2018 @ 9:31 pm

I’d pretty much agree with Hector. All the early military saints–Maximus, Sebastian, and so on–were noteworthy precisely because they refused to fight. Contra seven sleepers, there’s no evidence from the stories of these saints that their refusal to fight was because they were in a largely pagan army. A very detailed website about the military saints is [11]. Later on, though St. Basil said that killing in a just war wasn’t murder, the soldiers still ought to abstain from Communion for three years. (see [12])

I don’t think one could argue that Christianity as a whole is pacifist as such; and like Hector, I’m not personally a pacifist, since I think that in some cases, force is necessary. However, I do think–and the early Church thought–that such cases are very rare. I think pacifism has always been the latent ideal. Just war theory was indeed developed in the West; but it’s hardly ever been actually followed. As Hector points out, the rules are very stringent!

Rob G, totally agreed with you on cross-church slams and pissy rips. Actually, The Pissy Rips sounds like a good name for a female punk band…. 😉

Rod: I wish Integralists would take a minute to think about what role the recent Cardinal Archbishop of Washignton, the gay predator Uncle Ted McCarrick, would have played under an Integralist regime.

Absolutely. All I can say to seven sleepers is that on a previous thread, you argued that certain classes of sinners ought not even have a chance at forgiveness, and he himself would gladly give up heaven in order to make sure that such malefactors would burn in hell for eternity. That hardcore, merciless attitude is on display here as well; and it doesn’t seem to me to have much relationship to Christianity. I’m pretty much wasting the pixels in pointing this out, I imagine; but FWIW.

Matt in VA: It seems to me that Christianity has quite often understood itself in the past as being *merciful* when it seeks to take the public stage/stand up in the public square and *rub in sinner’s faces* the consequences of their sins. I use this language deliberately. After all, those Christians were trying to save people from hell and to steer them towards union with God. It seems to me that Jesus in the gospels does this!

I’m not sure I agree with this. Most of the early Christians, in the tales of the martyrs, don’t go out of their way to rub pagans’ sins in their faces. They usually get sent to torture after refusing to burn incense or recant their faith. In the process of the trial, they might criticize the pagan gods and such; but they don’t initiate this. It’s a response. As to Jesus in the Gospels, it is the powerful–the Pharisees and the Sadducees–at whom he takes aim, and usually on the grounds of hypocrisy. He never criticizes pagans for their practices; and the only chiding he gives to non-elite, non-powerful interlocutors that I can think of are in John 5:14 and John 8:11. Both of those are very mild, and seem far from “rubbing people’s faces” in their sin.

Relatedly, Nate J is correct in pointing out the words of Jesus (“I come not to bring peace, but a sword,”) and the process for excommunication in the early Church. The devil, as always, is in the details. Such phrases can be used to justify not only kicking out sinners, but crusades, persecution of heretics, inter-church warfare, and on and on. Just observe the period after the Reformation–the Wars of Religion. Scriptures such as these are always very dangerous to interpret, since they can be used to support some very questionable things. I’m not saying that there is never a justification for excommunication, or tossing someone out of the family, etc.; but such things require lots of discretion.

Going back to Matt: heck, I’m arguing for something that would/could mean destroying me and the life I have (I’m gay and married to a man — so how can I be saying this?)

I have to say I admire you for saying this. So many commenters here are extremely willing to advocate draconian measures for various groups–groups to which they somehow, amazingly never belong. Straights extol the closet, whites recommend the benefits of segregation, men argue for traditional gender roles for women, etc. Somehow they are never the ones who might be negatively affected or have to make sacrifices. Almost no one is willing to put his money where his mouth is. I don’t think I agree with what you’re advocating; but I respect the hell out of you and admire your guts, since you’re willing to be upfront and honest about your conflicted feelings on this, as well as being willing to advocate at least the possibility of something that would be directly against all your best interests. I wish more people on all sides were willing to do that. If they were, maybe they’d think more carefully about what they advocate.

Brian in Brooklyn, good and interesting points.

#19 Comment By Brian in Brooklyn On June 27, 2018 @ 9:56 pm

Anondustrious writes: “It was probably an act of appeasement on his part…”

No, it was an act of love. One of the many things my father was not was an appeaser. From what I wrote, what gave you the impression it was an act of appeasement?

“…and certainly an act of disrespect on your part. He had given a measure. Why couldn’t you have?”

Why an act of disrespect? My father had invited us to be with him and set up the bedroom for us. I did not ask for it, but was not surprised knowing how loving my father was.

@Tumarion: Thank you and the same to you.

#20 Comment By Anondustrious On June 27, 2018 @ 10:26 pm

Brian in Brooklyn,

I seem to be having comprehension problems today. I thought he was appeasing because he had earlier told you “it’s not my way.” I didn’t catch from your first post that your father set up and offered the room to you and your boyfriend. That does make a difference. Thanks for clarifying.

#21 Comment By Matt in VA On June 27, 2018 @ 10:28 pm

As to Jesus in the Gospels, it is the powerful–the Pharisees and the Sadducees–at whom he takes aim, and usually on the grounds of hypocrisy.

Only taking aim at the powerful – I’m fine with that. Though everybody disagrees to one extent or another who the powerful even are.

Allan Bloom wrote that there has long been a place (if you look at Western history, at least) for those who will not live by the rules that a healthy society sets and enforces. That place is Bohemia. But the residents of Bohemia, who do not live by that society’s rules, A) cannot appeal to the public purse to save them from the choices they make (the way, for example, gay men/ACT-UP *demanded* that politicians/Reagan IMMEDIATELY fix the AIDS crisis, while at the *very same time* fighting to keep the bathhouses open,***) and B) must justify their choices through the artistic and intellectual contributions they make. Ah, here’s the text: “In the
past there was a respectable place for marginality, bohemia. But it had to
justify its unorthodox practices by its intellectual and artistic achievement.” This strikes me as about right. Note the balance of power here; where do you draw the line? Well, this seems about right. Kind of like the world is a *much, much* better place for having a New Orleans, but the model for the rest of the world shouldn’t be New Orleans.

***See Camille Paglia in “Vamps and Tramps” for a perfect assessment of ACT-UP. For that matter, see Camille Paglia for anything…

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 27, 2018 @ 10:56 pm

If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Nate, I don’t see a “clear process for excommunication.” For one thing, any individual follower of Jesus could do these things to any individual who refused to listen. Perhaps more important, this is about “If thy brother trespass against thee…” Its not about rejecting God. It doesn’t even tell the church to treat him as a pagan or a tax collector, but rather the aggrieved individual may do so if the brother does not listen to the church.

And then there is the little matter of what “the church” would have meant to a crowd of Jews who addressed Jesus as “rabbi.” And what would “excommunication” mean before the paradigm for “communion” had been introduced into the world?

#23 Comment By paradoctor On June 27, 2018 @ 11:08 pm

If you’ve lost the sex war, then why not switch to the class war? Preferential option for the poor? Camel through a needle’s eye? Jesus spoke a lot about that topic; about Leviticus rules, not so much.

You’ll get a lot more support from young people, especially those caught in student debt.

#24 Comment By Stabat Mater On June 27, 2018 @ 11:35 pm

shona g: “If you don’t believe in abortion don’t have one but nowhere does Christ say u can stone anybody else for having one.”

Because those who believe in abortion & contraception have insisted our government steal (tax) money from the rest of us to force us to pay for them.

And because the morality & justice of any society has always been judged by how it cares for/defends/protects the innocent & defenseless.

Who will be forced to pay for my nose job if I happen to think it’s an inconvenience?

#25 Comment By Nate J On June 28, 2018 @ 12:20 am

Siarlys, let me only say that I think we are getting caught up in semantics and pedantry when the original question, distilled to its essence, is this:

Is it proper, and indeed Christian, for the body of believers to close ranks against people, behaviors, and ideas that threaten its unity and stability?

I say the biblical evidence is a pretty resounding, “yes”. There are so many instances of either Christ or the Epistle writers speaking about how to preserve the truth, integrity, and purity of the Church body. The Great Commission, contrary to the poster who brought it up, it a command Jesus makes of us to spread the Truth and the Word, making disciples of all who will listen. It is not a command for our churches to turn into free-for-alls in the name of inclusivity, or some misguided interpretation of love or charity.

#26 Comment By JonF On June 28, 2018 @ 9:01 am

Re: Because those who believe in abortion & contraception have insisted our government steal (tax) money from the rest of us to force us to pay for them.

Contraception, yes. But not abortion. I suggest you google “Hyde Amendment”.

#27 Comment By JonF On June 28, 2018 @ 9:08 am

Re: Allan Bloom wrote that there has long been a place (if you look at Western history, at least) for those who will not live by the rules that a healthy society sets and enforces. That place is Bohemia.

No. Societies needs its eccentrics and oddballs. Some of them even achieve great and good things. (Was Michaelangelo “normal”? Plato? Alan Turing?) Wall off the oddballs and society will gradually wilt and wither because it’s lost its source of innovation in a world where “Adapt or Die” is part of Nature’s law.
Though no where near “great”, I’m an eccentric in my own way. Even Rod is in some ways– I suspect many of us here are. You can’t just wall us (and yourself) off and expect anything good to come of it. The future is everyone’s.

#28 Comment By Seven sleepers On June 28, 2018 @ 9:28 am


Indeed, you are wasting more than pixels. I am not sure what religion you espouse, but I am sad that the internet allows you to spread it. It certainly is not Roman Catholicism.

In any event, out of charity, I will attempt to help you again. There is a document called the Apostolic Tradition (written before AD 235). Well, here…

“The Apostolic Tradition (or Egyptian Church Order) is an early Christian treatise which belongs to genre of the Church Orders. It has been described as of “incomparable importance as a source of information about church life and liturgy in the third century”.[1]”

Ok, so, in this document, the Church decided which occupations were fit for baptism. Now, I understand you like to make it up as you go along, but please read.

16 They will inquire concerning the works and occupations of those are who are
brought forward for instruction…9A military man in authority must not execute men. If
he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall
be rejected. 10 If someone is a military governor,a or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. 11 The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a
soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.

Now, something you definitely also do not know is, prior to Constantine, it was REQUIRED to make obeisance to Pagan Gods. Many Christian soldiers were martyred for their refusal to do so. This was not optional. So, yes, IN FACT, a Christian COULD NOT BE A SOLDIER UNTIL Constantine removed the forced Pagan sacrifice, which persisted into the 4th century. Never heard of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste? Why am I not surprised…

As for the reprise of your condemned heretical belief in universal salvation, and claiming I invented the injunction against “a particular sin”, you are indeed mad. It’s call the New Testament, and the author of that statement is Jesus Christ.

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. ” Harsh Lord

On Priest Abusers: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Ouch. So Turmarion, again, is the Lord Himself teaching that it would be better that an abuser Priest never have been born BECAUSE HE is going to grant them Heaven one day? Makes sense to you? Hmmm.

Please desist in spreading lies man. The Church has condemned your position umpteen times. And those who hold it share in that condemnation.

#29 Comment By Matt in VA On June 28, 2018 @ 10:24 am

No. Societies needs its eccentrics and oddballs. Some of them even achieve great and good things. (Was Michaelangelo “normal”? Plato? Alan Turing?) Wall off the oddballs and society will gradually wilt and wither because it’s lost its source of innovation in a world where “Adapt or Die” is part of Nature’s law.
Though no where near “great”, I’m an eccentric in my own way. Even Rod is in some ways– I suspect many of us here are. You can’t just wall us (and yourself) off and expect anything good to come of it. The future is everyone’s.

It’s probably too late to add comments to this thread, but I have the exact opposite take on what Bloom is saying — and this is the exact opposite of what *I’m* saying. Bloom is saying that there *is* and *long has been* a place for people who cannot or will not live by society’s rules. But a healthy society *will* have rules — indeed, all societies will have rules, but some rules/societies will be much preferable to others. A healthy society, for example, will not encourage or promote or even (through unintended consequences) inadvertently facilitate large amounts of single parenthood. I agree with you that a healthy society does and should need the kind of people who don’t live by the rules the society sets out — but your very own examples support my point that the idea of Bohemia is that the “weirdos” must justify their way of living with their intellectual and artistic achievements. It should not be a free pass.

The future is everyone’s.

Of course it isn’t. No lasting work of art that humans have ever created has ever had this thesis.

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 28, 2018 @ 10:41 am

Nate, you are shifting ground, but I agree that any religious body has an inherent right to make its own determination of the requirements to be in fellowship, or in communion, or both. Free exercise of religion, or freedom of association, both mandate that this internal decision making be respected. As long as there is no civil disability, it is nobody else’s business.

The Biblical mandate, though, seems to me a little thin.

#31 Comment By Phoebe On June 28, 2018 @ 10:41 am

Hi Rod,

I was curious if you have watched the new movie ‘Paul’ which is about the apostle and the early church during the persecutions of Nero. I watched it recently and was very inspired. It is awful indeed to think that persecution is coming, but my only wish is that my children (and I if it comes that soon) will be ready to suffer for Christ. I think it would encourage you.

#32 Comment By mrscracker On June 28, 2018 @ 10:41 am

William Tighe says:

“George III the 18th-Century Hitler! What a lot of rubbish!”
George III was a very decent, Christian family man. I hate to see him misrepresented, too.

I’ve told this story before, but my son was in the UK visiting one of George III’s residences & he was very moved to see that in a prayer book or Bible,the King had scratched out something like “Property of His Royal Highness Geo. III…” & written in “A poor sinner.”

#33 Comment By Turmarion On June 28, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

seven sleepers, you need to get all that straw off of you from the straw man you’re battering. I said:

I don’t think one could argue that Christianity as a whole is pacifist as such; and like Hector, I’m not personally a pacifist, since I think that in some cases, force is necessary.

So you’re trying to prove Christianity is not pacifist to someone who said…Christianity is not pacifist. Who’s wasting pixels? BTW, while I am well aware of the pagan military oaths, the issue is muddier than that. Yes, the Fathers object to such oaths; but there is also often an implicit abhorrence of war as such. Here and here are some discussions thereof.

However, I do think–and the early Church thought–that such cases [necessitating violence] are very rare. I think pacifism has always been the latent ideal. Just war theory was indeed developed in the West; but it’s hardly ever been actually followed. As Hector points out, the rules are very stringent!

I stand by this. To say something is permitted is far from saying it’s good, or laudable, or (as I pointed out with St. Basil) not a matter of sin and penance, or lightly to be undertaken, or ideal.

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

“Truly I tell you, all sins and blasphemes will be forgiven for the sons of men. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they [the Pharisees] were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit’.”–Mark 3:28-30

Clearly the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”, in context, is not “causing one of these little ones to stumble”; therefore, even that can be forgiven.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.–2 Peter 3:9

This implies he give the offer of repentance, at least, to all sinners. Whether they take it or not is another matter. You contend He doesn’t even do that–and I notice even a lot of the Catholics more traditionalist than I called you out on that the last time this came up.

Finally: Pope Saint John Paul II, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, said we don’t know for sure that even Judas is damned. Popes JP II, Benedict XVI, and Frances have all campaigned tirelessly against the death penalty and against most wars in the last 40 years. As I’ve pointed out before, von Balthasar taught hopeful universalism (we may hope that all are saved) and was never condemned by the Vatican (JP II made him a cardinal). But I’m sure you’re more Catholic than the Popes. Now if you’re a Sedevacantist, at least you have a certain logical perspective that you’re coming from. Otherwise, you ought to consider whether maybe, just maybe, it might be you who are wrong.

I am confident in my conscience that I am not spreading anything contrary to defined Church doctrine. I do not claim to be perfect, though, and I could be wrong; and if so, I am willing for God to set me straight. On the other hand, once again, I point out that you are stating that some sins can’t, even in principle, be forgiven; which does conflict with Church doctrine. I’m sure you don’t see it that way, and I’m not accusing you of bad faith; but there it is.

Anyway, I’m leaving it at this. You’re coming from a really dark place with a lot of anger, and you really ought to think about that. Certainly, I’ve got plenty of sh*t in my own life, and hey, you know, there are things on which I might be wrong. I don’t think it’s spiritually beneficial for me to continue this argument. I will keep you in my prayers–Ephesians 6:18, and all that–and would appreciate your prayers for me. Unless, of course, you think that’s a waste of time. In any case, peace, and I’m bowing out.

#34 Comment By Brian in Brooklyn On June 28, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

Anondustrious writes: “I seem to be having comprehension problems today.”

More likely I was unable to capture the love and care of my father with my language. Both he and my mother were amazing people–my Mom called my friend Jose her third son, and he was always part of our holiday celebrations if he did not travel to his own family. My parents supplied me with outstanding examples of how to care and protect family and friends and always realize that a heart has room for one more person. As she was on a gurney in the emergency room, stricken with brain cancer (she would not leave the hospital alive), my mother said to us: “Someone needs to see to that crying child.” Even at the point of death, it was about others and not herself.

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 28, 2018 @ 2:49 pm

George III was a very decent, Christian family man.

He would have made a good monk. As a king he was a disaster. He may have considered himself a poor sinner, but he had no problem trying to hang several of his fellow poor sinners for daring to question his autocratic displays of authority.

Bloody Nicholas would have done fine as a country gentleman, if he hadn’t been ruler of a vast empire.

#36 Comment By Jefferson Smith On June 28, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

@Brian in Brooklyn:

As she was on a gurney in the emergency room, stricken with brain cancer (she would not leave the hospital alive), my mother said to us: “Someone needs to see to that crying child.” Even at the point of death, it was about others and not herself.

Thank you for that inspiring story. I salute your parents. I have been very fortunate in that regard as well. My father died last year, but I have a similar story of his last hours of consciousness: Even lying in the hospital, extremely ill, he was still looking for ways that he could somehow be of service to others.

I’ve had setbacks and been treated unfairly at various times in my life. But any time I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself over this, I recall that I actually won the lottery of life the very moment I was born to such parents. Sounds like you did too.

#37 Comment By dave On June 28, 2018 @ 4:19 pm

“This requires a more radical way of thinking and being in the world.”

When was this not true?

#38 Comment By kingdomofgodflag.info On June 30, 2018 @ 6:51 pm

I, too, used to totally identify with the De Niro character. Now I totally identify with the Irons character.