Home/Rod Dreher

Ben Op Arrives In Sydney

I can’t be sure, but think she’s staring into my window (worldswildlifewonders/Shutterstock)

Hey y’all, I made it here to Sydney in one piece, and received a very warm welcome from Paul Morrissey, my host at Campion College. Paul and the college are really going above and beyond the normal bounds of hospitality to make me comfortable. It’s a nearly 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney (plus, for me, about five hours’ total traveling time from Baton Rouge to LAX, via DFW). They sprang for a business-class ticket for me, so I would be able to lie down flat and get some sleep. I have a bad back and chronic neck pain, and I never get off a transcontinental flight without feeling bad. Flights to Europe from the East Coast are half as long as this Australia flight, so it would have been really hard to have made this trip work otherwise. I am really, really grateful to my hosts for being willing to make it more comfortable for me to travel. Being able to sleep comfortably, and to wake up without pain, makes a huge difference. Thank you!

But man oh man, is this 15-hour time difference playing havoc with my sleep rhythms. I arrived early this morning and grabbed about 90 minutes of the most intense sleep I’ve had in years. It was as if I had been drugged. Got up and had lunch with my host Paul. I was all stumbly-wumbly walking into a cafe for lunch, though two big cups of coffee seem to have stabilized the situation. I’m about to go record a radio interview. Who knows what I’ll end up saying. I’ll probably go into full Tracy Jordan meltdown mode, except talking about the patristic age, and why I’m mad at American Airlines for not providing me with an Emotional Support Koala, despite my business class ticket:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sycfsbu0sys]

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Orban Renewal In Washington

Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary (Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock)

The president received Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban at the White House today. CNN shows why the mainstream US news media simply cannot be trusted at all to report fairly and accurately on European politics to the right of the UK Tories and the Christian Democratic parties of the continent:

“Far right” — that’s the smear US and UK media apply to all European populist politicians and parties, as if they were all fascists. There is plenty to criticize in these politicians and movements, but the standard left-liberal view that they are fascists is not only stupid, but it’s simply wrong. You will not understand European politics if you rely on the US and UK mainstream media to explain this to you.

Here’s something that’s a lot more useful. It’s Christopher Caldwell’s Claremont Review of Books essay about the meaning of Orban. It’s well worth your time. Here’s how it begins:

No English-language newspaper reported on it at the time, nor has any cited it since, but the speech Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán made before an annual picnic for his party’s intellectual leaders in the late summer of 2015 is probably the most important by a Western statesman this century. As Orbán spoke in the village of Kötcse, by Lake Balaton, hundreds of thousands of migrants from across the Muslim world, most of them young men, were marching northwestwards out of Asia Minor, across the Balkan countries and into the heart of Europe.

Already, mobs of migrants had broken Hungarian police lines, trampled cropland, occupied town squares, shut down highways, stormed trains, and massed in front of Budapest’s Keleti train station. German chancellor Angela Merkel had invited those fleeing the Syrian civil war to seek refuge in Europe. They had been joined en route, in at least equal number, by migrants from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. For Hungarians, this was playing with fire. They are taught in school to think of their Magyar ancestors as having ridden off the Asian steppes to put much of Europe to the torch (Attila is a popular boys’ name), and they themselves suffered centuries of subjugation under the Ottomans, who marched north on the same roads the Syrian refugees used in the internet age. But no one was supposed to bring up the past. Merkel and her defenders had raised the subject of human rights, which until then had been sufficient to stifle misgivings. In Kötcse, Orbán informed Merkel and the world that it no longer was.

Orbán was preparing a military closure of his country’s southern border. That Europe’s ancient nation-states would serve in this way as the first line of defense for the continent’s external borders, such as the one between Hungary and Serbia, was exactly what had been assumed two decades before in the founding treaties of the European Union, the 28-nation federation-in-embryo centered in Brussels and dominated by Merkel’s Germany. But sometime after Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004, this question of Europe’s borders had become complicated, legalistic, and obscured by what Orbán called “liberal babble.” Orbán now had to make a philosophical argument for why he should not be evicted from civilized company for carrying out what a decade before would have been considered the most basic part of his job. His Fidesz party had always belonged to the same political family that Merkel’s did—the hodgepodge of postwar conservative parties called “Christian Democracy.” Now, as Orbán spoke, it was clear the two were arguing from different centuries, opposite ideologies, and irreconcilable Europes.

“Hungary must protect its ethnic and cultural composition,” he said at Kötcse (which more or less rhymes with butcher). “I am convinced that Hungary has the right—and every nation has the right—to say that it does not want its country to change.” France and Britain had been perfectly within their prerogatives to admit millions of immigrants from the former Third World. Germany was entitled to welcome as many Turks as it liked. “I think they had a right to make this decision,” Orbán said. “We have a duty to look at where this has taken them.” He did not care to repeat the experiment.

Migrants kept coming, and the European mood shifted. In Germany, Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party founded by economists to protest European Union currency policy, shifted its attention to migration and began to harvest double-digit election returns in one German state after another. The Polish government fell after approving a plan to redistribute into eastern Europe the migrants Merkel had welcomed. But if any European politician symbolized this reassessment, it was Orbán. Signs appeared at rallies in Germany reading “Orban, Help Us!” His dissent split Europeans into two clashing ideologies. With the approach in May 2019 of elections to the European Union parliament, the first since the migrant crisis, Europeans were being offered a stark choice between two irreconcilable societies: Orbán’s nationalism, which commands the assent of popular majorities, and Merkel’s human rights, a continuation of projects E.U. leaders had tried to carry out in the past quarter-century. One of these will be the Europe of tomorrow.

Caldwell’s discussion of the deep antagonism between Orban and George Soros is illuminating. Bet you haven’t read anything like this in the mainstream media:

Soros personified opposition to the nationalist outlook Orbán had wished for in his 2015 Kötcse speech. In the wake of Merkel’s invitation to migrants in 2015 Soros published a plan to bring a million refugees a year to Europe and distribute them rapidly among neighboring countries for settlement. The plan would, Soros wrote, “mobilize the private sector,” but only to run the project, not to pay for it. The funding of it would be done at taxpayer expense, through a €20 billion E.U. bond issue. Orbán published a six-point plan of his own, focused on keeping migrants out. Soros complained that it “subordinates the human rights of asylum-seekers and migrants to the security of borders.” That description was exactly accurate —provided one understands human rights as global philanthropists, political activists, and the United Nations have defined it in recent decades. But there is a competing understanding of human rights in the old law of nations, which makes any right to immigrate dependent on the consent of the receiving nation.

Against the counsel of his advisers, Orbán provoked a clash between the two men and the governing principles each embodied. He passed a “Stop Soros Law” that criminalized offering material support to promote illegal immigration, and banned the sort of refugee resettlements Soros had urged. The government began harassing the CEU by punctiliously enforcing regulations that had heretofore been ignored. As the 2018 election season heated up, anti-Soros ad campaigns began running on billboards and streetcars.

Orbán was very worried about the role of foreign money in his country’s politics. Some have mocked him for this. But obviously, when the most powerful country on earth has just brought its democracy to a standstill for two years in order to investigate $100,000 worth of internet ads bought by a variety of Russians, it is understandable that the leader of a small country might fear the activism of a political foe whose combined personal fortune ($8 billion) and institutional endowment ($19 billion) exceed a sixth of the country’s GDP ($156 billion), especially since international philanthropy is (through the U.S. tax code) effectively subsidized by the American government. An early version of the Stop Soros law proposed taxing foreign philanthropies.

In smaller countries, the political nature of NGOs’ agendas was not as apparent when liberal governments were in power. It became obvious when a nationalist government ruled, and NGOs came to help (or to stand in for) opposition parties, the way the judiciary did in Italy and the United States.

Read it all. There’s so much more there, including clarifying information on allegations of anti-Semitism, and also on how ultimately, big corporations may well take Orban down.

Bottom line: Viktor Orban is a much more complex and interesting figure than Americans know.

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Doris Day, RIP

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIAYdztfvMM]

A reading from the Fifth Gospel, in honor of Miss Day’s passing. Here is Ignatius Reilly, the Edgelord of Constantinople Street, at the Prytania’s screening of Billy Rose’s Jumbo:

When the credits had ended and Ignatius had noted that several of the actors, the composer, the director, the hair designer, and the assistant producer were all people whose efforts had offended him at various times in the past, there appeared in the technicolor a scene of many extras milling about a circus tent. He greedily studied the crowd and found the heroine standing near a sideshow.

“Oh, my God!” he screamed, “There she is.”

The children in the rows in front of him turned and stared, but Ignatius did not notice them. The blue and yellow eyes were following the heroine, who was gaily carrying a pail of water to what turned out to be her elephant.

“This is going to be even worse than I thought,” Ignatius said when he saw the elephant.

He put the empty popcorn bag to his full lips, inflated it, and wait, his eyes gleaming with reflected technicolor. A tympany beat and the soundtrack filled with violins. The heroine and Ignatius opened their mouths simultaneously, hers in song, his in a groan. In the darkness two trembling hands met violently. The popcorn bag exploded with a bang. The children shrieked.

“What’s all that noise?” the woman at the candy counter asked the manager.

“He’s here tonight,” the manager told her, pointing across the theater to the hulking silhouette at the bottom of the screen. The manager walked down the aisle to the front rows, where the shrieking was growing wilder. Their fear having dissipated itself, the children were holding a competition of shrieking. Ignatius listened to the bloodcurdling little trebles and giggles and gloated in his dark lair. With a few mild threats, the manager quieted the front rows and then glanced down the row in which the isolated figure of Ignatius rose like some great monster among the little heads. But he was treated only to a puffy profile. The eyes that shone under the green visor were following the heroine and her elephant across the wide screen and into the circus tent.

For a while Ignatius was relatively still, reacting to the unfolding plot with only an occasional subdued snort. Then what seemed to be the film’s entire cast was up on the wires. In the foreground, on a trapeze, was the heroine. She swung back and forth to a waltz. She smiled in a huge close-up. Ignatius inspected her teeth for cavities and fillings. She extended one leg. Ignatius rapidly surveyed its contours for structural defects. She began to sing about trying over and over again until you succeeded. Ignatius quivered as the philosophy of the lyrics became clear. He studied her grip on the trapeze in the hope that the camera would record her fatal plunge to the sawdust far below.

On the second chorus the entire ensemble joined in the song, smiling and singing lustily about ultimate success while they swung, dangled, flipped, and soared.

“Oh, good heavens!” Ignatius shouted, unable to contain himself any longer. Popcorn spilled down his shirt and gathered in the folds of his trousers. “What degenerate produced this abortion?”

“Shut up,” someone said behind him.

“Just look at those smiling morons! If only all of those wires would snap!” Ignatius rattled the few kernels of popcorn in his last bag. “Thank God that scene is over.”

When a love scene appeared to be developing, he bounded up out of his seat and stomped up the aisle to the candy counter for more popcorn, but as he returned to his seat, the two big pink figures were just preparing to kiss.

“They probably have halitosis,” Ignatius announced over the heads of the children. “I hate to think of the obscene places that those mouths have doubtlessly been before!”

“You’ll have to do something,” the candy woman told the manager laconically, “He’s worse than ever tonight.”

The manager sighed and started down the aisle to where Ignatius was mumbling, “Oh my God, their tongues are probably all over each other’s capped and rotting teeth.”

I thank the kindly vicar who sent this in.

Hey, readers, I’m over the Pacific Ocean, about two hours away from landing in Sydney. Blogging and comments-approving is going to be topsy-turvy for the next week, while I’m down here giving speeches, and avoiding syphilitic koalas (my son Matt told me, helpfully, as I was leaving home yesterday, “Don’t forget: most koalas have syphilis.”)

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Dispatch From Cop Planet

Who is behind the mask? (Eugene Ivanov/Shutterstock)

What a horrible world we are creating for ourselves. 

A young novelist named Natasha Tynes took a photo of a DC Metro employee eating breakfast on the subway, in violation of the rules. She confronted the worker — a black woman — about it, and was told by the woman to mind her own business. So Tynes did the prisspot Millennial thing, and tweeted out a photo of the employee eating, in an effort to get the employee disciplined.

That was a really jerky move. Yes, the DC Metro is famously crappy, but come on. You don’t do that to people. What is especially low-down about Tynes’s move is that she complained in a way that would humiliate this worker publicly. If she felt obliged to report the worker for this behavior, did she have to do it in such a way as to win points with her fellow DC commuters, at the expense of this subway worker’s dignity?

Still, the Metro mothership responded to thank Tynes, who is Arab-American, for helping to hold them “accountable” (their word). In other words, the authorities credited Tynes for helping them improve the professionalism of their workers.

But you know what happened next, don’t you? Yep — the social media mob racialized it:

Twitter soon became inundated with vicious critiques of the author’s post, with many calling her out for going after a black woman who was minding her own business and not bothering anyone.

‘Funny that your pinned tweet is about being a ‘minority’ writer and using that as a basis to sell your book yet you saw another minority person eating and you wanted to ruin their livelihood,’ actress Kelechi Okafor asserted. ‘You’re a trash individual.’

The sentiment was shared by journalist Ernest Owens, who added: ‘”People of color” like Natasha Tynes is the reason why I make it a point to directly name Black people within the spectrum, because there is anti-Blackness within people of color in totality. POC solidarity is often upheld by Black people, but not maintained by others within.’

‘Wow @NatashaTynes, you’re a f**king snitch,’ stated a professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

Then Tynes’s publisher cancelled the upcoming release of her novel:

So much for intersectionality. Tynes’s being a Jordanian-American woman did not protect her book contract.

Nobody looks good here. I totally get being frustrated with the lousy DC Metro system. It wasn’t always this way. When I lived there from 1992-95, it was pretty nice. The last few times I’ve been there, it feels like a subway in a decrepit People’s Republic. Still, it wasn’t like this metro worker was being abusive. She was just being slovenly. Why bring trouble to her life?

But come on, cancelling the woman’s book contract over this?! Is this what we do now? What Tynes did may have been mean, but the metro worker, who is a public employee, was in the wrong here, and anyway, so what? Can people now no longer complain about slacker public employees if the employee is black, without fear of losing their livelihood?

In related news, science journalist Jesse Singal of New York magazine points out to more woke insanity. You should follow him on Twitter. Look at this thread:

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These are not not not cases of “oh, those crazy lefties, gotta quarantine ’em and keep the crazy from getting to the rest of us.” I strongly urge you to take this kind of thing seriously. The other night, for my upcoming book on the emergence of soft totalitarianism here, I interviewed a DC professional who was born, raised, and educated in the Soviet bloc before emigrating to the US. He works in fairly elite academic and technology circles in and around Washington. He is astonished and deeply worried about how quickly the professional culture is changing around these issues.

He told me (this is from the transcript of our interview):

I have a few friends who work in DC. A friend who works in the government said that if he actually told anybody that he voted for Trump, it would destroy him. Think about that: a government official for the United States who said that if he admitted that he vote for the actual president of the US, it would destroy him – that’s incredible. I have lots of stories like this.

Immigrants from the former USSR and the Soviet bloc are particular sensitive to this kind of thing. He told me that his parents brought home the lesson about watching your mouth outside the safety of home. More:

I was 10, and I made a joke about the Soviet foreign minister, Alexei Kosygin. My mom slapped me and said, “Don’t ever talk like that!” They talked like that too at home, but it was important for my parents to make sure I knew how dangerous it was to speak that way outside our home.

About Washington life:

This is happening all around me now. People are developing these double personalities, where they are afraid of saying anything. It’s not benign. If I said certain things publicly, it’s not just that people would think badly of me. I don’t care about that. It’s that they would try to destroy my career.

This man is not a fringe nut. I researched him before we spoke. He is accomplished in his field. He is going to put me in touch with other ex-Soviet bloc friends he knows. The man said that they are all pulling their hair out because they can’t get their American friends to take seriously their warnings about the cliff off of which progressives are driving our society.

Jesse Singal said that we are creating a Planet Of Cops — a phrase he got from an old Freddie de Boer essay. De Boer, who is not a liberal, but a leftist, wrote:

The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.

To be clear, de Boer also trashed conservatives as being part of Cop Planet. Conservatives are by no means immune to this kind of thing — the religious-right stalwart American Family Association’s stupid online jihad against the conservative Evangelical writer David French for criticizing Franklin Graham’s double standards is a recent example. Still, I believe that equivalence is false. The most meaningful attacks are coming from the militant progressives, because they are the faction with real and growing influence within elite circles.

 

 

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The Kolakovic Option

Father Vladimir Jukl, a disciple of Tomislav Kolakovic, SJ, and a leader of the Slovak underground church (from Slovak language Pomätaj video)

Here’s a meditation on the difference that one man can make. Last week I mentioned to you in this space the name Tomislav Kolakovic, SJ. Fr Kolakovic was a Jesuit responsible for organizing the Slovakian underground church. He was born in Croatia, with the surname Poglajen. He reverted to his Slovak mother’s maiden name, Kolakovic, when he escaped the Nazi collaborationist government in Croatia, and began working among Catholics in Slovakia. Here is a short biography of his life and work. 

Here, from a history of Christian democracy, is what he and his followers accomplished. The author is Jan Canogursky, a Slovak lawyer who later became a Christian Democrat political leader:

Here’s the Wikipedia page (in Slovak) for Fr. Kolakovic.   And here, from the same page, is a photo of Fr. Kolakovic:

This man, Father Kolakovic, called the underground church movement he started “the Family.” Frantisek Miklosko, a historian of the movement and a member, told me that it all began from Fr K’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, and his belief that his mission in life was to work for the conversion of Russia. (Nota bene: Miklosko told me that Bishop Jan Chryzostom Korec, a secret bishop of the underground church who was made a cardinal after the end of communism, believed at the end of his life that Russia’s conversion, prophesied at Fatima, would not be the conversion of Russia to Catholicism, but its return to Orthodoxy.) Here are Jan Canogursky (left) and Miklosko, two living legends of the Catholic anticommunist resistance, after our lunch in Bratislava last week. They were who they were because Father Kolakovic (and Father Vladimir Jukl, and Dr. Silvester Krcmery) lived:

Same thing with Vladimir Palko, seen here after our lunch. We had just come from a May Day mass offered in the Bratislava cathedral to the memory of Father Jukl (see image at top), one of Father Kolakovic’s closest disciples.

Here, from another book, is more about the nature of the initial organizing Fr K did in Slovakia:

This was Father Kolakovic’s Benedict Option: to prepare the Catholic laity of Slovakia for a time of persecution. He saw what was coming. He knew that the standard church structures would not be able to withstand the coming attacks. His Rodina did not stand in opposition to the official church, not at all, but was rather a secret organization that kept the faith at a time when for various reasons the official church could not or would not do what it would have done in normal times. This “dedicated network of Christian communities” is exactly what we need today! From what I learned in Slovakia, and from what I’m reading about that period, these Christians didn’t sit around playing volleyball on Sundays. They were divided into disciplinary cells that studied and prayed and prepared themselves spiritually and otherwise to endure.

Time for the Kolakovic Option.

I am interested in what Fr Kolakovic thought about the spiritual dangers from American capitalism and liberalism. If any Kolakovic scholars are reading this, please e-mail me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com. I am leaving today for a week of lectures in Australia, but I’ll be reachable online.

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Knifing Liberalism At Harvard

Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan (TedX Talks YouTube channel)

This is a big deal:

Harvard said on Saturday that a law professor who is representing Harvey Weinstein would not continue as faculty dean of an undergraduate house after his term ends on June 30, bowing to months of pressure from students.

The professor, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, who is a lecturer at the law school, have been the faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s residential houses for undergraduate students, since 2009. They were the first African-American faculty deans in Harvard’s history.

But when Mr. Sullivan joined the defense team of Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, in January, many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students. Mr. Weinstein is scheduled to go to trial in June in Manhattan on rape and related charges.

As the protests continued, with graffiti aimed at Mr. Sullivan appearing on a university building, Harvard administrators said they would conduct what they called a climate review of Winthrop House. In recent weeks, tensions have escalated, with a student sit-in and a lawsuit sparked by a clash between one of the protest leaders and two Winthrop House staff members who were seen as supporting Mr. Sullivan.

On Saturday, the dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, sent an email to students and staff members at Winthrop House, informing them that he would not renew the appointments of Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Robinson as faculty deans after their terms end on June 30. Mr. Khurana said in his email that the decision was informed “by a number of considerations.”

This May 10 story in the Harvard Crimson reports what those other “considerations” are.  They are non-trivial.

This is a big deal because we should not want a society in which lawyers are punished by loss of position for defending unpopular clients. It is a fundamental principle of liberal democracy that legal defendants have a right to counsel. If the charges are true, then Harvey Weinstein behaved like a pig — but he absolutely has the right to a good defense. It would be shocking and wrong for Harvard to give in to the mob on this one, and it is certainly worrying that students at one of America’s elite-manufacturing universities believe a lawyer who represents an unpopular client is not fit to be part of their community. What happens at Harvard doesn’t stay at Harvard.

On the other hand, if the Crimson report is accurate, it sounds like Profs. Sullivan and Robinson were seriously problematic, and the university had ignored or downplayed problems with the way they ran the house. Maybe they really did deserve to be replaced, for reasons that had nothing to do with Harvey Weinstein. If so, it is nevertheless awful for Harvard to give the impression that students who spited Sullivan for being Weinstein’s lawyer succeeded in driving him out of Winthrop House over that issue. If not for the allegations of Winthrop House problems with the couple since 2016, this would be a genuinely outrageous turn of events.

UPDATE: Reader Ctbrgn writes:

The removal of Sullivan and Robinson has little to do with Harvey Weinstein. They were clearly disastrous as House Masters (oops, I mean “Faculty Dean,” the new, sanitized term for House Master). The fact that they had a turnover rate in House administrators that was at least four times the average tells you something. The fact that Winthrop House ranked dead last amog undergraduates as a place to live tells you the same. Winthrop House, as one of the so-called “River Houses” standing near the Cambridge River, has always been a prized residence due to its location and its beautiful architecture.

The dysfunction at Winthrop House was beginning to spill over into other parts of the university. Look into the spat between the Millers of Winthrop House and O’Keefe at Eliot House. What a mess!

The real scandal is why Harvard waited so long to act against Sullivan and Robinson, and why it is acting now and daring to act only under such a reprehensible guise. Weinstein is a pig, but serving as his defense lawyer should be no cause for losing a position. This is a very bad precedent. But we have been seeing many such precedents with the unraveling of America’s traditional liberal order.

The real problem here is cowardice. The Harvard Administration is guilty of cowardice for its failure to act earlier. And so are the Winthrop House tutors who publicly and boldly vowed to resign from their positions but then meekly remained.

Intersectional inanity and cravenness. That is 95% of American academia. And it is leading all of us to nowhere good.

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RHE & The Power Of Being Wronged

Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson YouTube)

On a previous post discussing why the late progressive Evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans inspired such intense devotion, a reader — a Christian academic who has studied her for years — wrote:

There is the power of knowing, in your bones, that you have been WRONGED. Being wronged removes a reason for guilt. Being wronged erases shame.

RHE said your parents were wrong. Your church was wrong. Your Christian college was wrong. They were all wrong and Jesus loves you just the way you are. In fact, you are gifted because of who you are.

Powerful stuff. None of that, “The church and the faith will change you” stuff.

Another reader e-mailed this comment this morning. I post it with her permission:

Your third reader update on your last RHE post has hit the nail on the head. You’re really digging into something interesting.

Here’s the thing: a lot of people aren’t even hearing that it’s Jesus that loves us unconditionally. For some folks it’s the feminist Goddess of Wicca, for others it’s Oprah or Neil Patrick Harris, for some it’s Jordan Peterson, for some it’s AOC or Bernie, for some Ron Paul and Trump.

Let’s face it: we’ve all been wronged to varying degrees. A friend betrays us, we were abused as a child, we come home to find our spouse left us, we discover our spiritual life is built on a lie. It’s not hard to find a way we have been wronged, and it is so easy for others to exploit that when we’re vulnerable.

I read RHE back in 2014/2015. To say I was lost was an understatement. I appreciated her charm, honesty, and the feeling she was really grappling with what it meant to be a liberal Christian. I found her refreshing in the face of Christian apathy. The idea of her being a super-peer really resonated. I actually stopped attending a church I had been visiting because a pastor evaded answering when asked point blank what the church’s stance on LGBT issues was. Neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. Bleh.

I think we’re starving as a society for raw sincerity. For something real. I came to disagree with RHE on several counts but I never doubted her integrity or sincerity.

When we live in a world where James Martin can stand right at the edge of doctrine and lean way over and wag a finger singing “I’m not crossing the line!” Well… is it any wonder that authors willing to stand up honestly for their convictions are basically worshiped? We’re so tired of coyness, spin, and political correctness. We really are…

If someone can convince you that you’ve been wronged, and that isn’t hard to do, then it’s really easy to turn them on to the affirmation gospel, get them to Sedona, convince them the occult can solve their problems, or that if everyone celebrated gay people all our conflicts would dissipate. Or convince them that becoming a white supremacist or jihadi is the answer.

The older I get the more wary I become of anyone trying to convince me that I’ve been wronged. Jesus didn’t tell people “you got a raw deal” but to have faith and sin no more. He told us not to be angry that we were wronged but forgive constantly. He didn’t tell us to cut our family out of our lives over political or doctrinal or social issues but to love others as ourselves.

RHE was a brilliant woman, but she played religious sportsball despite it all. She was honest about her struggle to discern truth, but she was another sign of the sickness, not the cure.

I’m honestly tired of straight women moving heaven and earth to show how pro-gay they are, especially when it doesn’t really cost them anything. There’s real poverty, abuse, and neglect in our neighborhoods and waving your rainbow flag doesn’t alleviate that.

I’m beyond tired of LGBT issues taking the forefront in churches. I’m tired of churches that lack crosses but have celebrate diversity statements. I’m tired of lobbyists pushing for LGBT affirmation and ignoring everything else in the church. I’m tired of the rainbow gospel. We are saturated in it, even in conservative traditions.

I just want Jesus and the Bible and salvation despite being a sinner who keeps failing at holiness. Honestly, I want the Benedict Option just to have one place free from Christians like RHE. I’m a sinner. I’m the worst sinner I know because I’m the sinner I know best. I need help learning how to stop sinning and how to be a better person. A person who loves God, loves others, and can forgive.

Lord knows that’s what I need and it’s a tall order. Can’t Christianity just focus on what Christ asked of us? Is that too much to ask?

I just feel so done with the culture war. So tired of it all. It’s like Christianity has been besieged for a couple of decades and we’re running out of the energy and will to resist.

What do you think? Let me invite you right now to exit the conversation if you believe that it is disrespectful to talk critically about Rachel Held Evans’s work. I hope and expect that everyone, even those who strongly reject her beliefs and activism, is praying for her and for those who loved her. But she was a public person who took public stands for and against certain things, and in this public space, we are going to talk about the meaning of her work.

I have not read any of RHE’s books, only some of her journalism, so I’m not in a position to say. I do know more generally, especially from reading Rene Girard, that we have degenerated into a culture that worships the Victim, and that grants moral status based on victimhood. In this pseudo-religion, the marshaling and expression of grievance is the chief form of piety.

We are all tempted by that. I’ve been wrestling with a form of it in my own life, in various guises. On the four-hour train ride from Bratislava to Prague last week, I read an English translation the prison memoir of the late Dr. Silvester Krcmery, who spent years in torture and confinement in  Czech communist prisons, for his Catholic faith. I can’t stop thinking about that man, in fact, and the thing that stays on my mind are these passages from his book (which, please God, some US Catholic publisher should re-issue). Krcmery talks about how he reconciled himself to his unjust suffering without surrendering to bitterness.

After his arrest, in 1953, he sat in the police car with secret policemen:

But then it came to me. Suddenly I realized that there could not be anything more beautiful than to lay down my life for God.

Krcmery burst into laughter. His captors were not amused.

Dr. Silvester Krcmery (d. 2013) (Slavomir Zrebny/YouTube)

Here is what happened after one of his first prison beatings, which he received from interrogators for refusing to sign a false confession. He eventually signed after being reduced to a bloody pulp, but regretted it, because, Krcmery writes in recollection, “the smallest compromise may bring about the most cruel consequences and may very well prepare the way for further and more important concessions!” He goes on:

Even though this was my first experience with this level of violent physical assault, I actually did not feel anything. Perhaps I was in such a state of shock that I was not fully conscious of the pain.

I considered the whole thing a very valuable ordeal. For hours I repeated, “Lord you didn’t disappoint us. You always promised that you would be with us, that you would never abandon us. What could I now possibly bring you as a sacrifice? nothing hurt me. I really have nothing to offer you as a sacrifice.”

Despite everything, in a sense I cherished those wounds. This was after all the only tangible, although insignificant evidence I had that I had offered Christ something.

After this interrogation I found that I had two broken ribs. I was not allowed to see a doctor but in the course of three or four weeks they healed, apparently without consequences.

In prison, he disciplined himself against despair and hatred. Krcmery compelled himself to focus by faith on belief that he had been sent to endure all this for a reason, that his suffering had meaning. He decided to accept it as a form of spiritual purification, and also to dedicated himself to helping others who suffered with him, using both his medical knowledge and his knowledge of prayer and Scripture:

Therefore I repeated again and again: ‘I am really God’s probe, God’s laboratory. I’m going through all this so I can help others and the Church.’

From the official transcript of a statement he made in his 1954 trial, referring to himself and his fellow Catholic political prisoners:

We will not allow ourselves to be led to hate, to rebel or even to complain. There are already hundreds of people who can testify to that. That is where our strength and superiority lie. We know how to return good for evil and we know that all our brothers will work harder and more selflessly than others (just as Christ taught us). After all, we are following an old tradition. The first Christians who were persecuted under the Roman empire, though imprisoned by the hundreds, tortured and crucified, were the most self-sacrificing workers, even after they were imprisoned and sent to hard labour in mines. There is no record that we know of which states that they organized any rebellion.

The thing you get from reading Krcmery is that early on in his prison experience, he realized that he could not resist on his own, that faith in God, and obedience based in faith, would be his only hope. Jesus told His followers to bless those who persecute them. Krcmery regularly prayed for his captors and torturers. He said, “The more I depended on faith, the stronger I became.” His communist captors wanted to reduce their prisoners to a state of total fear, total loathing, and total isolation, because that’s how they could be controlled. Krcmery knew that if he gave in to that temptation to hate those hateful, wicked men, that he would fall into a hole from which he would never escape.

Here, from the appendix to his memoir, is a Litany of Humility that Krcmery and his fellow prisoners prayed daily. This is a familiar Catholic prayer that they adapted to their prison circumstances:

Can you imagine praying this every single day, while you are living in prison on false accusations, and being beaten and tortured for your faith? I find it discomfiting to pray that now, even though I live in total freedom and comfort, even luxury. And yet, like everyone else, I have been wronged in certain ways, in ways that hurt (though not as much as broken ribs from a prison interrogator’s boots, I’m sure). These inner wounds fester within me, paralyze me, preoccupy my thoughts more than I care to admit. Far too often, I am their prisoner. I never write about it, but it’s there. Most of us have things like this, I would wager.

The prison experience of Silvester Krcmery is something that happened in another universe, it seems … but there is deep, deep wisdom there. Krcmery told the communist court that convicted him: “You have power in your hands, but we have truth!” Reading him, I realize that I too profess to believe in the same truth that Krcmery confessed, but I don’t live that truth, not like he did, even though my own circumstances are infinitely more favorable than his own.

Reading Krcmery is a call to deeper conversion. I need to start praying this litany, as if they were magic words that could cause this prison door of self-pity to fling open.

One more thing: he said that communist ideology construes the entire world as a total struggle of Us versus Them, and that ultimately, the only way to escape the threat of Them is to eliminate Them — even physically. Similarly, the Polish dissident writer Czeslaw Milosz wrote that so many intellectuals accepted communism because it gave them a sense of moral order in a world where belief had disappeared, and it sanctified their resentments. “The intellectual’s eyes twinkle with delight at the persecution of the bourgeoisie, and of the bourgeois mentality,” Milosz wrote. It doesn’t take much to see in that the pleasure that the alienated middle-class American feels when, from a position of wokeness — even Christian wokeness — he or she contemplates the Deplorables.

Let’s return to the words this blog’s reader sent in this morning:

If someone can convince you that you’ve been wronged, and that isn’t hard to do, then it’s really easy to turn them on to the affirmation gospel, get them to Sedona, convince them the occult can solve their problems, or that if everyone celebrated gay people all our conflicts would dissipate. Or convince them that becoming a white supremacist or jihadi is the answer.

The older I get the more wary I become of anyone trying to convince me that I’ve been wronged. Jesus didn’t tell people “you got a raw deal” but to have faith and sin no more. He told us not to be angry that we were wronged but forgive constantly. He didn’t tell us to cut our family out of our lives over political or doctrinal or social issues but to love others as ourselves.

I think she is on the path that Krcmery walked, which is the only way out of this world with your soul alive. I dawdle too much, like Belacqua at the foot of the mountain of repentance in Dante’s Purgatorio. I invite you to read, from years past, my short reflections on Cantos I, IIIII, IV, and V of Purgatorio. They take place near the beginning on the pilgrim Dante’s journey up the mountain of repentance. At the base of the mountain, Dante meets sinners who were saved from the Inferno by last-minute repentance, but who had to wait for the strength to come to them to give them the ability to move forward spiritually, to be ready to bear the full weight of God’s glory. Belacqua was notoriously lazy in life; here in Purgatorio, he is having to dwell at the foot of the mountain to have that laziness purged out of him.

The first canto of Purgatorio starts with penitents who have been saved by God’s mercy arriving by ship at the base of the island mountain, singing praises. From my (well, Alan Jacobs’s) commentary on Canto III:

As Alan Jacobs commented on yesterday’s thread, compare those who just debarked from the angelic boat, who came across the waters singing a Psalm of thanksgiving for God’s mercy and their deliverance, with the damned crossing in Charon’s boat to Hell (Inferno, Canto III); they groan and curse and blame everyone for their miseries except themselves.

So: the power of being wronged, versus the power of refusing to give having been wronged power over you. Discuss.

UPDATE: A powerful comment by Jonah R.:

There’s no worse poison than being addicted to dwelling over the ways one has been wronged.

A few years ago, someone who had once wronged me very badly reappeared, wanting nothing more than a chance to plead for forgiveness. More than 25 years had passed. I thought about the matter for a long time. My life had turned out well, the wronging had put me on a good path in the long run, and the person who wronged me had suffered in live far out of balance to anything the person had done to me.

So I forgave, and was amazed–naively, in retrospect–by how much peace the forgiveness brought to my soul.

But it also brought something terribly, scorchingly humbling: Once the veil of my own resentment had been lifted, I saw the previous 25 years of my life with a new, humiliating clarity…and I saw for the first time all the many small, selfish ways I had wronged others but had not, in my self-righteousness, known I was doing so.

Wallowing in Having Been Wronged is terribly seductive. I think we see it often at the national level, in groups like the Palestinians and the Serbs, who are too invested in the exhilarating sense of Having Been Wronged that they’re stuck in some Dante-esque punishment of their own making, where Having Been Wronged is justification for doing even greater evil.

This is what’s driving many of us now, like a demon loose in the land, whether we’re looking to charismatic religious figures or following politicians whom outsiders find offputting and unloveable…and this discussion dovetails nicely with the other post, because wallowing in Having Been Wronged is one of many ways of refusing to see the world as it is.

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Ecumenism & The Boinking-Blessers

Polyamory-supporting, self-described “queer” pastor Brandan Robertson YouTube)

Here’s some sexy ecumenism for you:

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I know that Father Martin is quite liberal on sexual matters and the Christian faith, but this startled me. Brandan Robertson — this “real disciple of Christ” — is a bisexual who advocates what he calls “holy polyamory.” In a now-deleted video of a sermon he delivered before his progressive congregation (and transcribed in part by Juicy Ecumenism) Robertson said:

“For those who are in an open or polyamorous relationship here this morning who might be squirming, because this is an uncomfortable question to hear in church sometimes. I want you to hear me loud and clear as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your relationships are holy. They are beautiful and they are welcomed and celebrated in this space.”

And:

“We call all of us together to the same set of standards that we call everyone to: to seek to follow Jesus in all of our relationships. To seek to be honest and respectful and self-sacrificial and consensual and loving with your partners. When any of us live into these standards we can be sure we are on the path to wholeness and holiness.”

Robertson is a young pastor with a congregation in San Diego and a sophisticated website, where you can learn more about what he believes and preaches.

Does Jesuit priest James Martin now approve of polyamory? How does he reconcile advocacy for polyamory with “real” Christian discipleship? Is there any mutually consenting boinking that these guys would condemn as incompatible with following Jesus? I don’t think these progressive Christians have any clear standards at all about sex, aside from consent. It’s a very modern ethic, but it is in no way a Christian one. These guys, Pastor Robertson and Father Martin, are leading people into darkness.

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‘All Of Them Passionate And Deceived’

Czeslaw Milosz, from The Captive Mind, from his 1951 book about intellectuals under communist

Modern art reflects the disequilibrium of modern society in that it so often springs from a blind passion vainly seeking to sate itself in form, color, or sound. An artist can contemplate sensual beauty only when he loves all that surrounds him on earth. But if all he feels is loathing at the discrepancy between what he would wish the world to be and what it is in reality, then he is incapable of standing still and beholding. He is ashamed of reflexes of love; he is condemned to perpetual motion, to a restless sketching of discontinued, broken observations of nature. Like a sleep-walker, he loses his balance as soon as he stops moving. Beta’s [pseudonym for the writer Tadeusz Borowski] poems were whirlpools of fog, saved from complete chaos only by the dry rhythm of his hexameters. This character of his poetry must be attributed at least in part of the fact that he belonged to an ill-fated generation in an ill-fated nation, but he had thousands of brothers in all the countries of Europe, all of them passionate and deceived.

“All of them passionate and deceived.” Quite a line. Sitting here in the Charlotte airport waiting to board, and was moved by this passage, and Milosz’s observation that you can only really see the world around you if you first love it. If you hate it, it will remain opaque to you.

I think that many young people today are an ill-fated generation in an ill-fated nation, and passionate, and deceived. They have not been taught to love the world before setting out to understand or change it. So they rage against it, even against their bodies.

UPDATE: I have a few more minutes before boarding, so I want to add a little something here.

I was blessed with a basically happy childhood, in a secure and loving home. I think, though, that the place where I really learned to love the world was not my home, but the tiny, battered cabin where my Great-Great Aunts Hilda and Lois lived. I spent many days there from my toddler years (the early 1970s) until I was seven or eight. They lived within walking distance of my home. Here is the cabin:

Here is Aunt Lois at work in her kitchen. I was astonished to discover this photo a few years ago, and to see how poor the kitchen was. It didn’t seem that way to me at all as a little boy:

I wrote here, in 2010, about the kind of things I would do there with the old aunts in their cabin.  They had had many adventures in the world as young women, and told me all about the places they had been. Here’s the kind of thing Lois and Hilda shared with me. They had both been Red Cross volunteers in the Great War. This is from a letter Lois wrote back to their older sister Bernice from a train in the Toulouse station; she and Hilda were apparently on a tour of France after the war’s end. It came on hotel stationery from Marseille, and read, in part:

We left Dijon May 6 and have had a most wonderful time since. First we went down to Cannes — right on the Mediterranean — just a lovely city built of white stone, great hotels overlooking the sea, banks of vivid flowers and avenues of palms. Everything is quiet modern and is so to tempt wealthy “globetrotters.” Counts and countesses, barons and baronesses, are as common as mulberries in your back yard. While in Cannes we took trips which covered the entire “Riviera,” as the coast line is called. Trips up into the mountains gave us wonderful views of the cities for miles. When up on the top of the mountains you see the clouds rising from the sea. They float up and then get on a level with you, then float on. At times you are above them. And below looks just as an ocean of silver would look. Hilda said, “I’m going to write Lorena [my grandmother, a teenager then — RD] and tell her that we’ve gone through the clouds.” I asked her why she wanted to cause Lorena’s mind to become more puzzled? Personally, I think we’ve caused the kid to think enough. Words can’t describe the beauty of this part of France. 

Lois then describes the smells of the perfume town of Grasse, and the Provencal horticulture. Then she writes about how they headed to Toulouse to see their cousin Percy, an American military officer billeting with a friend with locals, taking classes and awaiting his next orders. She writes:

They both think they will be sent up into Germany in the Army of Occupation when the university closes. Neither are overly pleased. They live with a Baron and Baroness and are worshipped by them. We received quite a lot of attention, being the Captain’s cousin, and were dinner guests last evening with the family. From here we go over on the Spanish border, making several stops. Then Bordeaux, then Paris, up on the front and back to Dijon. The old jam sandwich. Love for all — Lois.

Can you imagine growing up spending the days on a red leather couch with old aunties like that? They would spread out the Rand McNally atlas on our laps and show me all the places they had been. 

I have that atlas on my shelf at home now. Here is something I inscribed in the atlas as a small boy:

That cottage and the garden in which it sat were enchanted, at least to me. I can see from the perspective of decades that the old aunts taught me to see the world as a place worth loving. But it was a specific vision of the world. I was resistant to the world my father loved, and tried to show me how to love — the world of the woods and the ponds and the river around us. My mind was in France. My younger sister Ruthie’s mind, though, was there with Daddy, and she came to love his world. The thing we shared, though, was a love of things, and places, and people. I’m so, so grateful that we were both given that gift in our childhoods, and that God gave us older family members who were able to pour into us the capacity to behold.

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