Home/Rod Dreher

Johnny, No Longer Rotten

Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), lead singer of the Sex Pistols, in 1976 ('Anarchy in the UK' video)

With the Sex Pistols, you had to be there. I remember as a child watching a 1976 TV news report on Britain’s new musical sensations, and thinking that the world must be coming to an end. Their best-known song, “Anarchy in the UK,” starts like this:

I am an Antichrist

I am an Anarchist

A decade later, in college, I was bouncing around in my dorm room listening to their one and only album, Never Mind the Bollocks…Here’s the Sex Pistols with fierce glee. They couldn’t play their instruments, true, but there was something intoxicating about the sheer propulsiveness of their sound. Even in 1986, it felt transgressive, volcanic, and full of testosterone, like the best rock and roll.

The Mick and Keith of the Sex Pistols were Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. Sid overdosed on heroin with his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon [UPDATE: A reader points out that Nancy was stabbed to death, perhaps by Sid, who died of an overdose before it could be sorted out]. Johnny, who went back to his given surname, Lydon, started a band named Public Image Ltd, and carried on. What I didn’t know until reading this profile in The Observer is that he has been a happily married man since 1979, to a German woman named Nora, about a decade his senior. Today, they’re living in Los Angeles, and he is caring for her constantly through the ravages of her Alzheimer’s disease.

Lydon was in the news recently when he was photographed leaning out a window to smoke a cigarette while wearing a MAGA shirt — about the punkest thing a rock legend can do in 2020, if you ask me. Here are some excerpts from the Guardian piece:

It all sounds so daunting. I tell Lydon that I admire his honesty. “It takes courage, I suppose, to bring it out into the open. Thinking you can keep it to yourself, and it will somehow manage itself, it’s not the case. You’ve got to talk about it.” Lydon is militantly against “moaners”, a legacy of his tough working-class London upbringing, which he describes as “Charlie Dickens with motor vehicles”. His mother was often sick, and Lydon cared for his younger brothers while his father worked. “The main lesson I learned from my mum and dad is no self-pity. Self-pity was unacceptable.” Still, Nora’s suffering affects him deeply. “It’s very hard not to go into a tear-jerk about it. You don’t realise this about me, I suppose, but I’m quite emotional. I’m a passionate fella.”

He still has strong views. He voted Obama, then Trump. He plans to vote for Trump again. He’s still down on organized religion and its “disgusting negativity.” He supports Brexit:

In his view, the working classes have spoken: “They’re not going to be dictated to by unknown continentals.” While Lydon seems genuine, he’s not above liberal-baiting this Observer journalist. When I ask if he’s definitely voting for Trump, he cries: “I am!”, produces a MAGA cap, and gleefully dangles it in front of the screen.

Lydon co-wrote the punk standard God Save the Queen. Now he says: “My feeling about the royal family is one of sorrow. I’ve always felt they’re poor little birdies trapped in cages, gold cages, but they’re still entombed.” What about Meghan Markle? “Dreadful person. Very bad actress. But she’s in a masterclass now.” Lydon doesn’t agree that Markle suffered racism. “Stop being self-righteous and smug, that’s what she needs to do. She’s hopping on a cause. There are valid cases out there, genuine people who need help.”

He’s 100 percent correct about Meghan Markle. One more clip:

Whereas once he couldn’t stand “bohemian nonsense”, he now seems to view all political correctness as irritating, self-righteous uber-leftie dogma. “My God!” he retorts. “Shouldn’t any sane person?”

OK, I’ll bite: political correctness may not be perfect, but isn’t its aim to empower and protect? “It’s taken too far, though. Death by committee, trying to slam your dictates into another person’s face. That’s not healthy.”

He thinks everything and everyone should be questioned, including himself. “If I’m wrong, I’m highly capable of correcting that. I’ve done that many times and I’ve had to. That’s why I love debate and conversation, because you learn from it. Don’t become entrenched in one opinion and get stuck there for ever.”

Read it all. Funny, but it seems that decadent America could stand to be a little more Rotten, don’t you think?

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Solidarity? In America?

Brian Carroll, the American Solidarity Party's 2020 presidential candidate

In his latest column, David Brooks talks about a new book by the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett, The Upswing, about American social decline. Brooks writes:

Putnam and Garrett take the data from diverse spheres and produce different versions of the same chart, which is an inverted U. Until the late 1960s, American life was improving across a range of measures. Since then, it’s a story of decay.

Why did all these different things happen in unison and then suddenly turn around all at once? Maybe economic change drove everything? But no, the timing is off. Economic inequality widened a bit later than most of the other trends. Maybe it was political dysfunction? Nope. That, too, happened a bit later.

The crucial change was in mind-set and culture. As Putnam and Garrett write: “The story of the American experiment in the twentieth century is one of a long upswing toward increasing solidarity, followed by a steep downturn into increasing individualism. From ‘I’ to ‘we’ and back again to ‘I’.”

The use of that word “solidarity” reminded me of something I wanted to share with you. I’ve been agonizing for a while over my presidential vote this November. When I looked at the Louisiana ballot, I was surprised to see the American Solidarity Party candidates — Brian Carroll and his running mate Amar Patel — on the presidential line. There are several people I know somewhat and respect — Leah Libresco, Fordham professor Charlie Camosy, Tara Thieke — who are enthusiasts for the ASP, and even active in the party. I checked out their platform the other night. Excerpts from it:

Life

Our party is founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death. To this end, we advocate legal protections for vulnerable persons, as well as laws that facilitate authentic human freedom and ensure that all people have access to everything they need to thrive. Our whole-life approach guides the entire platform below, including subsequent segments on the right to a social safety net, criminal justice, and foreign policy.

  • Federal and state governments must enact constitutional and legal measures establishing the right to life from conception until natural death. These measures specifically include a constitutional amendment clarifying that there is no right to abortion, as well as laws that prohibit or restrict abortion. Because human life begins at conception, the intentional destruction of human embryos in any context must end.

  • Federal, state, and local governments must end taxpayer funding of organizations that provide, promote, or facilitate abortions, and of health-care plans that include abortion coverage. Such funding should be redirected to organizations that promote healthy pregnancies and prenatal care.

  • Federal and state governments must end capital punishment in light of its disproportionate use against those with fewer legal resources, the impossibility of reversal, and the existence of alternative ways to ensure protection for the rest of society.

  • We support efforts to help prevent the tragedy of suicide, including universal access to affordable mental-health care and the destigmatization of mental illness. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are a violation of disability rights, medical ethics, and human dignity, and must be prohibited in every state.

  • Federal and state governments should collaborate to guarantee universal healthcare by diverse means, including single-payer initiatives, direct subsidization of provider networks, subsidized education for medical professionals willing to work in rural areas, support for cost-sharing programs and mutual aid societies, home care grants, simplified regulation, and the easing of restrictions on the importation of prescription drugs.

  • Health policy must include protections for those with preexisting, chronic, and terminal conditions. We must include those who have no means to save for an emergency, people at every stage of life from prenatal care to hospice care, and people who find themselves in need of medical assistance while away from their home network.

  • Since the United States has the worst health outcomes of any developed country in proportion to the amount of money it spends, the federal government needs to negotiate pricing to end corporate exploitation of the captive audience of patients.

More:

Family

The natural family, founded on the marriage of one man and one woman, is the fundamental unit and basis of every human society. Family breakdown is a key contributor to widespread social problems in this country. In order to promote stable families, it is in the interest of the state to support marriage recognized as the exclusive union of one man and one woman for life. At the same time, we recognize that the state must support the needs of people—especially children, as well as the elderly and disabled—in families of all kinds.

  • States should repeal policies that penalize couples for getting married or that encourage divorce. At the same time, such reforms should not come at the cost of helping single parents.

  • States must repeal no-fault divorce laws, which effectively undermine the permanence of marriage. At the same time, it is vital to continue efforts to prevent and prosecute domestic violence.

  • In opposition to the commodification of children and the reproductive process, gestational surrogacy contracts and sperm banks should be prohibited. Adoption and fostering should be encouraged as a redemptive alternative, but with the understanding that the separation of children from their biological parents is never the primary goal.

  • Federal and state governments should allow public funding for services that promote stable, healthy marriages and the flourishing of children, even when such services are provided by religious institutions with religious values.

  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and neonatal care should all be fully covered by all healthcare plans so that no family need worry about the expenses of bringing a child into the world.

  • Workplace accommodations for parents, including paid parental leave, flexible scheduling, and affordable child care should be available to as many families as possible. Further, no family should be forced to have two full-time incomes just to survive, and thus policies subsidizing child care by parents staying at home should be enacted. Funding and services should also be provided to encourage families to care for elderly and disabled family members at home without being impoverished by lost income. This could include preferential housing options, tax credits, and respite care.

  • We reject the idea that surgical or hormonal treatment to circumvent the natural, healthy development and function of the body is necessary health care. In particular, we vigorously defend the right of parents to protect their minor children from such treatment. We call for legislation prohibiting any form of gender reassignment surgery on children.

  • To create a more pro-family culture and strengthen the social fabric of neighborhoods, we favor efforts to make public spaces child-friendly, encourage outdoor play, and reform legal and administrative practices that unfairly penalize parents for giving children a reasonable degree of independence.

And:

Economics

The American Solidarity Party believes that political economy (economics) is a branch of political ethics, and therefore rejects models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest. We advocate for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as “distributism”) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.

  • Our goal is to create conditions which allow single-income families to support themselves with dignity.

  • We support policies that encourage the formation and strengthening of labor unions. Efforts by private entities to use public power to prevent union activities or to retaliate against workers who organize for their rights ought to be resisted at every level.

  • We call for the repeal of corporate welfare policies, for shifting the tax system to target unearned income and reckless financiers, and for changing regulations to benefit small and locally-owned businesses rather than multinational corporations. Economic rentiers and speculators who produce nothing but only take from workers through gimmicks allowed by corrupt relationships with public power need to pay their fair share through taxes on land, capital gains, and financial transactions.

  • We will work to restore the requirement that corporations must serve a public good in order to be granted the benefit of limited liability. We support the prohibition of corporate bylaws and the repeal of state legislation requiring shareholder profit to trump considerations such as employee wellbeing and environmental protection.

  • To deprive workers of their wages is a “sin that cries out to heaven.” The Department of Labor must investigate all cases of wage theft and fraud in a swift manner.

  • We support mechanisms that allow workers to share in the ownership and management of their production, such as trade guilds, cooperatives, and employee stock ownership programs. Rather than consigning workers to wage slavery under far-away masters, such ownership models respect their essential dignity.

  • Industrial policy and economic incentives need to be re-ordered to place human dignity first and to recognize that the family is the basic unit of economic production. We are committed to policies that emphasize local production, family-owned businesses, and cooperative ownership structures. Measures that prevent large corporations from passing on their transportation costs to local communities will help re-energize local production and local enterprises.

  • The bloated, “too big to fail,” multinational economic concerns which dominate the economic landscape need to be brought to heel and concerted antitrust action must be taken to break up the oligarchies that use their private power to corruptly influence public governance.

  • The monopolistic power of corporations, especially in the area of patent and copyright law, allows them to price-gouge workers and families. We call for a restructuring of intellectual property laws to encourage innovation rather than rent-seeking.

  • We support and encourage measures which allow local communities to limit the power of outside interests in managing their land. Tenant unions, community land trusts, and community-oriented development are to be supported in the effort to ensure the availability of affordable and inclusive housing. Allowing local communities more flexibility will allow for more diverse and innovative solutions to local problems rather than imposing them from a far-off central authority.

  • We advocate for social safety nets that adequately provide for the material needs of the most vulnerable in society. These programs need to also help the most vulnerable find a path out of poverty by providing them with the tools they need in order to fully participate in their communities with dignity, and not trap them as subsidized labor for private interests.

  • To restore long-term solvency to the Social Security trust fund, we call for an end to the FICA tax cap.

  • Unemployment benefits need to include the option of allowing beneficiaries to take their benefits in the form of start-up capital to start or purchase businesses or create cooperative enterprises that help them to escape poverty on their own terms.

  • Natural monopolies and the common inheritance of the natural world need to be closely managed and protected by the public and not surrendered for a pittance to private greed. Our support of private property rights does not mean that we should surrender our common property into the hands of private oligarchs. Policies that deliver citizens their fair share of our common wealth and inheritance of natural resources are to be encouraged in the form of a citizen’s dividend and baby bonds.

  • Predatory practices which care more for stockholder value than human life must cease. We call for community-oriented lending practices and mutual aid organizations to replace predatory lending agents that target poor people and working-class communities. We must reject a financial system based on saddling workers with debt and interest payments that merely fuel consumerism and instead embrace one that encourages productive activity.

  • We call for student loans to be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Read the entire American Solidarity Party platform. 

I don’t agree with 100 percent of the platform, but when I finished, I thought: for the first time in my life, I have the opportunity to cast a presidential vote for a candidate and a party whose principles I believe in, instead of like every other time, voting against the worse of two candidates from parties that mostly leave this Christian conservative cold. What an unusual and pleasant feeling. From what I can tell, the American Solidarity Party is basically a US version of a European Christian Democratic Party.

Are you thinking of voting third party this year? If so, which party, and why?

UPDATE: This in today from Prof. Alex Salter at Texas Tech, who gives me permission to post it:

This is Alex Salter, from Texas Tech University. We’ve corresponded a few times over the years. I read your post about the American Solidarity Party and wanted to share why I, a free-market economist, decided to vote for them.
I’m currently writing a book about distributism, which is under contract with Catholic University of America Press. I went back to the classic works of Belloc and Chesterton to see what sort of a dialogue contemporary economists could have with distributists. I was surprised at just how much political-economic wisdom I found.
A central claim is that a free society (by which I mean one that preserves ordered liberty) requires not only political freedom, but economic freedom as well. Freedom in this sense is positive, not merely negative: it requires access to capital. Property must be widely distributed, or at least widely accessible, or else the modal household/family has no reason to ‘buy in’ to the social order.
In economics jargon, you could say that the distributists argue there is a negative externaltiy associated with the market mechanism: the free-market allocation of resources, including productive capital, is not necessarily the allocation that will result in the preservation of democratic-republicanism, subsidiarity, etc.
The American Solidarity Party is the only organization I’m aware of that is taking these arguments seriously.  They are also the only party with a substantive commitment to the common good.  For these reasons, although I have my reservations about many things in their platform, I eagerly want them to have a larger political voice, both locally and nationally.  The rest of my ballot was a mix of parties, but Brian Carroll was my vote for President.  (Carroll is an approved write-in candidate in TX.)

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Amy Coney Barrett & The Groveling Greeks

Kappa Delta sorority's National Council. These woke white bourgeois queen bees are ashamed of their sorority sister Amy Coney Barrett (KappaDelta.org)

According to The Blaze, the college sorority to which Amy Coney Barrett belonged, Kappa Delta, sent out recently a timid acknowledgement that one of its members had been nominated to the US Supreme Court. The original September 28 tweet read:

KD alumna Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. While we do not take a stand on political appointments, we recognize Judge Coney Barrett’s significant accomplishment. We acknowledge our members have a variety of views and a right to their own beliefs.

Super-cringey, but okay. But the women of Kappa Delta then had a gran mal woke seizure, and released this:

 

That is beyond pathetic. First, the fact that they did it under internal progressive pressure, and second — more interestingly — that they adopted a version of the standard Guilty Bourgeois White People jargon for confessing their sins against wokeness. We always need to have a more diverse group at all tables to make decisions in a more holistic, inclusive manner. Translation: we grant a veto over all our actions to progressives within the organization, especially progressives of color.

The Kappa Delta apology brings to mine these lines that an academic friend sent to me a couple of weeks back, to accompany a similar example of groveling before wokeness:

John McWhorter calls it the smell of urine: all these white people peeing their pants hoping they won’t be called racist. This disposition of fear is how institutions get destroyed.

Take a look at the KD website. Here is the page for “Some Notable Kappa Deltas”. Know who isn’t there? A nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States.

KD is big on “building confidence.” They devote a whole page on their website to it. They say:

Confidence is central to the Kappa Delta experience. Our mission is to provide experiences that build confidence in women and inspire them to action through the power of lifelong friendship. With a focus on values, Kappa Delta offers women the confidence to excel academically, develop leadership skills, become responsible citizens and take action in the world.

You don’t have to like Amy Coney Barrett, but good grief, she is incredibly accomplished. But now, according to Kappa Delta’s leadership, simply acknowledging that is taboo.

KD urges its members to “take the Confidence Pledge”:

Ha! Unless you are a conservative, in which case you are a non-person to Kappa Delta.

What a bunch of frauds. “I will not undermine other’s self-confidence. When speaking to or about other women, my words will be supportive and empowering.” Liars. You are nothing but a pack of liberal Mean Girls.

Let this be another reminder of the soft totalitarianism that the Left is bringing to our common life. Remember, a totalitarian society is one in which a) there is only one acceptable political line, and b) everything in life is political. Being snubbed by the Mean Girls in your sorority is not the same as being sent to the gulag, obviously, but it is a reminder that to the Left, everything is a battlefield. They will kick and scream and curse until they have unpersonned everybody who deviates even slightly from the party line. This incident with Amy Coney Barrett is one more example about how wokeness has become normalized in elite American life. Kappa Delta describes itself thus:

A national organization for women, Kappa Delta Sorority provides experiences that build confidence in women and inspire them to action through the power of lifelong friendship. With a focus on values, Kappa Delta offers women the confidence to excel academically, develop leadership skills, become responsible citizens and take action in the world.

Uh-huh. The sorority demonstrates that to be a leader in this new world, you have to be a total conformist to the left-wing line, and grovel when you fail to do so. In the Confidence Pledge, KDs say: “I will not give in to the pressure to fit society’s stereotypes.” They really do believe that, I bet. Behold the courageous non-conformists of the Kappa Delta National Council, white bourgeois queen bees who are ashamed of their sister Amy Coney Barrett. She ought to return the favor.

Kappa Delta’s National Council (KappaDelta.org)

 

UPDATE: Erin Manning, en fuego:

Let’s be blunt: there is no one a liberal woman hates more than a woman who opposes abortion on demand.

A liberal woman might be uncomfortable, or even performatively fearful, around a man who is opposed to abortion. But a woman who is pro-life provokes in her a hatred that is visceral, because she sees this as a betrayal of the sisterhood.

For some of these liberal women it’s personal: they killed off a few unwanted unborn kids in their wild days before settling down and welcoming a wanted child or two, and knowing women exist who disapprove of their choices to end the lives of their older children in utero makes them angry and bitter. But there are plenty of liberal women who never had abortions or unplanned pregnancies, and I would say their hatred is stronger because it is a hatred that exists on principle instead of as an excuse for prior behavior or a cover for hidden feelings of guilt.

Why? Because their argument that women can only be free so long as feticide is legal hinges on the idea that only women will “get it,” and will understand that pregnancy is a kind of enforced slavery unless the woman is perfectly happy about it, in which case the “blob of tissue” becomes a human child who is loved and wanted long before she is born. So when a woman says, “No, that’s not true, and it’s illogical; a pregnancy can be terminated by birth more than 99% of the time with no problem to the mother, and babies can be placed for adoption if the birth mother chooses this for her child…” the claws come out. Women must be pressured to accept that pregnancy is a form of slavery that will ruin a woman’s life if the circumstances aren’t exactly perfect and deliberately chosen beforehand; women must not be encouraged to think that pregnancy is a natural condition of the human female body, that it lasts only nine months, and that for most women it is uncomplicated. (Side note: only 5% of pregnancies involve any complications at all, let alone life-threatening ones; it is part of the systemic misogyny of modern medicine that we haven’t worked harder to solve those complications and instead offer to kill the child as a way of “fixing” the maternal pregnancy problems. I say this as one of the 5%.)

So it’s not surprising to see a bunch of sorority “sisters” go after the one who is less than enthusiastic about killing fetuses in the name of women’s rights and freedoms. Women aren’t supposed to be pro-life, especially not brilliant, educated, accomplished, happy ones.

UPDATE.2: A reader cc’d me on an e-mail she sent to Kappa Delta’s national office:

Since my confirmation as a Kappa Delta in 1991, I have been a proud KD. My Facebook friend list is full of members from my pledge class, who I love and adore. This same class were the women who founded the Zeta Kappa chapter at Ball State University. Because we founded the chapter, our composite photo sits on the wall of the chapter suite, forever at Ball State.
Today, I am embarrassed to be a Kappa Delta. Read the statement again, I am embarrassed to be a Kappa Delta. I am sad and angry our national sorority would be so brazen to issue an apology for letting the world know Amy Coney Barrett is a Kappa Delta. I was happy to see the article below [This blog post of mine — RD] blasting you for your stupidity. Shame on you Kappa Delta. Do you know how many conservative KDs you have managed to anger?
I am a Republican. I am pro-life. I support the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. I no longer believe I am a Kappa Delta. I have removed myself from your FB page and have removed myself from the Zeta Kappa Alumni FB page as well. Remove my name from your membership.
I’m pretty sure that the leadership of the sorority — the women in the photo above — have no problem acknowledging ACB’s accomplishments. But like so many institutional leaders, they are terrified of the young militants within the organization.

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Woke Totalitarianism: Stan Richards’ Case

Advertising legend Stan Richards (WFAA TV)

You might have seen that Amy Coney Barrett was dragged briefly on the Left for using the term “sexual preference” in her testimony, to refer to gay people. She later apologized, saying that she didn’t mean anything negative by it. In Commentary, Noah Rothman details — with many examples — how the phrase was perfectly kosher with the media and academia until the moment they could use it to criticize Judge Barrett as a homophobe. Rothman continues:

We should not mince words. What we’re witnessing is a concerted, perhaps even coordinated, effort to manufacture an allegation of bigotry from whole cloth and to force previously neutral language to comport with that accusation. And all to assault the character of one politically inconvenient woman.

This is retroactive conditioning on a grand scale. Before Tuesday, this was a term that most well-meaning people used within perfectly explicable context to convey their commitment to tolerance and egalitarianism. But now, with a Supreme Court seat on the line, it is being perverted to mean the precise opposite of tolerance.

If the goal here were a fuller understanding of the gay community’s sensitivities, we would not be witnessing an inquisition. Barrett’s critics would be educating her rather than accusing her. But this is not a good-faith display on the part of the theatrically incensed—it is a nakedly opportunistic fabrication. And we are all expected to subordinate what we know to be true to the party line. That is totalitarianism, and our moral obligation to oppose its encroachment on every facet of public and private life is as good an argument as any for Judge Barrett’s confirmation.

An acclaimed liberal black writer tweeted yesterday:

There’s just got to be some grace in all this. Nope. Not when there are scalps to be taken. Not when there is INJUSTICE to be fought. As the dissident liberal Bari Weiss writes in her terrific new Tablet essay:

The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game—due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself—must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with—designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.

Grace? What’s that? We are post-Christian now; “grace” is a white supremacist concept, or something.

This morning comes news that a venerable Dallas-based national advertising agency, The Richards Group, is going down because of some ill-chosen words spoken by its founder, 87-year-old Stan Richards. More:

Motel 6, Home Depot and Keurig Dr Pepper have cut ties with the Richards Group, an advertising agency in Dallas, after a report that its founder had made racist remarks in a meeting last week.

During a Zoom gathering of more than three dozen Richards Group employees on Thursday, a creative team working on the Motel 6 account presented an idea for an ad to Stan Richards, who founded the Richards Group in 1976. Mr. Richards responded to the idea by saying, “It’s too Black,” according to a person at the meeting, who said the ad would have featured Black, white and Hispanic guests. Mr. Richards, who is white, added that the ad might offend or alienate Motel 6’s “white supremacist constituents,” the person said.

A Richards Group spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Richards, 87, had made the “too Black” remark, but said in an email that he was trying to convey that the proposed ad “was not multiculturally inclusive enough.”

When asked about Mr. Richards’ comment on white supremacists, which was first reported by the publication AdAge, the agency spokeswoman said, “Although his comments did reference that group, that quote is not correct.” Mr. Richards apologized to hundreds of the agency’s employees on a Zoom call on Friday.

The old man’s remarks were offensive, and he apologized. But now, some the firm’s big clients are leaving. Except for this client:

The Salvation Army, another client, said that it was “deeply concerned” by the comments but “encouraged by the fact that Mr. Richards has made an apology.”

Grace. The Salvation Army shows it; the major corporations, not so much. Motel 6 had been a client for 34 years; Home Depot, for 25 years. Just like that, gone. Such is loyalty in the Age of Wokeness.

Who knows if the agency will survive this? That man, Stan Richards, founded it in 1976, and built it into a national powerhouse. But today, a few dumb words from him in a meeting are enough to put his life’s work in peril — and the jobs of everyone who works at the massive agency.

Is that social justice? Is it really?

I want you to understand, reader, that the government did not make this happen. This is a totalitarian culture built entirely by the private sector, by people who willingly chose to live by its monstrous ideology. Nobody defends what Stan Richards said. He was wrong. But good lord, people, if we cannot find a means to forgive people — especially 87 year olds — who say stupid or offensive things, and if we create a world in which they and all those who work for them can lose a lifetime’s worth of work because they offended the politically powerful — then we are creating a miserable, anxiety-ridden dystopia.

Amy Coney Barrett said the words “sexual preference,” and was set upon by the Woke as a bigot. How do you know that something innocent you say today won’t be seized upon by your enemies in an attempt to destroy you? Stan Richards’s words were not so innocent, but for heaven’s sake, he was talking about an advertisement — and he quickly apologized! Do you want to live in a world in which you could lose your career or your business over a few words — and in which nobody will accept your sincere apology?

This is the world the Left has created for us. Again, read Bari Weiss’s essay. It was written by a liberal who has been red-pilled by progressive reality. Its title is “Stop Being Shocked” — her rebuke to fellow Jewish liberals who struggle to grasp what’s happening, and to understand how the world has changed. Excerpt:

I share with the majority of American Jews’ disgust toward Trump and Trumpism, which has normalized bigotry and cruelty in ways that have crippled American society. That truth doesn’t detract from another: There is another danger, this one from the left. And unlike Trump, this one has attained cultural dominance, capturing America’s elites and our most powerful institutions. In the event of a Biden victory, it is hard to imagine it meeting resistance. So let me make my purpose perfectly clear: I am here to ring the alarm. I’m here to say: Do not be shocked anymore. Stop saying, can you believe. It’s time to accept reality, if we want to have any hope of fixing it.

To understand the enormity of the change we are now living through, take a moment to understand America as the overwhelming majority of its Jews believed it was—and perhaps as we always assumed it would be.

It was liberal.

Not liberal in the narrow, partisan sense, but liberal in the most capacious and distinctly American sense of that word: the belief that everyone is equal because everyone is created in the image of God. The belief in the sacredness of the individual over the group or the tribe. The belief that the rule of law—and equality under that law—is the foundation of a free society. The belief that due process and the presumption of innocence are good and that mob violence is bad. The belief that pluralism is a source of our strength; that tolerance is a reason for pride; and that liberty of thought, faith, and speech are the bedrocks of democracy.

The liberal worldview was one that recognized that there were things—indeed, the most important things—in life that were located outside of the realm of politics: friendships, art, music, family, love. This was a world in which Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be close friends. Because, as Scalia once said, some things are more important than votes.

Crucially, this liberalism relied on the view that the Enlightenment tools of reason and the scientific method might have been designed by dead white guys, but they belonged to everyone, and they were the best tools for human progress that have ever been devised.

Racism was evil because it contradicted the foundations of this worldview, since it judged people not based on the content of their character, but on the color of their skin. And while America’s founders were guilty of undeniable hypocrisy, their own moral failings did not invalidate their transformational project. The founding documents were not evil to the core but “magnificent,” as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, because they were “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” In other words: The founders themselves planted the seeds of slavery’s destruction. And our second founding fathers—abolitionists like Frederick Douglass—made it so. America would never be perfect, but we could always strive toward building a more perfect union.

I didn’t even know that this worldview had a name because it was baked into everything I came into contact with—my parents’ worldviews, the schools they sent me to, the synagogues we attended, the magazines and newspapers we read, and so on.

I was among many millions of Americans cosseted by these ideals. Since World War II, American intellectual and cultural life has been produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, labor unions, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, historical museums, art museums—that aligned, broadly, with those principles. As such, they had incredible power—power that demanded our respect because they held up the liberal order.

No longer. American liberalism is under siege. There is a new ideology vying to replace it.

There certainly is. She goes on to express frustration over how older Jews among the cultural and financial elite just don’t want to see what is right in front of their noses:

So when I try to discuss this with many Jews in leadership positions, what I face is either boomer-esque entitlement—a sense that the way the world worked for them must be the way it will always work—or outright resistance. Oh please, wokeness isn’t important anywhere but in silly Twitter microclimates. When you explain that no, in fact, this ideology has taken over universities, publishing houses, the media, museums and is now making quick work of corporate America, you hit another roadblock: Isn’t this just righting some historical injustices? What could go wrong? You then have to explain what could go wrong—what is already going wrong—is that it is ruining the lives of regular, good people, and the more institutions and companies fall prey to it, the more lives it will ruin.

The dominoes are falling hard and fast. That’s how you get pulpit rabbis who argue that Jews should not claim ourselves to be indigenous to the land of Israel. Or an organization meant to fight anti-Semitism that aligns itself with Al Sharpton. Or a tinderbox in the city with the largest Jewish population in the country, whose communal outfits seem to care more about lending cover to politicians than ensuring the physical safety of Jews.

Last month, I participated in a Zoom event attended by several major Jewish philanthropists. After briefly talking about my experience at The New York Times, I noted that if they wanted to understand what happened to me, they needed to appreciate the power of that new, still-nameless creed that has hijacked the paper and so many other institutions essential to American life. I’ve been thinking about what happened next ever since.

One of the funders on the call launched into me, explaining that Ibram X. Kendi’s work was vital, and portrayed me as retrograde and uncool for opposing the ideology du jour. Because this person is prominent and powerful enough to send signals that others in the Jewish world follow, the comments managed to both sideline me and stun almost everyone else into silence.

These people may be the most enraging: those with the financial security to oppose this ideology and demure, so desperate to be seen as hip; for their children to keep their spots at the right prep schools; so that they can be seated at the right tables at the right benefits; so that they are honored at Brown or Harvard; so that business does well enough that they can renovate their house in Aspen or East Hampton. Desperate to remain in good odor with the right people, they are willing to close their eyes to what is coming for the rest of us.

Read it all! And pass it on! We are dealing with the same thing in Christian churches and communities. Older people want to pretend this is just a passing fad, or that it can be stopped by voting for Trump (as if Donald Trump or any other president could save The Richards Group). Others — well-meaning Christians — want to minimize it, because Isn’t this just righting some historical injustices? They are by now in willful denial of the fundamentally totalitarian nature of this threat.

It’s totalitarian because it regards no aspect of life as non-political. Critical Race Theory assumes that every human interaction and social construct is racialized; the goal is to unmask the racism within it. You cannot escape any of it. As Comrade Ibram X. Kendi, the lead theorist of the moment, says, “Either you are antiracist or you are racist” — and, in a truly Orwellian move, he defines “antiracism” in radically egalitarian terms that are rather distant from what normal people think of as antiracism. As Bari Weiss points out, Martin Luther King’s most famous speech would be considered racist under Kendi’s scheme.

Anyway, as you know, I talk about this in more detail in my book Live Not By LiesWe have to wake up. The Social Justice Warriors are going to find you. As Weiss says in her essay, and I say in my book, you don’t have to win over the masses in order to establish totalitarian control. You only need to have a fairly small number of committed zealots who have the allegiance (or fear) of elites and elite networks. No edict went out this morning from Comrade Kendi’s office ordering The Richards Group’s clients to cut them loose. Those clients had already internalized woke ideology. They have been harmonized. They have learned to love Big Brother.

UPDATE: I was just on Kerbey Anderson’s national radio show, and had the chance to mention the Live Not By Lies Study Guide, which you can download for free here. 

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‘A Book Worth Its Weight In Gold’

In this blog post I will talk about three really good reviews of Live Not By Lies that I want to share with you. The first is Sohrab Ahmari’s very kind take in First Things. Here’s how it begins:

In 1951, security forces in communist Czechoslovakia arrested ­Silvester Krčméry—and as they were taking him away, he burst out laughing. The young physician knew what he was about to face: years behind bars, shattering ­physical and mental torture, the loss of his professional career. Yet he also ­believed that “there could not be anything more beautiful than to lay down [his] life for God.” Hence, the joyous laughter that befuddled the police.

He was a disciple of the Jesuit dissident Tomislav Kolaković. Foreseeing a Red takeover, Kolaković launched an underground Catholic resistance network while World War II still raged. He called it “the Family.” As a leading member, Krčméry spent years girding himself for that knock on the door. He memorized large chunks of the Bible. His preparation served him well, preserving his faith and sustaining his spirit.

I’m so glad Sohrab led with the story of Silvester Krčmery! He and the priest Father Vlado Jukl, along with the secretly ordained bishop (later cardinal) Jan Chryzostom Korec, were the three pillars of the underground church. He was a young physician when they first hauled him off to prison, laughing. He never, ever gave up. When he was released after thirteen years, he quietly set himself to evangelizing and building up the underground Catholic church.

František Mikloško was one of those drawn to the underground church by the example of these heroes. From Live Not By Lies:

Mikloško started university in Bratislava in 1966, and met the recently released prisoners Krčméry and Jukl. He was in the first small community the two Kolaković disciples founded at the university. Christians like Krčméry and Jukl brought not only their expertise in Christian resistance to a new generation but also the testimony of their character. They were like electromagnets with a powerful draw to young idealists.

“It’s like in the Bible, the parable of ten righteous people,” says Mikloško. “True, in Slovakia, there were many more than ten righteous people. But ten would have been enough. You can build a whole country on ten righteous people who are like pillars, like monuments.”

These early converts spread the word about the community to other towns in Slovakia, just as the Kolaković generation had done. Soon there were hundreds of young believers, sustained by prayer meetings, samizdat, and one another’s fellowship.

“Finally, in 1988, the secret police called me in and said, ‘Mr. Mikloško, this is it. If you all don’t stop what you’re doing, you will force us to act,’” he says. “But by then, there were so many people, and the network was so large, that they couldn’t stop it.”

You see what personal heroism and sanctity can do? It spreads like the holy fire in the Cathedral of the Holy Sepulchre on Pascha, leaping from heart to heart, setting them aflame.

The second is from Stephen Morris on the traditionalist Catholic website One Peter Five. I think it’s possible that nobody has ever written a more favorable review of any of my books, ever. Excerpts:

Part one of LNBL offers a historical overview of how we got here, as it serves as a wake-up call to conservative Christians who think that we can somehow avoid this Pink Dawn through presidential elections, supreme court appointments, and by harkening back to our constitutional rights and freedoms. We cannot underestimate a rival that won the culture war, controls education, and now has the tyrannical overreach of big tech; this makes todays college campus radicals tomorrows political, cultural and corporate leaders. But the bigger mistake is for us to believe that we are facing merely an ideological opponent. Dreher persuasively argues that radical progressivism is actually a rival religion, replete with dogmas, purity codes and of course, an inquisitorial thirst for heretic-hunting. And this sets the table for part two of the LNBL, which locates traditional Christians in the cross hairs of this rabid progressivism.

As a reviewer, the joy of being wrong with LNBL was that I was expecting a battle plan for the coming Pink Dawn; instead I got a battle plan within a spiritual classic. Through extensive travel and interviews with Christian survivors of Communism, Dreher mines the spiritual treasures that can only be illuminated by the most unspeakable hardships. These chapters in themselves make the book worth its weight in gold as they illuminate and affirm the profound value the Christian tradition places on suffering. And this is critical because for the most part, Christians today are poorly catechized practitioners of a “Christianity without tears,” a form of therapeutic deism which will crumble in the face of actual threat. Dreher shares many strategies tried and tested in the underground churches of Eastern Europe to prepare us for travail, so as not fall prey to the trap of admiring Jesus when what He demands are followers. The kind of Christian we will be in the time of testing depends on the type of Christian we are today.

More:

This is a book of impressive scope, as Dreher successfully wears many hats: theologian, political theorist, sociologist, historian, but most importantly, prophet. Sometimes a book speaks to our times; and surely this is rare enough. Even rarer is when a book speaks to our present and our future at once. In LNBL, we are fortunate to have one of those extraordinary accomplishments in our midst. Don’t just read it: read it, and then buy a copy for each Christian in your life who thirsts to remain faithful to the deposit of faith—especially your pastor.

Read it all.

That last line reminds me of a meme that a friend sent me overnight:

That image on bottom is from a film about the life and death of Father Ignacy Skorupka, a Catholic priest from Poland who died in 1920, leading soldiers of the Polish Army in battle against the Soviet Red Army.

Harsh, but true. On one of the interviews I did this week, someone asked me if the churches were ready for what’s coming. Absolutely not, I said. Most priests and pastors, in my judgment, don’t have a clue. Maybe they don’t really want to know, either, because their preparation has not been for ministry in a time like this. We are living through the time prophesied by young Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, in 1969: a time when churches would lose their people, their wealth, their status, and be reduced to a shadow of their former selves, with only a true-believing remnant remaining.

As I explain in The Benedict Option, and bring home with force in Live Not By Lies, the Christian churches are being tried in in ways that we have not seen, at least in the United States. Churches that are nothing more than chaplaincies to the Woke won’t make it. Churches that are prosperity gospellers, or in some sense the religious auxiliary to bourgeois life will not survive. Churches that are led by those who see their ministry as essentially keeping the heard calm as it is led to the (spiritual) slaughter are a clear and present danger to the faithful. Churches in which the congregation prefers not to be led by men of God who preach a bold message of repentance and preparation for hard times, but who would rather be told comforting lies — they’re going to go down. Mark my words. Look at that meme above: if your church is like the people on top, flee, and try to find one led by a priest like the one on the bottom. Whether you are a priest, pastor, or layman in your church, try to be like that fighting priest. I’m saying this to myself too; I have a lot of repenting to do from my own sins and spiritual apathy.

Let me repeat something I’ve said before: do not wait for your pastor or priest to lead on this. In 1940s Slovakia, some of the Catholic bishops thought Father Tomislav Kolaković was being an alarmist by warning Catholic students that communism was going to rule Czechoslovakia after World War II, and that the church had better prepare for persecution. They were rather clericalist, and fretted that the priest was giving too much responsibility to the laity. Father K. went about his business anyway, organizing students and preparing them — and thank God for it! Under communism, Father K.’s “Family” became the backbone of the Slovak underground church.

That meme about clergy is powerful, but a similar meme could be made about the laity. The laity on top would be those who are tattooed Christian hipsters desperate to be “relevant” to the culture, or MAGAheads eager to be fed with stale political pieties. The laity on the bottom (the laity we need) would be people like Yuri Sipko, Alexander Ogorodnikov, Silvo Krčmery, and the other Christian dissidents I profiled inLive Not By Lies.

In his long, thoughtful, somewhat critical review for ArcDigital, Justin Lee mentions the people who write me off as alarmist:

The combination of cancel culture with real political violence over the past months has startled people from all walks of political life into consciousness that something terrible is brewing. But most of Dreher’s critics seem perversely capable of indifference as the evidence mounts—as corporate America punishes states like Indiana for reaffirming federal law protecting religious freedom, as countless people are fired for holding views that were consensus or innocuous only a few years ago, as the federal government seeks to force nuns to purchase abortifacients, as Supreme Court rulings like Obergefell and Bostock threaten the dismantling of religious schools and charities (as does the Equality Act, universally supported by Democrats), as the country experiences waves of anti-Catholic and anti-Hasidic violence, as states use transgender rights as a pretense to diminish the rights of parents, as diners are assailed by white mobs and forced to pay obeisance to Black Lives Matter, and as Democrats routinely subject judicial nominees to religious tests for office.

Some critics, especially those in the church, prefer to keep their heads in the sand because to acknowledge our dire circumstances means to acknowledge their own complicity, the many ways they themselves profit from the dictatorship of lies. For others it may mean coming to terms with the imbecility of denying the threat of left-wing soft totalitarianism while melting down in public over the “actual, this-is-not-a-drill, honest-to-God-literal fascism” of Der Trumpen Führer.

Of course, there are also those who consciously lie about reality because they actually want the pink police state to come into its own. These are those for whom the “truth” is whatever narrative they believe will help them acquire power. Such people craft their public discourse according to what Dreher calls the Law of Merited Impossibility: “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.” For example, those who promised that religious schools will never have their funding or accreditation threatened because of their commitment to traditional sexual ethics reneged the moment it became possible to do so.

That’s right. But Lee criticizes the book — fairly, I concede — for downplaying the dangers of totalitarianism from the Right:

Dreher is keen to scrutinize how the left destroys cultural memory in order to “reframe” history in ways that enable the implementation of its political will (e.g., The 1619 Project). One of the clearest statements of this strategy comes from a Hungarian teacher who grew up under communism: “I think they [today’s progressives] really believe that if they erase all memory of the past, and turn everyone into newborn babies, then they can write whatever they want on that blank slate. If you think about it, it’s not so easy to manipulate people who know who they are, rooted in tradition.” Although this is obviously true, Dreher seems less interested in the ways the populist right also undermines cultural memory.

Donald J. Trump is many things, but a lover of culture and history he is not. I can’t imagine there is a single monument he wouldn’t bulldoze and replace with some gilt monstrosity stamped with his phallic imprimatur. Insofar as the right embraces Trump’s impulsivity, gleeful know-nothingism, capitalist bombast, and privileging of loyalty over honesty, it participates in the same destruction of cultural memory as the left, and increases the nation’s vulnerability to totalitarian control.

To be fair, Dreher does acknowledge that “Trump’s exaltation of personal loyalty over expertise is discreditable and corrupting.” But this is the only passage in the book where Trump is mentioned, and even here the focus is on the left. From that sentence, Dreher continues: “But how can liberals complain? Loyalty to the group or the tribe is at the core of leftist identity politics. Loyalty to an ideology over expertise is no less disturbing than loyalty to a personality.” Again, this is obviously true, but we should not underestimate the extent to which Trump’s misbehavior sanctions the same from the left.

That’s a fair criticism. The reason I kept my focus on the Left in the book, and only mentioned Trump once, is because I genuinely believe the Left poses a far greater threat. Why? Two reasons: first, it really does control all the institutional high ground. As Bari Weiss writes in her terrific new essay in the Jewish magazine Tablet:

Over the past few decades and with increasing velocity over the last several years, a determined young cohort has captured nearly all of the institutions that produce American cultural and intellectual life. Rather than the institutions shaping them, they have reshaped the institutions. You don’t need the majority inside an institution to espouse these views. You only need them to remain silent, cowed by a fearless and zealous minority who can smear them as racists if they dare disagree.

There is simply nothing like it on the Right. Had we seen Trump, a man of undeniably authoritarian impulses, move towards consolidating his power in a totalitarian way, I would have written a very different book. In fact, he is a shambling mess who hasn’t gotten much accomplished. I see nothing on the American Right that can remotely compare to the power of the Left over institutional life, and the imaginations of the power elites — and that, readers, is what is going to determine our future.

Second, the Millennials and Generation Z are much less religious, far more socially liberal, and significantly less tolerant of First Amendment freedoms than are their elders. They represent the future. It’s simply not plausible that a totalitarian Right could take power. I had to make editorial decisions with this book, because I couldn’t write past a certain length. Worrying about the totalitarian Right seemed to be a real stretch.

Nevertheless, I agree with Lee here:

But there is a danger more grave than hypocrisy or persecution that Christians must take measure of, for it is a spiritual danger. As I observe Antifa, BLM, and the #resistance movement, it is clear that many people are longing for something to strive against. They need some battle in their lives in order to give it meaning, to make them feel a part of something greater than themselves. So they blow the threat of Trump and “fascism” out of proportion; they invent dragons out of lizards so they can feel like brave knights. I worry that a similar dynamic exists with much Christian fear of left totalitarianism. It is exciting to have fearful enemies. It is also revivifying. There is thus always a temptation to hyperbolize our fight. I believe that no reasonable assessment of American culture can deny that the church in America is now facing the greatest material threat in its history on this land. But I also believe that undue focus on that threat can lead to idolatry. If the church derives meaning from the battle against soft totalitarianism, it is losing that battle. As Dreher notes, totalitarianism politicizes everything; all of life is interpreted through the lens of dialectical struggle. The church should resist at all costs the temptation to define itself through a negation of the political left. The church’s identity is in Christ and Christ alone.

Great point. Those conservative Christians who seem to believe that Trumpiness is next to godliness, and that the church is little more than Lib-Owners At Prayer, are doing more to harm the church than anything coming from a Social Justice Warrior. I tell this story in Live Not By Lies:

Both come up in my conversation with Paweł Skibiński, one of Poland’s leading historians, and the head ofWarsaw’s Museum of John Paul II Collection. We are talking about what Karol Wojtyła, the great anti-communist pope, has to teach us about resisting the new soft totalitarianism.

When the Nazis invaded Poland, they knew they could subdue the country by superior force of arms. ButHitler’s plan for Poland was to destroy the Poles as a people. To do that, the Nazis needed to destroy the two things that gave the Polish their identity: their shared Catholic faith and their sense of themselves as a nation.

Before he entered seminary in 1943, Wojtyła was an actor in Krakow. He and his theatrical comrades knew that the survival of the Polish nation depended on keeping alive its cultural memory in the face of forced forgetting.

They wrote and performed plays—Wojtyła himself authored three of them—about Polish national history, and Catholic Christianity. They performed these plays in secret for clandestine audiences. Had the Gestapo discovered the truth, the players and their audiences would have been sent to prison camps or shot.

Not every member of the anti-totalitarian resistance carries a rifle. Rifles would have been mostly useless against the German army. The persistence of cultural memory was the greatest weapon the Poles had to resist Nazi totalitarianism, and the Soviet kind, which seized the nation in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat.

It’s not hard to imagine some hot-headed Polish patriot thinking that actors and playwrights weren’t doing their part in the Polish resistance, because they weren’t taking up arms against the Nazis. Maybe an analogue to our society is Christians who believe that the battle is really political. What the imaginary Polish patriot would not have recognized is that the resistance work Wojtyla and the others were doing was deep and necessary. Similarly, I think about a point a Christian friend made to me yesterday: there are lots of rich Christians who pour millions into political causes, but who do nothing for cultural strategies. My kids go to a classical Christian school here in Baton Rouge that does an incredible job on a sub-shoestring budget. This past weekend, my 14 year old daughter was reading Plato’s Republic and Augustine’s Confessions for her Sequitur classes. This is profoundly important work of preserving civilizational memory — but few if any Christian patrons help these schools. They would rather throw their money at cheap, tinselly political showmen … and then they wonder why so many young people walk away from Christianity, wondering what the point is.

Sorry for going off point. Anyway, read Justin Lee’s review. He’s very positive about Live Not By Lies; I only highlighted his criticism because I thought it was important to address.

UPDATE: I’m told by a continental European reader of Live Not By Lies that you Europeans can order it from The Book Depository (an Amazon subsidiary) in the UK, and have it delivered to you for free.

UPDATE.2: Wow, Father Andrew Stephen Damick, an Orthodox priest who is definitely the kind of cleric on the bottom of that meme, just posted Part One of his lengthy interview with Your Working Boy about living as a Christian in this post-Christian world:

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Shhh! Don’t Talk About Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden, from ABC News Nightline one year ago (Source)

The New York Post had a big scoop today:

Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.

“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email reads.

An earlier email from May 2014 also shows Pozharskyi, reportedly Burisma’s No. 3 exec, asking Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” on the company’s behalf.

The blockbuster correspondence — which flies in the face of Joe Biden’s claim that he’s “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings” — is contained in a massive trove of data recovered from a laptop computer.

Read it all — there are screenshots, and a louche photo of a shirtless Hunter taken from the hard drive.

The story might have been a one-day affair — except for Twitter and Facebook interfered to keep people from sharing it. Pete Spiliakos says it succinctly:

It’s crazy. Maybe the story is weak, or has problems. Fine! Write about that. But for pity’s sake, don’t try to suppress the thing. Look at this:

 

“Unsafe”? For the Biden campaign, maybe, given that Hunter Biden says (for example, in this ABC Nightline interview) that he never talked to his father about Burisma business. Facebook muted the story on its platform. 

This really is outrageous. You can say that Twitter and Facebook are private companies, and that therefore they have a right to do this. I think that is true as a matter of law — but should it be? They operate more like public utilities than newspapers. Leaving aside the legality of this move, think about what it says that the two most powerful social media companies have taken it upon themselves to censor a major newspaper’s story about a presidential candidate’s allegedly corrupt son, just weeks before the election? Do you not see how dangerous this is, given the power of social media over our discourse?

Twitter and Facebook crossed a line. They showed their true colors today. When the election is over, Congress is going to have to have some serious discussions about regulating them in the interest of free speech and fairness.

In Live Not By Lies, I write about how Big Tech, including social media giants, work against free speech and free thought. Here, I’m talking about data mining:

Why should corporations and institutions not use the information they harvest to manufacture consent to some beliefs and ideologies and to manipulate the public into rejecting others?

In recent years, the most obvious interventions have come from social media companies deplatforming users for violating terms of service. Twitter and Facebook routinely boot users who violate its standards, such as promoting violence, sharing pornography, and the like. YouTube, which has two billion active users, has demonetized users who made money from their channels but who crossed the line with content YouTube deemed offensive. To be fair to these platform managers, there really are vile people who want to use these networks to advocate for evil things.

But who decides what crosses the line? Facebook bans what it calls “expression that . . . has the potential to intimidate, exclude or silence others.” To call that a capacious definition is an understatement. Twitter boots users who “misgender” or “deadname” transgendered people. Calling Caitlyn Jenner “Bruce,” or using masculine pronouns when referring to the transgendered celebrity, is grounds for removal.

To be sure, being kicked off of social media isn’t like being sent to Siberia. But companies like PayPal have used the guidance of the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center to make it impossible for certain right-of-center individuals and organizations—including the mainstream religious-liberty law advocates Alliance Defending Freedom—to use its services.Though the bank issued a general denial when asked, JPMorgan Chase has been credibly accused of closing the accounts of an activist it associates with the alt-right. In 2018, Citigroup and Bank of America announced plans to stop doing some business with gun manufacturers.

It is not at all difficult to imagine that banks, retailers, and service providers that have access to the kind of consumer data extracted by surveillance capitalists would decide to punish individuals affiliated with political, religious, or cultural groups those firms deem to be antisocial. Silicon Valley is well known to be far to the left on social and cultural issues, a veritable mecca of the cult of social justice. Social justice warriors are known for the spiteful disdain they hold for classically liberal values like free speech, freedom of association, and religious liberty. These are the kinds of people who will be making decisions about access to digital life and to commerce.

The rising generation of corporate leaders take pride in their progressive awareness and activism. Twenty-first century capitalism is not only all in for surveillance, it is also very woke.

Nor is it hard to foresee these powerful corporate interests using that data to manipulate individuals into thinking and acting in certain ways. Zuboff quotes an unnamed Silicon Valley bigwig saying, “Conditioning at scale is essential to the new science of massively engineered human behavior.” He believes that by close analysis of the behavior of app users, his company will eventually be able to “change how lots of people are making their day-to-day decisions.”

Maybe they will just try to steer users into buying certain products and not others. But what happens when the products are politicians or ideologies? And how will people know when they are being manipulated?

Big Tech is not your friend. Today we saw this with brutal clarity with Facebook and Twitter’s moves. What are we not seeing?

UPDATE: Whatever happens to Trump on Election Day, let us hope and pray that the GOP holds the Senate:

UPDATE.2: Big Tech pulling out all the stops this week. From the Wall Street Journal:

As a documentary, “What Killed Michael Brown?” has everything going for it. Its subject is timely, about the pre-George Floyd killing of Michael Brown by a police officer that set off riots in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

It’s written and narrated by Shelby Steele, the prominent African-American scholar at the Hoover Institution, and directed by his filmmaker son, Eli Steele. Its subject—race relations—is a major fault line in this year’s presidential election, one reason the Steeles scheduled their film for release on Oct. 16. Our columnist Jason Rileywrote about the film on Wednesday.

One problem: “What Killed Michael Brown?” doesn’t fit the dominant narrative of white police officers killing young black men because of systemic racism. As a result, says the younger Mr. Steele, Amazon rejected it for its streaming service. “We were canceled, plain and simple.”

In an email, Amazon informed the Steeles that their film is “not eligible for publishing” because it “doesn’t meet Prime Video’s content quality expectations.” Amazon went on to say it “will not be accepting resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.”

On their website — whatkilledmichaelbrown.com — the Steeles offer other options for people looking to watch their documentary. But it’s sadly telling about elite political conformity that an intelligent film that gives voice to a variety of people, almost all black, who would otherwise not be heard is somehow deemed unfit for polite company. As Eli Steele puts it, “When Amazon rejected us they also silenced these voices and that is the great sin of a company that professes to be diverse and inclusive.”

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Have We Been Checkmated?

Robby Fontanesi/Getty Images

This e-mail came in this morning from a reader who is a speech pathologist. He asked me not to use his name. He’s talking about an online seminar I was part of at Notre Dame yesterday, about Carter Snead’s new book about law, anthropology, and the body. The reader writes:

I watched the seminar/conversation yesterday after seeing you mention it on your blog, and first of all I have to admit I haven’t read the book in question. However, I don’t understand the point at all. It is all very good to argue things stemming from natural law, and the concept of the body, but the opposition doesn’t care.

I think that with the left’s control of, and redefinition of language, that pretending that there will be a ‘correction’ is ridiculous. The main thing I walked away from is that Notre Dame is full of intellectuals who have no idea what is going on in the world. Your most recent work is full of accounts of either self-censorship or anonymity from people who fear for their professional credentials. As I’ve mentioned on your comments before, the British Stammering Association wouldn’t run my graduate survey because it was heteronormative.

I lived in China for seven years, and I do not find anything in Live Not By Lies pessimistic or exaggerated, at least from the excerpts you have posted. I felt that the attitude of optimism and the sophistry of the questions being asked made no sense in a world where medical associations are literally being asked to provide transgender treatments that are untested and have serious side effects to children. A world where a Pulitzer prize was awarded to a fake history project. A world where Disney literally thanked the political repression division of the Xinjiang government in the PRC.

Ideas matter, but the ideas that matter do not appear to be the ideas bouncing around Notre Dame’s ethics department. Honestly, do use the Russian history analogies you are so fond of, the staff of Notre Dame are the old liberals of the 1840s who are unaware that the battle is over, and their side already lost, compared to the absolutely destructive principles of the Nihilists.

Anyway I was going to raise that question, namely even if the SCOTUS is ‘conservative’ what does it matter when behavioral health and medicine are completely in the hands of the enemy?

Well, I think that’s a too-harsh judgment on Snead’s book, which is both good and important, but the reader really isn’t talking about the book itself. If I understand him, he’s claiming that the intellectual work is in vain, because the left, which controls biomedical and other institutions, doesn’t care about arguments.

I’d say he’s onto something, though I do think it’s important to do the intellectual work, even if it probably matters less today than it once did. It matters to speak the truth, even if few people are willing to hear it, at least in this time and place.

That said, the reader is stating bluntly a painful reality about our emotive culture. I can’t stress strongly enough how important that campus showdown at Yale in 2015 was, between Prof. Nicholas Christakis and a social justice student mob. Here’s a clip of it. You see Prof. Christakis trying to engage the students respectfully and rationally. They won’t have it. They shriek at him, they curse at him, they assert their supposed woundedness over his disagreeing with them, etc. And, as we know, Yale University as an institution ultimately backed the mob.

The Woke control the means of cultural production, and exercise that control in creepy ways sometimes. Yesterday in the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, Sen. Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, was aggrieved because ACB used the word “sexual preference” to refer to homosexuality. That is offensive! said Our Mazie.

Is it? News to me. Lo, look what happened next:

Yesterday in this blog’s comments, a Virginia reader from Poland pointed out that one of the things people who lived under communism are seeing now that unnerves them is the way the rules change, and language changes, seemingly overnight — with edicts handed down from invisible authorities, edicts that everyone has to obey, or else. Who decided that it was offensive to use the phrase “sexual preference”? Don’t ask, just obey, or stand accused of bigotry, of creating a hostile work environment, of making others feel unsafe, or whatever else they need to say to get rid of you.

The reader says that “the battle is over,” and that it’s a waste of time to have discussions like my colleagues and I had under Notre Dame’s auspices yesterday. Again, I don’t think it’s a waste of time at all, but I do think the battle is largely over, and now conservatives and old-fashioned liberals have to continue the fight through guerrilla actions, so to speak. I think it’s important to ask, though, how scholars, intellectuals, and (for lack of a better word) culture-producers are going to do their work in the face of massive institutional and cultural opposition. Snead’s new book examines bioethics and anthropology as they play out in law governing abortion, assisted reproduction, and end-of-life issues (e.g., euthanasia). It all centers around what it means to be a person, and the meaning of the body. Snead is a Catholic, but the word “God” doesn’t appear in his book; it’s more or less a natural law argument for treating the body in a non-instrumental way in the law.

Most of the philosophical questions he raises in the book could be applied to the issues surrounding transgenderism. If an academic writer did so, and wrote from a position of arguing that transgenderism is in any way not ideal, would he even be published? Would these conversations even be possible? If not, how can scholars carry on this work?

As I was working on this post, another letter came in, this from an academic. He gives me permission to post it, as long as I hide his name and details about his institutional affiliation:

Yesterday I finished reading Live Not By Lies. I am with those who say it is a very important book — the right book at the right time. Hopefully it serves as a wake-up call for some people. Its advice to cultivate small cells of trusted individuals comports with advice that is put out by the better survivalist and prepper literature. That parallel, like so many other things, should be illustrative of the reality of the threat we face. It seems that the book is doing very well, and I’m glad to hear that — you deserve for it to do well for the important work you’re doing, and hopefully that means it’s reaching more people.
Here’s my own brush with soft totalitarianism. To date, mine has been extremely mild:
I work in academia, in [a technical] department of probably one of the most conservative universities in the country. But even here, the signs of soft totalitarianism have been creeping in. Over the summer, our department’s university senate representative forwarded to us a senate resolution to pledge open support for Black Lives Matter and for racial demonstrations on campus, as well as having “conversations about race” in the classroom. Given that the college dean (who, along with most of the university administrators, has taken to signing her emails with her preferred pronouns) had just sent out an email telling people to read books about white guilt and white fragility, and to seek out another faculty member to be an “accountability buddy” (setting aside the racial insanity, that kind of third-grader language addressed to a group of university faculty is insulting) about race, it was pretty clear that “conversations about race” meant trashing white people and exalting everyone else — except, perhaps, the large number of Chinese students and faculty since Asians do well, so who cares about them. I ignored the email and never contacted anyone about being an “accountability buddy,” nor did anyone ever contact me.
In any case, when our senate representative forwarded that resolution to me, I decided right then and there that my integrity meant more to me than my job, and sent a reply saying, “Opposed. I don’t support disruptive demonstrations, and I’ll teach [science and engineering] in my classes, not political propaganda.” He never responded, and I’ve never heard anything more about it. I never even heard whether that senate resolution passed or not. It seems that for now taking a principled stand hasn’t cost me anything, but I doubt that will continue forever, because the trend of wokeness just keeps accelerating. But I remain committed to choosing my principles over my job whenever I’m forced to make that decision. Though if Biden wins, I suspect the next front that totalitarianism advances on will be political rather than from my job.
To that last point, I do want to raise a couple of disagreements I have with your positions. First, I agree with those who have said that you’ve “underplayed your hand” and may be naive in your confidence that the soft totalitarianism won’t turn hard. No one can predict the future, so you might be right, but I think you’re underestimating the probability that it could turn hard and the speed with which it could occur. Consider that this year, the left proved, through institutional, political, and media support of Antifa and BLM, that they are perfectly willing to destroy people’s property, livelihoods, and even to kill them (through surrogates of criminals and street thugs) if they think it will advance their political agendas. Prominent leftist voices have openly called for violence against their political enemies. No matter how that internal dynamic plays out — whether the institution succeeds in suppressing the violent dissidents, continues using them as shock troops, or gets devoured by them French Revolution-style — in every scenario, the case remains that those in power hate with a white-hot hate and are perfectly willing to employ violence to achieve their ends.
All of that considered, my second point of disagreement with your is your position with respect to the coming election. I speak as someone who is not a fan of Donald Trump, who wishes a thousand times over that we could have a president with Pence’s demeanor instead (Pence was superb in his debate with Harris) — when I say that  to hold your views and yet think it defensible that someone could cast a vote for Biden is bizarre and incomprehensible, possibly born out of an irrational animosity for Trump the man. A Biden administration (by which, let us be honest, we really mean a Harris administration) will do everything in its power to accelerate all the totalitarian trends you have identified.
You are correct to say that politics will not save us from our current situation, but you have also correctly said that engaging in politics is nonetheless an important rearguard action, if nothing else. Trump may not have the power to stop all the cultural trends destroying our civilization, but at least under his administration, the federal government’s ability to put its thumb on the scale in support of leftist conquest has been significantly curtailed, and we have won some important victories. To say that it could be principled to vote for an administration that is almost certain to initiate various kinds of crackdowns — whether hard or soft — on right-leaning dissidents, whereas its opposition will do at least something to slow leftist conquest — well, I can’t understand it, no matter how much of a vulgar loudmouth Trump is.
Need to post this now and prepare for my next interview. Discuss.

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On Telling The Truth & Making Money

Aaron Renn (Source)

For years I have recommended Aaron Renn’s great newsletter The Masculinist, which you can subscribe to (for free!) here. I was startled this morning to see that in the new one, he talks a lot about … me. Excerpts:

I’ve studied the book of 2 Timothy, and actually wrote my own thematic commentary on it that some of you provided feedback on a while back. Thanks so much for that. I decided not to publish it due to my intent to remain in the genre of cultural commentary rather than Bible teaching.

But I do want to highlight one rather depressing passage from that book, where Paul writes (2 Tim 4:3-4), “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

I would argue that’s an apt description of the American church today.

There’s a saying, “Tell lies to people who want lies and you’ll get rich; tell the truth to people who want the truth and you’ll make a living; tell the truth to people who want lies and you’ll go broke.”

In America today, and frankly in much of the church, the desire for lies is common. That’s probably an extreme way to put it. Perhaps nobody actually sits down and says he wants to be lied to. But definitely there are many, many things we all dearly want to be true. If someone provides an even semi-plausible case for them, we’re often very likely to seize upon it. Most of us like to be flattered as well, so teachings that flatter our vanity or suggest that our desires are good are also likely to be embraced.

In some cases, money and institutional interests are at stake more than the desires of the average person. These powerfully shape how people preach or argue on many topics. As Upton Sinclair famously put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

He goes on:

People who attempt to sell the less popular idea that there might be some conflict between Christianity and culture do less well.

We can see this by looking at perhaps the most successful person selling this latter message today, Rod Dreher.

Dreher has a new book out soon called Live Not by Lies that I plan to review, either here or elsewhere. But for now, I’ll just note that Dreher has a very big audience. I can get a good sense of how big someone’s readership is by how much traffic I get on my site when he links to me. Dreher’s links generate incredible traffic. The only person who has ever sent me more traffic by linking to me is Andrew Sullivan back in his blogging heyday.

Dreher also has the ability to move markets with his recommendations. His interview with J.D. Vance about Hillbilly Elegy crashed the servers at The American Conservative and seems to have been the triggering event which sent that book rocketing to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.  Last fall he touted an off-Broadway play called Heroes of the Fourth Turning. There were plenty of tickets available when he did it. (I know because I bought some). But shortly after his recco the play sold out, then ended up having its run extended, and later was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. And as I have mentioned before, his recommendation is what turned this newsletter from a failure into a success.

Yet, as near as I can tell, Dreher financially appears to be, as the quip above has it, making a living. He certainly does not appear to be rich.

Well, that’s certainly true. I am doing alright, but rich? Very far from it, as anybody who sees my house can tell. Pre-Covid, I traveled a lot to Europe, but that was always on somebody else’s dime: publishers paying me to come over and promote translations of my work. Anybody can be a European traveler if they don’t have to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

More Renn:

But that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. Contrast him with, say, Jonah Goldberg. Jonah Goldberg is at the center of the Conservatism, Inc. institutional world. Until recently, he was at the National Review making about $200,000/year. In addition to what they were paying him, he held (and still holds) a fellowship at AEI called the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty, which hedge fund manager Cliff Asness endowed to the tune of $2.4 million dollars just for him. After leaving the National Review, Goldberg and two collaborators raised $6 million to start their own publication called The Dispatch.  He also appears to charge $10-20,000 as a speaking fee. Despite the coronavirus, he has at least two events scheduled in October. Goldberg has a sizable audience, though I doubt bigger than Dreher. But his message is sympatico with the conservative establishment class.

Dreher also used to work at the National Review, when he was writing things like Crunchy Cons. Since then, he’s been pushed towards the periphery of conservatism as his writing changed and is now working for the scrappy outsider magazine The American Conservative, founded by dissidents who opposed the Iraq War. He does not appear to hold any fellowships or affiliations at any other Conservatism, Inc. institutions. Social conservatism is very unpopular in Conservatism, Inc (far more unpopular than is generally known).

Nevertheless, plenty of social conservatives have acquired additional think tank money gigs, including Ross Douthat and Michael Brendan Dougherty (at AEI), and George Weigel and Peter Wehner (at EPPC). But I don’t know of anything like that for Dreher. I also haven’t seen anything indicating that wealthy conservative donors are backing any projects of his. And Dreher’s speaking fees appear to be only half of Goldberg’s at $5-10,000, which is ridiculously low. Nobody charges less than $5000 per appearance. I suspect Dreher has far fewer paid speaking engagements than Goldberg too.

Relative to his large audience and influence at the individual level, Dreher is practically an outcast.

Why is that? Chief among the reasons has to be that Dreher is putting out a message that religious and politically conservative leaders don’t want to hear. Pope Francis himself appears to not like the Benedict Option. Most of the Evangelical commentariat seemed to puke on it too. Both the political and religious conservative donor class don’t want to hear it either, other than those few backing TAC.

Sociologist Peter Berger said, “Ideas don’t succeed in history because of their inherent truthfulness, but rather because of their connection to very powerful institutions and interests.”

Rod Dreher’s pessimistic message about the state of the world and the church, his investigations and commentary on the Catholic abuse scandals, etc. do not serve any powerful institutional or financial interests.  In fact, they are either implicit or explicit indictments of those institutions and their leaders, which failed in important ways to accomplishing their purported mission.

Fortunately for Rod, there are enough individuals who sense that all is not well to constitute a readership and a career for him. But he seems to be cut off from the kinds of institutional support that would give his ideas traction in the real world and cause Christians to start mobilizing to respond to the situation in which we find ourselves. Much more than money, I suspect this is what frustrates Rod – that ideas like the Benedict Option end up institutionally marginalized and largely unimplemented.  (Events appears to be moving ahead at an even faster rate than Dreher’s pessimism, so perhaps he’ll become more accepted with his new book, which appears to be getting better reviews than the last one).

Read the entire thing by signing up for The Masculinist here (in this issue, Renn writes about a lot more than Your Working Boy). Renn’s punchy newsletter is unmissable for any Christian men who care about what it means to be faithful in this post-Christian culture.

I appreciate his words about me, and confess that I have never really thought about things that way. I’ve been at TAC since the summer of 2011, and have been, and am, quite happy here.  I don’t make remotely the money that Renn reports that Jonah Goldberg made at NR, but TAC is a much smaller magazine (see, this is why we really do depend on donors). The best thing about being a writer for TAC is that nobody has ever told me what I could and could not write here. I cherish that freedom, especially in an era in which magazines and newspapers are becoming more timid. If you value this kind of thing too, please consider donating. TAC does not have the access to deep-pocketed donors within the conservative mainstream. Seriously, every little bit helps.

Renn is right about my speaking fee, which is $5,000, but I’ve taken less during Covidtide. I’m not represented by any agency (though that should change), so I have no idea what I’m worth as a speaker. The whole money thing embarrasses me, to be honest — to my career’s detriment, no doubt. I also have no think tank side gigs (and let me be clear: I don’t think there is a thing wrong with people like my pals Douthat and MBD, and anybody else, taking them, as long as they can maintain their distinct voices — which I’m sure they can, as neither one of those men strike me as the kind of writer willing to pull punches to please the powerful). Not sure why that is; maybe I’m just not that interesting to them, or maybe Renn is right that the messages I stand behind don’t serve the interests of powerful institutions. If it’s the latter, too bad. I’m doing fine. I am grateful that I have an excellent literary agent who has negotiated strong book advances for me, and a publisher, Sentinel, that offers fantastic support. I have nothing to complain about. If I could double my income, but lost the ability to write what I think, it wouldn’t be worth it to me.

Along those lines, I did a video interview yesterday with my friend the Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony. He began the interview in an unusual way. He recalled the first time we met, back in 2010 at Oxford, and a conversation we had about religious faith (he’s a observant Jew). He said that I talked to him then about my experience of losing my Catholic faith (this happened in 2005) after investigating the Church scandal. This story, he said, had stayed with him over the past decade, and he invited me to share it again.

I did, then Yoram asked me if that experience had anything to do with Live Not By Lies. I didn’t know what to say, and surely answered badly. It was only after the interview was over that I had l’esprit d’escalier, and realized what I should have said. Yoram’s question was rather insightful, and caught me off guard.

The truth is, I did learn from that experience. Back in the summer of 2001, when I first started writing about the scandal (this was half a year before Boston broke big), the brave victim’s advocate Father Tom Doyle told me privately after an interview that he could tell that I was a serious Catholic, and that I should know that if I continued on this path of investigation, I would “go to places darker than you can imagine.” I thanked Father Tom for his warning, but told him that as a journalist, as a Catholic, and as a new father, I felt that I had no moral choice but to do this. He told me that he would support me all the way, in whatever way he could, but that I should be aware that this was going to be hard.

I had no idea what to expect. I assumed that having all the arguments for Catholicism clear in my head would be sufficient protection. It was not. I won’t elaborate on all the filth and corruption and lies upon lies that I had to wade through. We all know about it now. Most of it I was never able to write about — most notably, the fact that I knew what then-Cardinal McCarrick had done, but I could not find documents or get any of my sources to go on the record. McCarrick even had a prominent conservative (closeted) try to talk my boss at NR into taking me off the story, but to his very great credit he would not. It didn’t matter — without documents or people willing to go on the record, there was no story. Yet I knew that the Cardinal was an evil SOB. And, as we later would learn, so did the Vatican.

Well, I finally broke under all the pressure, and found myself unable to believe in the Catholic faith. It simply did not seem plausible to me anymore that my eternal salvation depended on being in relationship with the Roman see. I don’t want to argue about it here — so don’t start. It’s important, though, for all religious leaders and religious people to understand that the plausibility structure of religion is so, so important. Someone, can’t remember who, was telling me this the other day in relation to the new scandal in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Whoever it was said that it’s not seeing wicked people in churches that hurts them as much as it is seeing wicked people emerge, and to continue to thrive, unpunished by church leaders. Eventually people may find it implausible to believe what the church or religion claims for itself. Nobody has the time or the capability to fully investigate all religions. I know very little about Scientology, for example, but from what I do know, it is wholly implausible, and I can’t take it seriously.

It became like that for me with the Catholic Church. When a particular priest — Father Christopher Clay — with whom my wife and I had become friendly turned out to be a liar about his true status, something snapped in us. After four years of these unmaskings, that was the breaking point. We ceased to be able to trust any of it.

I told Yoram that we went to the Orthodox Church because as Catholics, we believed that the Orthodox had valid sacraments, but we did not intend to convert. Yet we did. But, I told him, I have tried to be a very different kind of Orthodox than I was a Catholic. I have had to own my own intellectual arrogance as a Catholic — that was on me, not the Catholic Church — and the pride I took in being Catholic, and in winning the favor of Catholic bishops and prominent figures for my loyalty to and defense of Catholic principles and the Catholic Church in my pre-scandal writing.

The scandal was a test of whether or not I cared more about standing by the truth, however painful, or defending lies for the sake of preserving comfort and status. I came through it on the right side, but also destroyed spiritually. The thing I’ve learned — and this is what I wish I had thought to tell Yoram — is that we should never, ever presume that things cannot get very bad, and that we have the strength to resist anything. If I had been able to receive Father Tom Doyle’s warning with sufficient gravity, I would have prepared myself better spiritually for that kind of combat. Around 2004, about a year and a half before I lost my Catholic faith, a friend said to me that I was so angry about the corruption that I was going to lose my ability to believe in the Catholic faith. I told them I didn’t think so, but anyway, how can a person of integrity not be yelling their head off at this filth?

Well, they were right. I do not regret one bit yelling my head off at the filth, but I do regret allowing my passions to unhorse me. Had I been better prepared spiritually, I would have handled that more responsibly. It’s not a mistake I can allow myself to make in Orthodoxy. I have also worked to stay out of Church politics, because I don’t trust myself not to let my passions run away with me. If I found out that there were children being abused, you’d better believe that I would speak out. But mostly, getting wrapped up in church politics is a dead end for me.

I am grateful for the excruciating pain of the dark night I went through from 2002-2006, only because God forced me to change. And I found Orthodox Christianity, which has been a tremendous blessing. I do regret the brokenness that brought me to Orthodoxy, and wish that my conversion had been “cleaner.” But here we are.

The point I wish I had thought to make to Yoram was this one: always stand up for the truth, and refuse to live by lies, but think hard, and prepare well, for the cost of doing so. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation isn’t just a matter of thinking things through. If you do not have a strong spiritual life — and I didn’t when I went into this work, though I thought I did — then you won’t make it. I had honestly thought that I would be able to suffer persecution for my Catholic faith; I had not at all prepared for the possibility of suffering a form of it from within the Catholic faith. My hero in all this is the late Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, a priest who knew far more about the filth in the Church than I ever did, and who told the truth every chance he could. But he was unshakable in his faith. I want to be the kind of Christian he was. You should want to be too, whatever your confession.

Anyway, to go back to Aaron Renn’s piece, this is not the way to get rich. But that’s not the point, is it? I say the harsh things I say about Christian life in contemporary America — in The Benedict Option, in Live Not By Lies, and on this blog — not because it is to my financial advantage to do so, but because I believe the message is true, and important. Nothing matters more to me than the faith, and passing it on to my children, and my children’s children. We in the American church — all of us: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox — are washing away like sandcastles at high tide. It is happening, and few people want to see it, because they don’t want to take responsibility for dealing with the hard realities. At the end of my life, I hope I can say that I did my part with the opportunities God gave me. What else is there?

I thank you readers who have supported my work through your donations to TAC and by buying my books. I could not do this without you. I really couldn’t. We are all in this together. And please support the work of writers like Aaron Renn, and others who say difficult but necessary things that the marketplace doesn’t necessarily reward.

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Archbishop Knifes Bishop

Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha (Archdiocese of Omaha)

News from the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Late last year, Bishop James Conley announced that he was taking a medical leave of absence to get treatment for depression and anxiety. Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha took over as temporary apostolic administrator, until Conley returned.

Well, Conley is back — but Lucas has done something dastardly. A reader sent me this document that Archbishop Lucas passed around to priests:

 

Whoa! He makes Conley out to be fragile and broken. “Comfortable in familiar surroundings,” going to spend time with Mother, and so forth. I am reliably told by a Catholic source that this is not true about Conley’s condition — that after treatment, he’s recovered.
The reader who sent that to me writes:
Bishop Conley took a brave stand in getting himself the help he needed when he did. Despite being ready to return to the saddle , Archbishop Lucas appears to be doing his all to stop him. Not content with running the bishop down to his clergy in his absence, he’s now writing around to insinuate that Conley is a shattered man, when nothing could be further from the truth.
He’s even gone to the nuncio to try to block him ever getting back to work, even with a clean bill of health. It seems he thinks that being frank about struggling with a mental health issue is a disqualifying offense — perhaps he’d prefer bishops in pain just do the decent thing and drink themselves to death in silence.
It seems that, at least in Lucas’s estimation, there’s no road back for people who ask for help — what a great example to set at a time when priests are already ducking the nuncio’s calls and they can’t find people willing to be a bishop.
Of course, a cynic might note Lucas would be first in line to pick a replacement, and can probably bank on the nuncio siding with him as the local archbishop. What’s one less good bishop after all?
UPDATE: A number of you have said that the judgment of the reader on Abp Lucas is not fair based only on the text provided. I read the Lucas letter like the reader did, and I know the reader as a reliable source. Nevertheless, it is possible that the reader is (and I am) being unjust toward Abp Lucas. I look forward to hearing from more people in Lincoln who have direct knowledge of the matter.
I should also say that I like Bishop Conley, though I believe he did not handle the scandal in Lincoln very well. He did not cause it — it was something he inherited — but he didn’t deal with it rightly. Nevertheless, I believe him to be a good man, and I don’t like to see him suffer.
UPDATE.2: Plus, I hate to see a man in power who admitted he needed help, and got it, made to look like a weakling. Maybe I’m overinterpreting this. It looks bad to me, though.
UPDATE.3: Father Damien Zuerlein comments:
Wow. You should know Archbishop Lucas before you make such judgements against him. That letter is simply the way Archbishop Lucas speaks and he truly means no harm in what he is saying. Do you really think this man is power hungry or that he is a bad bishop? I think you owe him an apology. I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and while I have not always agreed with the decisions that the Archbishop has made, he has always made them in the best interest of the Church and not for some personal agenda. I think he would quickly turn the diocese back over to Conley once he is given permission to do so. You should remove this post.

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