Elites Vs. America
Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins Of Totalitarianism, writes of the elites in pre-totalitarian Germany and Russia:
The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.
With each passing day, I am struck by how committed American elites are to tearing this country apart for the sake of instituting their idea of social justice.
Consider this from the governor of Vermont:
In this screengrab from the Vermont health department website, you can find out who is eligible for the vaccine in that state:
If you are a 40 year old ordinary white Vermonter who doesn’t work in health care or public safety, you’re out of luck, whitey. BIPOCs and immigrants are vaulted ahead of you, simply because of their race and/or immigration status.
What an evil thing: to say that some people are allowed to get a life-saving vaccine before others, only because of the color of their skin or their immigration status. This policy is probably unconstitutional, and can only make people resentful. And Gov. Scott, note well, is a white Republican. More important, he is an elite. I’m sure he feels great about his great-souled self, condemning white people under 50 to struggling against Covid without a vaccine while giving BIPOCs and immigrants whatever they want.
You heard about the man killed today while attacking the US Capitol, right? His name was Noah Green, a black man who was reportedly a member of the Nation of Islam, the black supremacist group. He murdered a Capitol police officer, whose two children no longer have a daddy. According to the Washington Post, Green’s family said he was mentally ill, and paranoid. Billy Evans, the dead cop, was white. I think the media have done the right thing in not jumping to conclusions about a racial motive here, or a political motive. We just don’t know.
But look, if Noah Green was a white man who was affiliated with a white hate group, do you think the news coverage would be as sober and as responsible? Of course it wouldn’t. We all know this. There is still not one shred of evidence to suggest that Robert Long, the suspected Atlanta mass shooter at the massage parlors, was motivated by anti-Asian hate. But we have been living through countless hours and reams of print coverage about his racist act. When it comes to anything at all to do with race, I do not trust the US news media.
They’ll be just fine without my trust. But I am sure that I’m not alone. And they have 100 percent done this to themselves.
A reader writes:
Memory hole warning: Facebook has already deleted [Noah Green’s] account it seems.Remember the time that Democrat terrorist tried to wipe out a bunch of Republican representatives and Senators, nearly killing Steve Scalise? Me neither or just barely. It got memory-holed quick. I’m predicting another memory hole here very soon.But the violent protest by right wingers at the Capitol? That will be used as a bogeyman for years to justify surveillance state being turned towards dissidents on the right.
I was in the car today and heard this NPR All Things Considered story about the history of solidarity between black and Asian Americans. From the introduction:
And now, with heightened calls for solidarity between the Black and Asian American communities, we wanted to look at the relationship between them and how their civil rights movements have interacted. Joining us now is anti-racist author and consultant Kim Tran. Her research focuses on Asian American solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
So, with so many of these reported bias attacks on Asian-Americans being committed by blacks, NPR invited an activist on to manage the narrative. Here is a question from NPR host Ailsa Chang. Notice how leading it is, and how it is stated in the language of activism. NPR isn’t even trying to be unbiased here. This is not a question from a journalist; it’s a statement from a member of the diversity faculty:
Well, as you say, there has been tension between these two communities – Black Americans and Asian Americans. And even though the common goal of these two movements is to address colonization and to dismantle white supremacy, white supremacy has harmed Black Americans in a very different way than it has harmed Asian Americans. Like, Asians in this country have never felt what it’s like to be enslaved in this country, to be mass incarcerated, right?
Chang asks not one question of her guest, a self-identified “queer Vietnamese woman,” that refers to actual black assaults on Asian people. Nor does she bring up well-known phenomena like the black rioters’ attacks on Korean store owners in South Central Los Angeles in the 1990s — an incident that revealed to the nation the hostility between these two ethnic groups. She asks not one challenging question of this activist. Here’s Ailsa Chang in fact chastising her fellow Asian-Americans for not being committed to Black Lives Matter:
Well, where can Asian Americans start to better show up? Because at some level, it seems that there has to be some acknowledgement that they do enjoy greater privilege in this society than Black Americans do and therefore might be able to exert leverage if they were to fuse their movement with Black Americans.
It’s incredibly insulting to the intelligence of listeners. It’s straight-up activism. For all my adult life as a conservative, I’ve argued with fellow conservatives who say we should defund NPR. Now, though, I couldn’t make that case. NPR has always been liberal, but sometime in the last two or three years, it started operating like the Oberlin campus radio station.
Maybe Ailsa Chang didn’t ask hard questions because she had listened to this episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast. Excerpt of a conversation between host Gene Demby and NPR reporter Alyssa Jeong Perry:
Once again, NPR is managing the narrative. All these attacks on Asian people are really the fault of white people. Besides, who is this researcher from the University of Michigan? Can we see the work? Because according to federal statistics from 2018 (the most recent stats available; the Justice Department did not publish Asian stats for 2019, and has not yet issues a report on 2020 statistics), no single race accounted for more than 27.5 percent of violent bias attacks on Asian-Americans. And that 27.5 percent figure came from blacks, who are only 13 percent of the US population:
That NPR Code Switch episode goes to unintentionally comic lengths to emphasize that actually, blacks and Asians work together to fight racism. They even cite Martin Luther King’s opposition to the Vietnam War as an example — as if that war, tragic and misguided as it was, was simply a matter of whites attacking Asians (NPR did not invite on any of the Vietnamese boat people who came here to escape communism). And NPR’s host once again cites as fact the unsupported claim that the Atlanta shooting was racially motivated. Read the transcript for yourself.
This is one more example of elites in American culture ginning up race hatred on spurious grounds.
Here’s another example. In Georgia today, Major League Baseball decided to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest the state’s new voting law.
Joe Biden called the new Georgia voting law “Jim Crow on steroids,” a theme that has become common with Democrats. But an analysis of the law in The Dispatch, the Never Trumper site, detailed why this claim is groundless. Excerpts:
But attempts by prominent Democrats—including the president—to tie SB 202 to the Jim Crow era are incredibly disingenuous. For starters, the bill actually expands voting access for most Georgians, mandating precincts hold at least 17 days of early voting—including two Saturdays, with Sundays optional—leading up to the election. Voting locations during this period must be open for at least eight hours, and can operate between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Several states (including Biden’s home state of Delaware, which will not implement it until 2022) do not currently allow any in-person early voting, and plenty, like New Jersey, offer far fewer than 17 days.
Despite Biden saying the bill implements absentee voting restrictions that “effectively deny” the franchise to “countless” voters, SB 202 leaves in place no-excuse absentee voting with a few tweaks. It tightens the window to apply for an absentee ballot to “just” 67 days, and mandates applications—which can now be completed online—be received by election officials at least 11 days before an election to ensure a ballot can be mailed and returned by Election Day. The bill requires Georgia’s secretary of state to make a blank absentee ballot application available online, but prohibits government agencies from mailing one to voters unsolicited—and requires third-party groups doing so to include a variety of disclaimers.
Rather than signature matching—which is time-intensive for election officials—voters will verify their identity in absentee ballot applications by including the identification number on their driver’s license or voter identification card, which is free. If a Georgian has neither, he or she can, pursuant to Georgia Code Section 21-2-417, include a photocopy or digital picture of a “current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document” that includes his or her name and address.* When mailing back their ballots, voters must print their driver’s license number (or the last four digits of their social security number) on an inner envelope. (An August 2016 Gallup survey found photo ID requirements for voting were overwhelmingly popular: 80 percent of voters supported them, including 77 percent of nonwhite voters.) SB 202 also codifies ballot drop boxes into law; Georgia added them for the first time in 2020 as a pandemic measure, and the law now stipulates that there be one for every 100,000 registered voters or advance voting locations in a county, whichever is smaller.
Among other things (it’s a 95-page bill!), SB 202 allows election workers to begin processing absentee ballots two weeks before an election to avoid reporting delays, and requires them to announce the total number of ballots cast—in-person, absentee, early, and provisional—by 10:00 p.m. on election night so voters know how many outstanding votes remain to be counted. It also restructures the State Election Board, demoting the secretary of state from chair to a non-voting member.
One minor provision that’s received outsized attention is a prohibition on outside groups or people distributing money, gifts, food, or drinks to voters within 150 feet of a polling place or 25 feet of voters standing in line to vote. Polling places, however, can make self-service water receptacles available to voters waiting in line.
The Dispatch points out that President Trump’s unsubstantiated griping about voter fraud in Georgia has something to do with the Democrats’ reaction, but the Democrats are nevertheless reacting based on a lie. More:
A day after dozens of black business executives called on corporate America to vocally oppose the legislation, several major companies based in Georgia—which had until then remained above the fray—did exactly that. “The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier,” CEO James Quincey said. Ed Bastian, chief executive at Delta Airlines, wrote that he “need[s] to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” Some progressive activists have gone further, calling for various economic boycotts of the state—and Biden himself joined them in an interview with ESPN earlier this week.
“I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said when asked by Sage Steele about Major League Baseball considering moving its annual All-Star game out of Atlanta this summer. “This is Jim Crow on steroids, what they’re doing in Georgia.”
[GOP state elections official Gabriel] Sterling [who fought with his own party against Trump’s claims] wasn’t pleased. “I think it’s morally reprehensible and disgusting that he’s perpetuating economic blackmail over a lie,” he told The Dispatch. “It’s a lie. This is no different than the lie of Trump saying there was voter fraud in this state. And the people who are going to be most hurt by [a boycott] are the workers in all of these places that are going to be impacted.”
Here, by the way, is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s short piece offering highlights of the law. Read it and tell me where the Jim Crow is.
The elites who run Major League Baseball did the woke thing instead of the fair thing, the truth-based thing — and now Atlanta is going to suffer. I appreciate how the Georgia state legislature is pushing back hard against attempts by Big Business to bully the state, taking away Delta’s $35 million tax break over its CEO attacking the law and mischaracterizing it as part of a corporate campaign against Georgia. We have seen Woke Capitalism bully state lawmakers at least since the 2015 corporate gang-up against Indiana for passing a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the state repealed after Big Business and the NCAA demanded it. At some point, conservatives have to start making Big Business pay a price for pushing around elected representatives over laws that have nothing to do with their corporate activities.
The point I want to make is that the Democratic Party and corporate elites (including MLB) are once again telling lies and inflicting economic pain to stir up racial hatred. One definition of a totalitarian society is one in which everything is politicized. What does a state compelling voters to show up with identification have to do with Major League Baseball? Or flying passenger aircraft?
A reader e-mailed today about the MLB cancellation:
I don’t know what it was about this that made me so mad. Is it that I’m reaching a boiling point with corporate wokeness? Is it that baseball, something that means so much to me and which has been a part of my life for so long has now become infected by this virus?Regardless, when I saw this I thought about your recent posts asking people what we can do when things like this happen. Well, it’s not much, but I just emailed the league and my own beloved Cleveland Indians to lodge my complaints. I emailed the league to tell them I wouldn’t watch their All Star Game, wherever they move it to. I’m sure they’re shaking in their boots. But I also emailed my own team, which may have had no input in the league’s decision, to tell them I am boycotting their stadium this season. It’s the teams that can influence how the league acts, so if I have to hurt my own team, then so be it. Again, the team likely won’t even pay attention to my email. In the end, the league will probably lose $1000 from me. Peanuts. But it’s a start. I’m tired of all this.For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote to the team:
To Whom It May Concern:This is the first time in my life I’ve ever written one of these types of massages. I just saw that MLB has decided to move the All Star Game out of Atlanta due to the State of Georgia passage of a voting reform bill.Let me just say that I am disgusted by the league’s action, which represents yet another example of the politicization of almost every aspect of our society by powerful groups and individuals outside of our government. I am an attorney. I read the Georgia bill to understand what it is and what it is not. It is not restrictive like some people are pretending, and it most certainly is not Jim Crow as a few people are dishonestly indicating. In fact, in some ways the voting rights of Georgia’s citizens have expanded. None of that really matters, though, because the league caved into mounting pressure by certain groups and individuals with an agenda, and responded accordingly. In the end, the league doesn’t really care what this law actually does. It’s about appearances and catering to certain interest groups.I shouldn’t even have to say this, but with the way MLB has become so politicized, I will mention that I am not a Trump supporter or someone with any type of political ax to grind. I am politically agnostic in many things. But I am fed up with seeing these types of actions being taken by large American corporations again and again with little regard for the real facts at issue, the perspective of millions of people who see things differently, and while delving into political matters that have little to do with the corporation’s purpose. Please, just stick to baseball.Why am I sending this to you? As you can imagine, I have no intention of watching the All Star Game this year, which is something I watch annually. But now I’ve decided to take this one step further. I will not be attending any games this season at Progressive Field. This pains me a great deal. I have two little boys who have never been to a major league game before. I wanted to take them last year for the first time, but couldn’t due to the pandemic. This year I planned to take them multiple times, and to let them have a special outing with their grandad. But not this year. Baseball is special to me and my family. It is generational. It is dear to my heart. In my family, it is about fathers and sons. It is about players and teams from the past that we reminisce about and cherish. But not this year.I imagine this email will be cast aside. So be it. I will not support the league, and sadly my beloved Indians, because of the league’s actions. I know there are others who feel the same way. Please, please just stick to baseball.
The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.
UPDATE: David Brooks, who says he strongly opposes the Georgia law, said today he is uncomfortable with big powerful corporations exercising political power. He’s right:
UPDATE.2: A reader this morning sends me the e-mail he sent to Major League Baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies:
Dear MLB and Phillies
I know no one will read this. I know my voice does not matter to you. I fell in love with baseball on October 21st 1980 when the Phillies beat the Royals in the World Series. I love baseball. Now you have decided to politicize the game. Baseball was always my escape from the trial and troubles of this world. Now its just one more politicized drag on the world with your recent decision to involve your self in politics (specifically a Georgia voter law). I will not be buying merchandise, tickets or anything else associated with MLB or the Phillies this year. Phillies baseball is something my father and I had in common. It was the one thing that held us together with our differing views on the world. That’s all gone now. I will not be taking my children to a Phillies game this year or buying them any merchandise. We will not be watching the All Star game this year, but you MLB will be safe and secure in your “politically correct” virtuousness. Stick to baseball only!
The elites of MLB really are ruining America’s pastime. I read since posting last night that the league was facing the possibility of a black players’ walkout if they didn’t do this. If that’s true, then politicized players are ruining the game. What a country we live in today… .
UPDATE.3: Apparently there was no threatened boycott by players. It was all corporate, according to ESPN reporter Howard Bryant:
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Cosmos & Chickadee
One of the Live Not By Lies themes I keep banging on is the importance of elites and elite networks in driving cultural revolution. From the book:
In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter.
Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed
networks and powerful institutions.”
This is why it is critically important to keep an eye on intellectual discourse. Those who do not will leave the gates unguarded. As the Polish dissident and émigré Czesław Miłosz put it, “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.”
Arendt warns that the twentieth-century totalitarian experience shows how a determined and skillful minority can come to rule over an indifferent and disengaged majority. In our time, most people regard the politically correct insanity of campus radicals as not worthy of attention. They mock them as “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”
This is a serious mistake. In radicalizing the broader class of elites, social justice warriors (SJWs) are playing a similar historic role to the Bolsheviks in prerevolutionary Russia. SJW ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice — as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy — functions as a pseudo-religion. Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, SJW ideals are transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.
Twenty years ago, what we now call gender ideology (encompassing transgenderism and all its variants) was confined mostly to the academic fringes. Now it has conquered American institutions, and if it were up to the Democratic Party and our Democratic president, would be written into civil rights law. After Obergefell, religious liberty litigators and activists assumed that it would be years before the trans battles were joined. In fact, it was mere months.
This is why I focus my fire on leading institutions, e.g. today’s post criticizing the wokeness of Duke Divinity School.They are the leading edge of decline-and-fall. They are the ones taking us over the cliff.
It is not enough to point out the bad Christian intellectual elites. Where are the good ones, the ones who can build a plausible future for Christianity?
Ross Douthat explores this in his new Substack essay, titled “The Cul-de-Sacs of the Christian Intellectual”. In the piece, Ross discusses the role of the Christian public intellectual in the present moment. Here he talks about the four people (including, improbably, me) in his list of four different responses to the challenges of our time:
In my casually-chosen list of influential public intellectuals from the last twenty years, I represented Christianity with Fr. James Martin, Rod Dreher, Charles Taylor, David Bentley Hart and Tim Keller. I picked Taylor because he’s the scholar who’s produced something closest to a conventional definition of an Important Work, 2007’s A Secular Age, and Keller because he’s the most mainstream embodiment of the Calvinist revival within evangelicalism. But I picked Hart, Dreher and Martin because their work — more popular in the latter two cases, more idiosyncratic in Hart’s case — seems especially responsive to the dilemmas that confront Christian thinkers right now, and the challenges facing Biblical religion amid the decadence of its stepchild, liberalism.
It’s flattering that Ross included me on that list with people who have actually been well-educated. I think it’s because for all my shortcomings, I managed to identify with some precision the most serious problem facing Christianity today, and to propose a way (the Benedict Option) of dealing with it. Father Martin and I could hardly be more opposite, but Ross did not choose any of us because he agrees with us, necessarily.
Ross says that the neoconservative Christian intellectual project — Neuhaus-Novak-Weigel-ism — is dead. What can we do now?
From this apparent cul-de-sac, what is to be done? Well, one possibility is to go back to the ideas that the neoconservatives rejected or critiqued. That’s arguably what you find, in different forms, in the recent work of Hart and Father Martin (with Pope Francis looming behind them as a spiritual inspiration): New attempts at moral or theological adaptation, new attempts to find common ground with liberalism or to embrace some of the commitments of the left. This is not, crucially, an adaptation to secularism and anti-supernaturalism; that road I think almost everyone concedes is the deadest of dead ends. Instead in Martin’s writings and ministry you see an attempt to stretch, expand or adapt the Christian tradition sufficiently so that much of the sexual revolution, with abortion as the major exception, can be encompassed and accepted: Maybe not always formally, with new dogmatic pronouncements to contradict the old ones, but at least in a de facto way, with a theology of welcome that resolves the tensions between the church and post-1960s sexual culture and enables Christianity to breathe and preach anew.
David Bentley Hart is attempting to saddle theological orthodoxy (more or less) to far-left economics, and apparently plans to insult the world into compliance. But what about responses from the Right? Ross:
But if you don’t follow the new adaptationists, then what are the other post-neoconservative possibilities? Here’s where Dreher is important, as the eloquent and prolific spokesman for the view that what Christians need is less a vision to transform a decadent society than a plan to survive the “long night” of tyranny and social-cultural breakdown waiting in its wings. This view reflects his fundamental pessimism about our cultural circumstances — you can read the two of us going back and forth about our differences in this conversation — and his sense that the West may be too far gone to be renewed without some intervening catastrophe or Change. That doesn’t mean he’s given up on renewal — his interests roll in all kinds of possibilities — but both The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies, his two major statements, are fundamentally arguments about communal resilience under pressure, informed by analogies to the Dark Ages and Communist persecution, respectively. So even if Christian communities seeking revitalization can draw important lessons from his work (including communities that don’t share his traditionalism in full), the Dreher vision generally assumes that a slow decline under decadent conditions is the best that Christians can hope for in the short run, and that our social order’s worst features are likely to deliver something grimmer and more oppressive soon, that to be defeated must be first survived.
There’s me, and there’s the Neo-Integralists:
Which, bristling with impatience with this pessimism, is where the various forms of post-liberal Christian thought come in. As I said in my last post, I think it will be a little while before we can decide on a central post-liberal influencer from the Patrick Deneen/Adrian Vermeule/Edmund Waldstein/Sohrab Ahmari list. But the tendency is certainly important right now, embodying both a rejection of any accommodation with liberalism and an impatience with any form of quietism or defeatism.
Can it really be the case, the post-liberals ask, that Christians facing the present age can only choose between accommodation and resilience-in-retreat? Isn’t the current form of liberalism obviously weakened, exhausted and beset with self-contradictions — and very, very far from being the all-conquering historical force implied by some of Dreher’s dramatic historical analogies? And of so, why should we regard the failure of Christian neoconservatism as proving something definitive about the impossibility of Christian witness, when maybe all it shows is that Christian witness fails if it yokes itself to Americanist pieties and the liberal/Christian convergence of 1955?
But with that said, the post-liberal project also feels like a tentative beginning, prone to dialectical confidence yet unformed as yet in various respects, and it’s easy enough to see how it could end up in its own cul-de-sacs. If it’s a fantasy for neoconservatives to imagine restoring the lost 1950s, after all, the idea of plugging Christian concepts from the 1880s or 1260s into the political landscape of the 2020s does not necessarily bring us closer to political realism. If it’s folly for liberal Christians to imagine reaching a permanent accommodation with socialism or secular progressivism or liberalism itself, the idea of simply defeating liberalism and remaking liberal culture through a top-down administrative coup does not necessarily answer the challenge by enlarging it. If naively embracing the sexual revolution is a dead end for Christianity, it’s not clear that new roads open immediately if we simply act as though it didn’t happen. If it’s a historical mistake to suggest that we can only have certain political liberties and socioeconomic goods under the rule of liberalism, it still remains to be explained what post-liberal Christians have learned about power and its corruptions from all the places in which the last Christendom went wrong.
Read the whole thing. There’s a lot more in the essay than I’ve mentioned here. And you should subscribe to Ross’s Substack, which is free. If you’ve missed bloggy Douthat, well, you pretty much get him back here.
Deneen and Ahmari are friends of mine, whom I greatly like and respect. But my main beef with the Neo-Integralists is that theirs is a project that is intellectually interesting, but can’t actually go anywhere until and unless Catholicism converts, and re-converts, millions more people. (Integralism is a political model that integrates the authorities of Church and State.) Leaving aside the fact that most Americans are not Catholics, in this country, relatively few Catholics recognize the Church’s binding authority on their consciences. In a 2019 Pew survey, only about one-third of US Catholics said they believe that the Eucharist actually becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at the consecration part of the mass. If you have only one in three Catholics who understand one of the most basic claims of Catholicism, you have a long, long way to go to convince American Catholics, much less the non-Catholic majority, to submit to the authority of the Pope in governance.
I should point out that Orthodox Integralism was how Russia was run until the Revolution, so there is a long history of it in my own religious tradition. According to The Josias, an intellectually stimulating integralist site Catholic Integralism can be defined simply, like this:
Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that, rejecting the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holds that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end, the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.
I am sympathetic to this in principle, especially the first sentence. But I see no way in our post-Christian situation to carry out the second and third sentences without some form of authoritarianism. My chief concern is what tying Church and State together would do to the Church. The Republic of Ireland was a more or less integralist Catholic democracy, but the cover-up of sex abuse by the institutional Church, and the complicity of the Irish state with it, has been a wholesale catastrophe for the Church. Anyway, I don’t see Neo-Integralism as being a serious option, barring a meaningful religious revival.
The Benedict Option’s aims are far more modest: to keep the Christian faith alive through the new Dark Age, with the hope of renewing our civilization in the future. Whether we are talking about a Christianized liberal democracy or some Neo-Integralist system, both would require a far more meaningfully Christian population than we have today. If you want to know what may be happening to the Christian churches today, read historian Edward J. Watts’s The Final Pagan Generation, which discusses Roman elites of the fourth century, when the Roman Empire was going Christian, though it was hard for elites to recognize how much trouble they were in.
The other day, I wrote about Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow Indians, who negotiated the transition for his tribe from their traditional way of life to life after the coming of the white man (read: modernity). I see in Plenty Coups’ story a possible hopeful way forward for us traditional Christians. What I did not appreciate was picked up by several of you readers: that a negative way to interpret Plenty Coups’ story is that he sold out the Crow way of life to hold on to their land. Reader Sam M. said it would be like surrendering to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism so we could keep our cathedrals.
To be fair to Plenty Coups, there really was no way for the Indians to hold on to their nomadic way of life, which depended on hunting and waging war with other tribes. We Christians don’t face a situation as drastic as that. We can hold on to our beliefs and rituals, though we can’t hold on to the normal way of living to which we have all become accustomed. A reader who is a Catholic priest sent in this smart comment:
I was struck by the Plenty Coups story. That the tribe would embrace his vision and then carry out the change are astonishing events–really all but unimaginable in audacity, scope, and sacrifice.The core question to my mind is the ultimate nature of that change and its relation to their cosmology (and hence the true nature of the change they underwent). For it’s one thing to shift from a particular pattern (Crow) to another (Chickadee) within a given cosmos–as rare and difficult as such a change would be, the cosmos remains the same despite the extreme dislocation experienced. It is, however, an entirely different matter to abandon one cosmos for another, because then a person really does becomes a stranger in a strange universe.At some point Plenty Coups himself, if not the tribe, moved from changing patterns to changing cosmos by becoming Christian. I’d be particularly interested in that latter move on the human and theological level to see how it took place and how the old cosmos was understood afterward.As for our situation, his story is ambiguous or breaks down as a parallel precisely because as Christians we can change patterns, but not cosmology. And that is where the real fight is shaping up.If we are asked to adapt to living as a marginalized group within a secularized culture, that can be done. If asked to adopt a secular cosmology, we can’t.One reading of the present moment is that Western liberal secularism is struggling between a pragmatic form (and hence willing to leave ultimate questions of meaning open to interpretation, including religious interpretation) and an ideological form (and hence absolutely rejecting religion and claims of objective purpose as enemies of humanity).The thing is, ideological secularism denies any relation of creation and humanity to God. Once that happens, questions of meaning have no answer outside individual or perhaps a culturally imposed narratives. If either becomes the Creed, Christians can only follow the pattern of the martyrs. If instead pragmatic secularism reigns, any number of patterns may be available.An urgent question for Christians is whether we think the basic structures of sexual differentiation, marriage, procreation, and family are fundamentally part of a cosmology or simply a set of customs to be adapted as cultural circumstances require. [Emphasis mine — RD]For some Christians setting those structures aside is like shifting from Crow to Chickadee. For others it is a shift from an old cosmos to a new one, and thus from an old religion to a new one.Of course, there is no new religion, so if the issues are cosmological, we can’t adapt to ideological secularism and remain authentic Christians. It is the old problem of syncretism which so troubled Israel and has ever haunted the Church.Whatever one thinks is the right path forward, those who believe the way to deal with these issues is a matter of becoming chickadees already live in a different cosmos than those who think the issues are cosmological. I think that is ultimately an unbridgeable divide. If so, the schism or apostasy is already upon us.
The magnitude of the defeat suffered by moral traditionalists will become ever clearer as older Americans pass from the scene. Poll after poll shows that for the young, homosexuality is normal and gay marriage is no big deal—except, of course, if one opposes it, in which case one has the approximate moral status of a segregationist in the late 1960s.
All this is, in fact, a much bigger deal than most people on both sides realize, and for a reason that eludes even ardent opponents of gay rights. Back in 1993, a cover story in The Nation identified the gay-rights cause as the summit and keystone of the culture war:
All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever.
They were right, and though the word “cosmology” may strike readers as philosophically grandiose, its use now appears downright prophetic. The struggle for the rights of “a small and despised sexual minority” would not have succeeded if the old Christian cosmology had held: put bluntly, the gay-rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.
Same-sex marriage strikes the decisive blow against the old order. The Nation’s triumphalist rhetoric from two decades ago is not overripe; the radicals appreciated what was at stake far better than did many—especially bourgeois apologists for same-sex marriage as a conservative phenomenon. Gay marriage will indeed change America forever, in ways that are only now becoming visible. For better or for worse, it will make ours a far less Christian culture. It already is doing exactly that.
Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.
It also remains to be seen whether we can keep Christianity without accepting Christian chastity. Sociologist Christian Smith’s research on what he has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism”—the feelgood, pseudo-Christianity that has supplanted the normative version of the faith in contemporary America—suggests that the task will be extremely difficult.
Conservative Christians have lost the fight over gay marriage and, as we have seen, did so decades before anyone even thought same-sex marriage was a possibility. Gay-marriage proponents succeeded so quickly because they showed the public that what they were fighting for was consonant with what most post-1960s Americans already believed about the meaning of sex and marriage. The question Western Christians face now is whether or not they are going to lose Christianity altogether in this new dispensation.
Too many of them think that same-sex marriage is merely a question of sexual ethics. They fail to see that gay marriage, and the concomitant collapse of marriage among poor and working-class heterosexuals, makes perfect sense given the autonomous individualism sacralized by modernity and embraced by contemporary culture—indeed, by many who call themselves Christians. They don’t grasp that Christianity, properly understood, is not a moralistic therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism—a common response among American Christians, one denounced by Rieff in 2005 as “simply pathetic”—but is radically opposed to the cultural order (or disorder) that reigns today.
They are fighting the culture war moralistically, not cosmologically. They have not only lost the culture, but unless they understand the nature of the fight and change their strategy to fight cosmologically, within a few generations they may also lose their religion.
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The Right We Need
I have really smart readers. One of them — a conservative embedded in the Deep State — writes:
I just wanted to offer up the following observations from Douthat’s column as far as what the future is likely to hold. Douthat writes:
Yes, conservatives have Fox News and talk radio, the Republican Party has its business-class support and Trump had Michael Flynn and the MyPillow C.E.O. and Jerry Falwell Jr. But our generals are mostly allergic to politics and the military’s most recent political intervention was a counterstrike against a critique from Tucker Carlson. Our corporations dislike socialism but their main strategy for keeping it at bay is to go all in on cultural-left politics. Our churches are fractured, scandal-ridden and declining. Our aristocracy — sorry, meritocracy — is divided between hand-wringing liberals and militant progressives. And our conservative party isn’t eager to tear our constitution up and start anew: Instead it’s hyper-constitutionalist, because its current share of power depends on some of the Constitution’s most antique instruments.
… Under Weimar’s conditions, the right’s radicalization threatened, and eventually delivered, the outright destruction of German liberalism and the German left. (And then much, much more destruction beyond that.)
But under contemporary American conditions, further right-wing radicalization seem more likely to be a suicide weapon — a way for a weakened movement to instigate a period of crisis, maybe, but one that would probably only hasten its marginalization and defeat.
This is something that needs to be understood regarding a right-wing backlash and any discussion of Weimar America. Much of the security state is itching to go after a right-wing domestic terrorist threat and the most likely outcome of any right-wing action would not be Weimar Germany but rather a repeat of 6 January to the enthusiastic clapping of our social betters in the press and on social media.
I think this is very much on-point and something that cultural conservatives really need to internalize as fusionism continues to circle the drain as they consider the political future.
The backlash against wokeness from the right is definitely coming, but it isn’t going to resemble anything like 1930s Germany because the left controls the high and the low ground through its cultural power, particularly the controlling interest over the credentialing organs that determine who gets credentialed for participation into our non-hereditary aristocracy. The key test for whether or not the right is actually prepared to internalize the hard lesson of how weak their hand is and learn for it is going to be an important one, especially since it will determine whether or not more Trump-style grifting and blood and soil win out over the saner models.
As Douthat notes, the entire woke capital phenomenon is a cynical cost-benefit calculation by big business to concede on all cultural issues to the left in return for immunity on all economic issues. If the right wants to change that dynamic then it has to be prepared to inflict economic costs on big business, including antitrust action, regulation, support for big labor, ending tax breaks, and a whole host of issues. This is a complete anathema to the fusionist, business, and donor class of the party but if implemented it would be highly effective. If conservatives are actually concerned about wokeness in the military and its detrimental impact then the solution is not to wring hands over it but to identify the general officers and senior civilians who are pushing it and to stop confirming them through Congress to send a clear message that general officers are not owed a promotion.
Again, these solutions are not difficult or even impossible, but so far as I can determine they have never been attempted because the leadership class of the GOP is so captive to the donor, think tank, and activist classes on these issues.
One of the main problems that now exists is not that you don’t have a lot of people who are concerned and looking to take action — you do — but that their only conception of how to do so basically amounts to “voting Republican,” which serves to either empower the existing leadership class that holds them in contempt as rubes or Trump-style grifters who see them as suckers. Hawley, who was a big hope in intellectual circles as a thinking man’s populist has likely been discredited in the near-term by the events of 6 January and his Pyrrhic quest to gain access to Trump’s fanbase, leaving Tucker Carlson as one of the few voices who is willing to challenge the status quo.
I actually think that Trump shattering the existing GOP power structures and showing the leadership and donor class for the ineffectual empty suits who were happy to grovel at his feet was a good thing. He just decided to throw it all away by embracing first COVID denialism and then election conspiracy theories. My assumption for a long time has been that the decaying state of the right was a vacuum that is going to be filled sooner or later, it is just a matter of what ends up emerging, just as the far-right has emerged in Europe due to the decline of the “respectable” conservative parties.
Interesting observations. I share this reader’s deep doubts about the Right, given the inability of either the leadership class or the vast followership class to get beyond obsession with Trump, whose resistance was entirely performative — meaning that he made a big show of fighting, but didn’t actually accomplish a lot, because he was so undisciplined. The MyPillow dude is now claiming that Trump will be re-installed in the White House in August. These are ridiculous people, and the longer conservatives listen to them, the harder it is going to be to build effective resistance to the Left.
I hope that J.D. Vance’s likely US Senate bid in 2022 becomes an opportunity to test this reader’s thesis. I hope J.D. runs against woke capital from the Right. You might recall that back in 2016, when Hillbilly Elegy came out, he he was openly supportive of Trumpist themes, but said Trump was the wrong person to get things done (in the sense that he didn’t have what it took to follow through). He was right about that, as we now know. He seems to be positioning himself as a populist who takes it seriously.
To sum up the reader’s critique, voting Republican is not enough. Conservatives, in his view, have to vote for Republicans who are willing to take on Woke Capital and other left-captured institutions, even the US military — and not just take them on symbolically, but really make them pay a price.
I see this morning that Woke Capital is lining up against the state of Georgia over its new voting law. At least one prominent Georgia Republican gets what’s happening:
‘Live Not By Lies’ News
What are you doing today at 1pm Eastern? I’d like to invite you to join the online seminar sponsored by the Victims Of Communism Memorial Foundation, in which the scholar Flagg Taylor and I will be discussing Live Not By Lies, and the meaning of the European dissident movement generally. Flagg is close to the Benda family, whom I’ve celebrated in two books now, and is the editor of The Long Night of the Watchman, the English language edition of the late Vaclav Benda’s essays. It’s free to watch it online, but you need to register here.
I’m happy to report that last week, we crossed the 100,000 threshold in the numbers of Live Not By Lies copies sold. Thank you all so much for your support. This book has sold so well — better than any of my previous books by far — without coverage in the mainstream media. It is moving primarily by word of mouth. I keep hearing from people that they encountered the book, realized how true and how urgently important its message was, and told everybody they know that they need to get this book. The best advocate for Live Not By Lies has been the news cycle, as it becomes impossible for people to deny the advance of soft totalitarianism.
But some still are. Yesterday I had two separate conversations with Evangelical friends who report running into a wall of denial in their respective churches. One is dealing with his own congregation, and the other is dealing with a broader church body, but both report that too many people are still wanting to believe that everything is normal, and will work out fine if we just sit still and wait. One of my friends said church leaders he’s talking to want to avoid talking about any of this, because it feels too controversial. Fear of controversy is going to be fatal for traditional Christians. The wolves really are at the door.
In the book, I talk about how Slovak Catholic bishops chastised Father Tomislav Kolakovic, and told him to stop alarming the laity in the 1943-46 period, with his talk about how the Communists were going to take power in that country, and persecute the Church. It can’t happen here, they said. Thankfully, Father Kolakovic did not listen to them, and continued his work building the rudiments of an underground church. When the Iron Curtain fell over Czechoslovakia, and the persecution began, some Slovak Catholics were ready for it because they listened to Father Kolakovic, and not the don’t worry, be happy bromides of their bishops.
So it is with us.
I have other news. I wanted to pass along an exciting update, and an invitation to get involved.
I have just partnered with like-minded film producers based in Los Angeles to develop video content and a documentary project inspired by Live Not By Lies. The book has struck a resonant chord with Christians and others who recognize that some form of left-wing totalitarianism — that is, an ideological attempt to impose conformity on the population, and to suppress, even persecute, dissenters, especially religious ones — is emerging now. We want to make a documentary about the experiences of the dissidents I feature in the book, and others. We want to let them tell their stories, to issue their warnings to the West, and to share their advice for how to prepare. But we want it to be much broader than just a movie.
This spring we will launch Phase One of the content campaign, which involves the creation of an online community of people who have lived under totalitarian regimes around the world. We will be building out this online presence with unique videos, interviews, Q&As, and live streamed events featuring me and other significant cultural voices on the subject of soft totalitarianism, free speech, and invasive technologies.
Concurrently, Phase Two will involve the development of a feature-length documentary film, further exploring the themes and storylines found in the book with a specific additional focus on things like the Christian church in contemporary China and its sphere of influence. In Live Not By Lies, I limited my focus to the churches of the Soviet bloc, because that is where my experience and contacts were. Of course there is a wealth of testimonies from Christians and other anti-communist dissidents from China and other Asian nations, and also from Cuba and now, Venezuela. We want to empower those voices to warn the contemporary West, and the Western churches. In fact, it might even be more important to hear from Chinese Christians, because they are having to live through a persecution aided by modern surveillance technology. What we are going to be dealing with in America is in some ways more like what Chinese Christians and other anti-communist dissidents are dealing with than what the Soviet-bloc believers did.
If you have any interest in participating in these efforts, please reach out and the producers will be in touch about the details: livenotbyliesproject – at – gmail.com.
Again, I thank you all for your interest and support. I deeply believe in the importance of this work, and in its urgency. If you are able to help get the message out, please join us.
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Which God Is Served At Duke Divinity?
The sentiments Dr. Freeman shared in that tweet are not unusual for Duke Divinity professors. With Dean Greg Jones, a moderate Methodist, leaving this summer, and the famous incident concerning the Catholic professor at Duke [I wrote about that case here and here — RD], there has been a growing intolerance at Duke, a school which once prided itself on being moderate when compared to Yale or Harvard, while still being a great school.Curtis’ tweet is symptomatic of the culture at Duke, among faculty and students. Kendi and other racial theorists are now fairly common on syllabi. [Deleted a sentence because it made a specific comment about a professor based on hearsay. — RD] It is also common to read and hear things (from professors) like: “Jesus was queer,” “Jesus is non-binary,” as well as statements that amount to: “if you think homosexuality is wrong, then you hate homosexuals and are a bigot.” Further, many professors, most notably the emerita professor, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, are huge Foucault fans, which is problematic on many levels.It all boils down to this: white people are evil, destined for evil; if you are a conservative you can go rot in hell, even though we don’t believe in hell. I know I sound ridiculous, especially with the first statement; however, I am telling the truth. This is the messaging at its most basic level.Another popular book to read for classes at Duke includes “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristen Kobes Du Mez, a professor at Calvin, who decries the evangelical movement (and really religious conservatives in general) with nearly no citations. Has Duke had its issues in the past? Certainly! (This can be seen in particular with its treatment of Willie Jennings who made a turn to the radical after pretty bad mistreatment at the school; he is now writing loony things at Yale.) However, Duke is turning into Yale and Harvard. It has been slower, but it is coming. My message to future divinity school students, whatever their denominational leanings: do not go to Duke anymore.For many years, Duke Divinity was the school of Hauerwas, Richard Hays, EP Sanders and many other fabulous theologians who literally changed the world of New Testament, even I would argue for Catholics and Orthodox. Now we have people like Curtis Freeman, Valerie Cooper, and transgender activist Robyn Henderson-Espinoza who routinely say in class sentiments similar to Dr. Freeman’s tweets. They hate evangelicals. They hate religious conservatives. I promise you, Mr. Dreher, they will sell their brothers and sisters to the consumer state.I have many friends at Duke who have been ostracized and criticized for being traditional Christians, whether they be Methodists or Catholics. At Duke the goal is no longer to form the next EP Sanders, the next Richard Hays, or the next Hauerwas. The goal is to destroy evangelicals and anyone who stands in the way of the BLM/LGBTQIA religion. If you need more stories or evidence, I have them. Just let me know.
UPDATE: A reader comments:
About 10 years ago I graduated from an ostensibly Evangelical undergraduate college with a thoroughly woke religion and philosophy faculty. That college was a feeder for Duke Divinity, since a sizable percentage of those woke profs came from Duke. The liberal view coming from Duke absolutely steamrolled the sincere Evangelicalism of my cohort of undergrads, including myself for a time. As Dreher notes, the rhetoric traded heavily on demonizing conservatives as pitiably ignorant at best and white supremacist, misogynistic bigots against whom violence could be justified in extreme cases at worst. Two quick observations and a recommendation from someone, as it were, who was once on the inside:
1) Many of my cohort who ended up at Duke were already or have since become LGBTQ. The LGBTQ movement was seen exclusively under the lens of liberation from conservative oppression. These kids—not always without reason—hated something about their parents, or home church, or a politically indifferent America that had failed them. Changing their sexual expression was one way to confirm to themselves and the world at large that the “already” aspect of the liberatory “not-yet” kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Consistent again with Dreher above, this is seeing faith as therapy. Divinity school is the next logical step in the therapeutic journey.
2) The enchanting power of Duke’s woke rhetoric came from the fact that it captured a very real spirit of malaise and anger while simultaneously monopolizing the discourse. That is, it’s a foregone conclusion that there has never been and could never be any competing intelligent conservative voice to address very real political or ecclesial problems. The intelligent voices from the Church’s past—Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, etc.—we were told, had either been co-opted by evil white males in order to justify Western oppression, or were themselves evil white males looking to oppress (Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, on the other hand, are venerated as anti-patriarchy feminists).
So, here is a recommendation: Duke-style rhetoric was extremely effective at destroying my cohort’s childhood formations in sincere Evangelical churches and homes because it captured our spirit of disgust at the untrustworthy and apathetic institutions (family, church, nation) to which we were desperately trying to reconcile ourselves. Woke theology prophetically promised us liberation if we dedicated ourselves to the wholesale destruction of the conservative order. Yet, my later conversion to Catholicism largely happened because I discovered another narrative in the “rebellious” aspect of traditional aesthetics and morality viz. soulless modernity. So, my heartfelt recommendation as an insider Millennial around the age of 30 and former woke Christian acolyte, is that conservatives build a counternarrative to the one of woke liberation, one capable of being equally compelling to the rage-against-the-machine-mindset so common in my generation.
UPDATE.2: I see that I’m getting trashed on Twitter for criticizing this seminarian, though I don’t do it by name (I don’t even know her name). This is par for the course regarding progressive rhetorical gamesmanship. They get to say whatever horrible, slimy thing they want about conservatives or traditionalists, but if we react to it, it’s all how dare you attack a victim like that, you monster?!
Sorry, that doesn’t work on me. But I do want to emphasize that I highlighted this troubled young seminarian’s posts not so much to draw attention to her, but to draw attention to the fact that this is the kind of student that Duke Divinity School deems worthy of accepting to prepare for church ministry. This says more about Duke Divinity School and its pathologies than it does about this young woman.
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Trans Girls & Techno-Utopia
Please take six minutes and watch this Prager U presentation by Abigail Shrier on Prager U, explaining the core thesis of her controversial bestseller Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters:
This might be the most important six minutes of your day. I’m serious. Last night, a Massachusetts friend told me that he had been helping a homeschooling Catholic family whose teenage daughter announced that she is trans. How did the mind virus get to her? Through the smartphone her parents gave her so she could stay in touch with them on trips with her sports team.
If you have more time, listen to Shrier’s 90-minute podcast interview with Jordan Peterson. I know all this information already, because I’ve been following her, but it never fails to shock. It’s like a science fiction movie. To be clear, Shrier says she is not anti-trans; she says she has no problem at all with adults who have transitioned after making an informed choice. It’s the way the trans phenomenon expresses itself among adolescent and teenage girls that concerns her. She said it has every indication of being a social phenomenon propelled by teen and adolescent female psychology (the same thing that causes rashes of cutting, anorexia, and other self-harm among girls that age), and that it is encouraged by activists, media, and the medical industry. The damage that these kids do to their bodies is, well, irreversible. It is beyond crazy that we allow children and minors to make these permanent life-altering decisions. Shrier points out that in Oregon, the medical age of consent is 15. That means your daughter can have her breasts removed and get on testosterone without your consent, even though she cannot legally buy a wine cooler.
Peterson tries to burrow down to the core philosophical concept behind the trans phenomenon, and trans activism. I was driving when I heard this discussion, so I can’t remember whether this is what Shrier and Peterson said, or my own opinion. I think it is all about the satanic false promise in the Garden of Eden ye shall be as gods. We want to be self-created. We want to make the natural world capitulate to our wills. We not only want it to, we demand that it do so. We think this will make us happy. It never has, though; it’s contrary to our nature. We will be in for a great re-learning, but not for some time yet.
You will not hear this perspective in our media. You need to hear it, though, especially if you have daughters. You really do. I heard today from two different well-informed friends involved in their (conservative) churches, who are trying to head off their churches surrendering to Ibram X. Kendi Thought, and who get nothing but blank stares and shrugs when they try to wake their fellow congregants up. Nobody wants to hear it. Everybody wants to go along, pretending everything is going to be okay, because woke craziness can’t happen to them.
I often feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but then I’ll realize how relatively few people understand what is being done to this country by bad actors who hold the cultural and institutional high ground, so I keep on.
Yesterday I heard a great podcast by Jonathan Pageau, who interviewed Neil DeGraide, half of the pop duo Dirt Poor Robins. They break down four songs from the DPR concept album Deadhorse, which is about a world in which humanity has freed itself from all natural limits, but made itself miserable, and a stranger to itself. The subject of transgenderism doesn’t come up, but it’s hard not to think about it when DeGraide discusses how technology has abstracted us from each other and from the natural world, such that we think that achieving a state of frictionless pleasure is not only possible, but our sovereign right. The Dirt Poor Robins have this gorgeous, terrifying song, “No Land Beyond,” about the cost of losing a sense of transcendence, and losing the ability to read patterns in the natural world that connect us to reality. I love these lines:
If you don’t know
Why the bell tolls
You’ll only hear the chimes
If you don’t know of
The language spoken
You’ll only hear the rhymes
More powerful lines:
My kingdom come
My will be done
All trials shunned
I must be loved by everyone
I know if I wasn’t so terrified
I might see the light
Not as a flame or end of life
For us there was no land
No land beyond the edges of our outstretched hands
Can we beggars understand
More than our appetite demands?
Below is the video for the whole song (and this is a link to the entire Deadhorse concept album in one long YouTube video). These poor girls of whom Abigail Shrier speaks and writes are victims of a dystopian world of unreality. Their bodies and their lives are collateral damage of our techno-utopian hubris.
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Ruining Music To Accommodate Trans Insanity
While we can perhaps generalize by saying that a singer who undergoes testosterone-dominant puberty during adolescence will have a relatively larger larynx, vocal tract, and vocal folds, we have to also understand that every voice is different regardless of gender identity. No two cis women have the same size and shape vocal tract (not to mention resonance chambers!). We cannot dissect our students to look at and measure the physical differences between their larynges, but we know this to be true on some level. And so why do we continue to treat their voices as if they must line up on two sides of the spectrum in terms of gender? I may have come to this philosophy through a lens of inclusivity and safety for myself and my gender nonconforming students, but what of my cisgender students whose voices don’t fit the perceived norm? How many singers who identify as cisgender have developed inferiority complexes when they discover something “different” about their own instruments? When we talk about timbre in terms of what is to be desired or expected, we aren’t necessarily talking about vocal science, rather we are often talking about aesthetics. Rather than equating aesthetics with fact, wouldn’t our field be so much richer if we could teach the voice in front of us to sing with efficiency and comfort, and to explore the colors available to them as they relate to the styles THEY want to sing? Many of us who are teachers have experienced some form of gatekeeping in relation to our own journeys as students. Why would we want to place similar gates in the paths of our students?
While many strict categorical notions of the voice come from the western classical tradition, those of us who work in the diverse field of popular musics often receive our training either in classical programs or from teachers who began there. This issue of academia and training is perhaps another conversation entirely, but suffice it to say, the roots of white supremacy and cisnormativity run DEEP not only in our society, but also in our field! If we want to combat elitism in the music community and fully explore the diversity of styles available to us today, we must also re-examine the role of gender in upholding an outdated (and frankly, inaccurate) notion of how we view the human voice.
Who are you to tell that baritone with boobs that “she” can’t sing the soprano part? Bigot!
This is not just a random kook’s opinion. The reader who sent that to me said these conversations have been going on in music for at least five years. Here, for example, is a link to a piece on transgender choral students from Choral Journal, a journal of the field. Excerpt:
As the gender landscape in the United States becomes more complex, choral teachers may find it necessary to reconsider the structure and/or names of their choral ensembles. Will a “women’s choir” at the high school level serve the needs of all women—including trans women who sing in the lower octave? Will a “men’s choir” be inclusive of trans men who formerly sang soprano—or still wish to? Sara and Jon both sang in high school co-ed ensembles in which they transitioned quite easily. Skyler (who identifies as a-gender and uses they/them/their pronouns)began in a single-gender ensemble then moved into two co-ed choirs. Skyler was unsure about how they would feel about singing in a single-gender ensemble now that they have disclosed their non-binary identity. They said, “Sometimes I’m a little unsure about being in groups that are specifically labeled for a gender.” There are no easy answers. Choral educators should learn as much as they can about gender and how it influences their choral philosophy and pedagogy. If they discover incongruence, perhaps a change in program structure (or simply an ensemble name change) is called for.
Yes, in fact, there are easy answers: stick with what works. You cannot refute the reality of sound by insisting that reality fit into your imaginative construct, for the sake of creating a fake social harmony that doesn’t exist. This is madness. Progressives are behaving like Charles Foster Kane, pushing his wife Susan to perform in opera though she can’t sing it, because he thought he could, by force of will, bend reality to his desires.
These progressives are going to ruin music for the sake of Social Justice™. They refuse to see the world as it is. When will this stop? When will people tell the Emperor that he can’t sing soprano?
It’s going to happen sooner or later. But not before a lot of insanity, and a lot of destruction.
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Crybullies Sue Christian Colleges
A professor of law sent this Washington Post story to me, with the comment:
A suit to “Bob Jones” Christian schools—take away their tax exempt status for discriminating against LGBTQ students, just like what happened to Bob Jones U when it used to ban interracial dating. There are some technical legal problems (regarding standing to sue) for the private plaintiffs, but one wonders how much the Biden administration will resist.
What does the Post story say? Excerpts:
The three are among 33 current and past students at federally funded Christian colleges and universities cited in a federal lawsuit filed Monday against the U.S. Department of Education. The suit says the religious exemption the schools are given that allow them to have discriminatory policies is unconstitutional because they receive government funding. The class-action suit, filed by the nonprofit Religious Exemption Accountability Project, references 25 schools across the country.
“The Plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression, fueled by government funding, and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul,” reads the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon. “The Department’s inaction leaves students unprotected from the harms of conversion therapy, expulsion, denial of housing and healthcare, sexual and physical abuse and harassment, as well as the less visible, but no less damaging, consequences of institutionalized shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness.”
So they chose to go to these Christian schools, but are now trying to break the Christian schools to their will. More:
The suit injects dozens of personal experiences into a debate about religious liberty and LGBTQ rights that’s often been more legalistic. It seeks to put individual faces and names on an aspect of Equality Act debate that doesn’t get much attention — students at conservative Christian schools.
It cites a gay ICU nurse who said he was admitted to a graduate nursing program, sold his car, left his old job and was days away from starting school when he was allegedly told his admission was rescinded because he is engaged to a man. “A grown man with a successful career, loving family and fiancé, [he] went into his closet, curled up in a ball and cried,” the suit says. It cites a queer student who recalls being regularly called slurs on a Christian school’s campus and is afraid to walk at night alone. According to the suit, that person is often subject to disciplinary action for wearing feminine-style clothing. Another said he was fired as a resident assistant and then kicked out of school for being openly bisexual.
Why on earth would you intentionally go to a conservative Christian university, one whose policies towards gay sexuality were clear, then curl up in a ball and cry when the school acts on the basis of its clearly stated policies? Nobody should be called slurs on a campus, Christian or not, but why is that a matter for federal court? And if a school wants to kick men out for wearing women’s clothes, why shouldn’t they have that right? What these plaintiffs are trying to do is to compel every school in this country to conform, even at the cost of their consciences.
From the REAP website, here’s a profile of one of the plantiffs:
Hayden Brown lives in York, NE. He identifies as a queer demiboy and is majoring in English Education with an emphasis in reading instruction.
Hayden studies at York College. They came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community the summer after their freshman year to their parents, who forced him into therapy designed to push Hayden toward changing their identity. School officials have attempted to interfere with her education, including by asking her to withdraw from a study abroad program in Vienna, Austria because of her sexual orientation, and by telling her to change her clothes when she wears high heels or dresses.
So York College has to have all federal funding taken away because queer demiboy wants to wear dresses to class, and his Christian school says no, you can’t do it. Great. This is what the Left fights for now.
From the profile of plaintiff Jake Picker, whose photo is at the top of this item:
Jake Picker lives in Waco, TX. He identifies as queer.
He attends Baylor University as a pre-med student and expects to graduate in May 2021 with a degree in Biology and Biochemistry. Baylor has several official anti-LGBTQ+ student policies, including stating, “Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior.” This policy and others like it result in Jake feeling unsafe and unprotected at school.
So he can’t even name a single harm he suffered! He just feels “unsafe and unprotected.” Religious liberty should be taken from Baylor because this queer crybully chose to attend a Baptist university whose policies were perfectly clear before he filed his application, and because Christian teaching hurts his feelings. It’s infuriating.
These plaintiffs are not victims. They are crybullies. What they seek in this lawsuit is the end of exemptions to Title IX for religious schools. What this would mean is that religious schools would either have to change their policies on LGBT, or lose all federal funding. The crybullies and the progressives will not stop until they have crushed dissenting Christians.
The thing about the famous 1982 Bob Jones case is that SCOTUS held that the IRS can remove the tax-exempt status of a religious school because “[g]overnment has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education . . . which substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.” I’d like to hear the opinions of lawyers in this blog’s readership, but it seems to me that the Biden administration could simply announce a policy change at the IRS, and tax exemption for religious colleges and universities that discriminate against LGBTs would disappear.
Understand, though, that the Bob Jones case involved federal tax exemption, but the federal LGBT lawsuit would be even broader, taking away all federal funding from non-compliant schools.
It’s not enough that LGBT folks have nearly every university in the country. They’re going to smash the few Christians holdouts. Love wins through hatred.
UPDATE: A reader who is a professor writes:
Just read your blog on the assault on Christian colleges that received federal funding. In the profile of Hayden Brown that you cited from REAP’s website, I noticed something that caught my attention: the shift from masculine singular pronouns, to neutral plural pronouns, to feminine singular pronouns.Visiting the REAP site, I confirmed that Brown’s profile was the first example of what I suspected would be the next trend in the pronoun wars. I have long wondered why, in citing preferred pronouns in email signatures and other places, people insist on citing 3 of them. In other words, why bother saying your pronouns are “he/him/his”? Wouldn’t it simply suffice to say “Pronouns: Masculine” or, even easier “He”? Wouldn’t the “him” and the “his” logically extend from the “he”?My working hypothesis as a rhetorician (confirmed “in the wild” for the first time today), was that all 3 pronouns were necessary because eventually we would see a series of preferred pronouns that don’t match in terms of gender or number. You didn’t quote Mr. Brown’s (Ms.?) preferred pronouns in your blog, but the REAP site clarifies that they are “he/they/she”. In effect, Brown wants people to use masculine singular AND neutral plural AND feminine singular pronouns when referring to him/they/her. Nothing new under the sun, though, right? We already have 109 pronouns.Well, here’s the problem. I assume that as a “queer demiboy” Brown is arguing that one can use any pronoun to refer to him/they/her. Fair enough. But what if someone makes a “mistake”? What if, instead of varying the pronouns to affirm Brown’s multifaceted identity, a speaker uses all singular feminine? Or what if a person uses plural neutral pronouns AND masculine singular, but forgets to use feminine singular, thereby refusing to acknowledge the feminine dimensions of Brown’s unique personhood?My point here is simply this: one of the major arguments in favor of compelling people to comply with preferred pronouns is that to do so “Isn’t that difficult”. And maybe it ISN’T that difficult…when the pronouns that are “preferred” conform to linguistic norms that insist upon a uniformity in terms of gender and number. But in Brown’s case, we see where this is leading us: a set of conditions that actually breaks down the rules regarding gender and number in English usage. Leave aside whether such linguistic reforms are a good thing or a bad thing — one thing that they certainly do is make adhering the new guidelines very difficult for those who have internalized the rules of traditional usage. And since ANY failure or refusal to comply with one’s preferences regarding pronouns is now de facto evidence of an actionable attack on one’s being, it is pretty clear that we are right that the easy-breezy pronoun shift seems to be something of a trojan horse.Just thought you would find this informative. Glad I finally found proof for my hypothesis.
Practicalities within the present situation aside, the notion that receipt of any Federal subsidy – and ‘subsidy’ is construed very broadly in law, and even more so in the economic and policy literature – should subject one to the micromanagement of the authorities is pernicious and authoritarian. It would set no limit to state authority, and obviate the purpose of constitutional and limited government. It would entail the negation of any notion of rights, and reinstate a totalizing form of vassalage as the de facto norm of social relationships. There’s not a damn’s worth of difference between “Some of your students get Federal loans, or you got a grant from the Feds, therefore the Feds will dictate your doctrinal and behavioral norms” and “You got a child tax credit, therefore the Feds will dictate what you can and can’t teach your children about X.”
Not a damn’s worth of difference. And the gauleiters of the wokereich know this, and that is why they are doing this, trying to establish a precedent that will expand by the year.
It’s like the old saw about the clause in the Soviet Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion: you have freedom of religion…. between your ears.
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Who Is The Plenty Coups Of The Christians?
Tara Isabella Burton, author of “Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World,” attributes the national decline in religious affiliation to two major trends among younger Americans. First, she points to broader shifts suggesting a larger distrust of institutions, including police and pharmaceutical companies. Some Americans are disillusioned by the behavior of religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and the strong White evangelical alignment with former president Donald Trump.
The other major trend Burton describes is how people are mixing and matching from various religious traditions to create their own. Many people who don’t identify with a particular religious institution still say they believe in God, pray or do things that tend to be associated with faith.
“Why shouldn’t I pray or meditate or attend a liturgy, or perhaps I feel closer to the divine when I can do something privately rather than something that’s prescribed for me,” she said. “It’s my own spin on it.”
Younger generations that grew up with the Internet have a different kind of relationship with information, texts and hierarchy, Burton said.
“Existing trends in American religious life were exacerbated by generations that grew up in Internet culture that celebrates ownership — the idea that you can re-create a meme or narrative,” she said. “You have ownership over curating your own experience.”
That makes perfect sense, but this is still terrible news for Christianity (and other forms of revealed religion). Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions proclaim that their teachings are objectively true. This new spirituality holds the choosing individual as the ultimate arbiter of truth. What the choosers are doing is worshiping themselves. In most respects, we are no better off with a “spiritual but not religious” people, because the revealed truth will be lost in one or more generations. The only advantage I can see is that the young who give themselves over to this cafeteria spirituality are at least not denying the reality of the numinous and the transcendent, as atheists do. That is a starting place for true conversion.
Shadi Hamid notes the danger, saying that Trumpism/QAnon on the Right and wokeness on the Left have become pseudo-religions for people:
“The vacuum [of religion] can’t just remain a vacuum,” Hamid said. “Americans are believers in some sense, and there has to be structures of belief and belonging. The question is, what takes the place of that religious affiliation?”
Hate to remind you, but in the early 20th century, Communism and Nazism moved into the place created by exhausted Christianity. These political ideologies were pseudo-religions. Among a number of young American Christians, the pseudo-religion of wokeness is parasitically conquering Christian structures and language, because even though it is counter-Christian in some key ways, it provides a more vigorous experience of moral rectitude and purpose.
Anyway, the new Gallup data are just one more sign that we are in a post-Christian nation. My book The Benedict Option came out four years ago this month. A lot of Christians said it was too pessimistic, even alarmist. I wonder how these words from the first chapter look now, in light of all that has happened since then, and in light of the new Gallup findings:
The advance of gay civil rights, along with a reversal of religious liberties for believers who do not accept the LGBT agenda, had been slowly but steadily happening for years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage was the Waterloo of religious conservatism. It was the moment that the Sexual Revolution triumphed decisively, and the culture war, as we have known it since the 1960s, came to an end. In the wake of Obergefell, Christian beliefs about the sexual complementarity of marriage are considered to be abominable prejudice—and in a growing number of cases, punishable. The public square has been lost.
Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either. So what if those around us don’t share our morality? We can still retain our faith and teaching within the walls of our churches, we may think, but that’s placing unwarranted confidence in the health of our religious institutions. The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”
Don’t be fooled by the large number of churches you see today. Unprecedented numbers of young adult Americans say they have no religious affiliation at all. According to the Pew Research Center, one in three 18-to-29-year-olds have put religion aside, if they ever picked it up in the first place.2 If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty.
Even more troubling, many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life. It has already happened in most of them. In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they found was that in most cases, teenagers adhered to a mushy pseudoreligion the researchers deemed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).
MTD has five basic tenets:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
This creed, they found, is especially prominent among Catholic and Mainline Protestant teenagers. Evangelical teenagers fared measurably better but were still far from historic biblical orthodoxy. Smith and Denton claimed that MTD is colonizing existing Christian churches, destroying biblical Christianity from within, and replacing it with a pseudo-Christianity that is “only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition.”
MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering—the Way of the Cross—as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a culture that worships the Self and material comfort.
As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility.4 Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor practice a coherent Bible-based morality.
An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 percent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, apparently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.”
These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed—or rather, failed to form—their consciences and their imaginations.
MTD is the de facto religion not simply of American teenagers but also of American adults. To a remarkable degree, teenagers have adopted the religious attitudes of their parents. We have been an MTD nation for some time now, though that may have been disguised.
“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”
The data from Smith and other researchers make clear what so many of us are desperate to deny: the flood is rising to the rafters in the American church. Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised so much with the world that it has been compromised in its faithfulness. Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?
If you haven’t read the book yet, then read the whole thing. I met a prominent West Coast Evangelical pastor last fall in Nashville. He told me that when The Benedict Option came out in 2017, a lot of people in his circles dismissed it as alarmist. Now, he said, it’s their reality.
Last week, I read a fascinating short book relevant to this issue, and wrote about on Daily Dreher, my Substack newsletter. I almost never quote my newsletter here, but the Gallup news makes this pertinent. Here’s what I wrote, in part:
I have just finished, within the past few minutes, an extraordinary book. It is short — you can read it in one long sitting — and very much worth your time. It is called Radical Hope: Ethics In The Face of Cultural Devastation, by Jonathan Lear. It is about Plenty Coups (1848-1932), the last great chief of the Crow tribe, and how a dream vision he had as a boy guided his people in the agonizing transition between their traditional way of life, and modernity imposed by the white man. This little book, and the life and work of Chief Plenty Coups, has much to teach us traditional Christians in this post-Christian, and increasingly anti-Christian, age.
I learned about the book when one of you, or perhaps someone who reads my blog (I’m not sure; information comes at me these days in a firehose stream), sent me this 2009 review essay by the philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor writes:
Radical Hope is first of all an analysis of what is involved when a culture dies. This has been the fate of many aboriginal peoples in the last couple of centuries. Jonathan Lear takes as the main subject of his study the Crow tribe of the western US, who were more or less pressured to give up their hunting way of life and enter a reservation near the end of the nineteenth century.
The issue is not genocide. Many of the Crow people survive; but their culture is gone. Lear takes as his basic text a statement by the tribe’s great chief, Plenty Coups, describing the transition many years after in the late 1920s, near the end of his life: “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.”
Lear concentrates on those last four words. What can they mean? Of course, they could be an expression of dejection, of depression. But he sets that aside for good reasons. He argues that if we interpret the statement psychologically, we are being “guided by our own sense of what is true” and ignoring the question of “Plenty Coups’s humanity” and the particular cultural circumstances in which he found himself. We have to take this expression more literally. We can grasp it if we try to understand the Crow culture when it was fully functioning, when hunting (mainly of buffalo), and then war, which was necessary to maintain a sufficient territory for hunting, were the crucial activities around which excellence and honor revolved. The concept of a “coup” (reflected in the informant’s name) was of a heroic exploit, but of a very special kind. The sense of the word is more or less the same it has in the English borrowing from the French, as when someone says: “I pulled off a great coup.”
“After this, nothing happened” means, in Lear’s interpretation, that nothing comprehensible to the traditional Crow way of understanding happened. Their worldview was smashed to bits by the coming of the white man.
When the white man conquered all Indians, he put an end to the way of life in which achieving coups in the Crow way was possible. Jonathan Lear, the author, tries to explain how utterly devastating the victory of white culture over Indian culture was by using the metaphor of a restaurant. Say you went to a restaurant and ordered a buffalo burger, but were told that buffalo burgers were no longer on the menu, because there are no more buffalo. That would be bad, but that’s not really what the Crow suffered. Rather, imagine that you wanted to go to a restaurant to order a buffalo burger, but discovered that restaurants no longer existed, and that “ordering” had no meaning. That is more like what the Crow endured.
That is to say, everything that gave their lives meaning was taken from them. They came from a warrior culture, in which excellence was understood to be fighting well and victoriously. The telos of the tribe was victory in war. The women of the tribe understood their roles as preparing their men for war against their enemies, principally the Sioux. All of that was taken from them, and from all Indian tribes, by the white man. Lear’s book doesn’t argue whether or not this was right; he rather examines the phenomenon of cultural collapse, and investigates the role this visionary chief, Plenty Coups, played in giving his people hope through the storm.
Lear talks about one manifestation of cultural collapse: the fate of the Sun Dance. It was an important religious ritual for the Crow, connected to their militarism:
To take one example we have already encountered: The Sun Dance, being a prayer for revenge, was naturally saturated with military episodes. What is one to do with the Sun Dance when it is no longer possible to fight? Roughly speaking, a culture faced with this kind of devastation has three choices:
1. Keep dancing even though the point of the dance has been lost. The ritual continues, though no one can any longer say what the dance is for.
2. Invent a new aim for the dance. The dance continues, but now its purpose is, for example, to facilitate good negotiations with whites, usher good weather for farming, or restore health to a sick relative.
3. Give up the dance. This is an implicit recognition that there is no longer any point in dancing the Sun Dance.
When I read this, the first thing that came to mind was a story told to me by the headmaster of a Christian school serving the poor in a major city. All of the students there were either black or Hispanic. The headmaster told me about a time that the grandfather of two little black girls (whom he was raising) could not make it to school to pick them up on time. The headmaster took the girls to his own home to await the grandfather. The children were fascinated by framed photographs of the headmaster and his wife at their wedding.
The older of the little girls pointed to one of the pictures, then said to her sister, “See, this is how it’s supposed to be.”
As went the Sun Dance for the Crow, so has gone marriage for the urban black poor. And now the loss of the meaning of marriage is spreading more widely in our civilization. We are forgetting how to do this, and why.
We are also forgetting the meaning of Christianity. Some continue to carry out the rituals, though no one can say with confidence what the rituals are for. Those people are dying out. Others — the young — are giving up the religion. That leaves the rest of us to figure out how to live out the faith in these radically new circumstances.
Back to the Crow. Lear says that the collapse of the telos of the Crow tribe destroyed their idea of what it meant to be a Crow. In other words, it was a devastating attack on “Crow subjectivity.” Lear writes:
If the traditional Crow experienced devastation in things they might do, they also experienced a terrible attack on what they might be. If we consider a vibrant culture, it is possible to distinguish:
1. Established social roles. These will include socially sanctioned forms of marriage, sexual reproduction, family, and clan; standard social positions such as warrior, squaw, medicine man, and chief; ceremonial rituals; and so on.
2. Standards of excellence associated with these roles. These give us a sense of a culture’s own ideals: what it would be, say, to be really outstanding as a chief, as a squaw, as a warrior, as a medicine man.
3. The possibility of constituting oneself as a certain sort of person-namely, one who embodies those ideals. I shall call such a person a Crow subject. This is what young Plenty Coups aspired to: to be a chief, to be outstanding as chief, and thus to be a living embodiment of what it was to be a Crow.
The idea of a Crow subject requires more than this sort of identification. It requires internalizing the ideals associated with the standards of excellence associated with social roles. And it requires making those ideals a life’s task. To take an example from traditional Crow culture, being a Crow warrior subjectively understood was not just a matter of occupying the social role of Crow warrior.
Nor was it merely a matter of being extremely good at being a Crow warrior-understood as a social role. That is, it was not enough merely to be very good at killing Sioux in battle, and so on. To be a Crow subject one had to fulfill these conditions, but one also needed to constitute oneself as a person for whom living up to the relevant ideals constituted who one was.
This was more than a mere psychological matter of “identifying” oneself in a particular way. It required a steadfast commitment stretching over much of one’s life to organize one’s life in relation to those ideals. And it required a certain success in doing so. That is, being a Crow subject required more than inhabiting a social role, being excellent in that role, and even identifying oneself in those terms. It required all these things, but in addition it required a lifelong commitment to shaping oneself to be this kind of person. Subjectivity, so understood, is a never-ending task.
This helps me understand more clearly what I was getting at in The Benedict Option: advocating for the creation of ways of life within which authentic Christian subjectivity can be realized in the face of a hostile broader culture that denies it. In my judgment, most Western Christians today haven’t really contemplated the terrifying fact that Christian subjectivity (in the Lear sense) is being devastated by post-Christian culture. The change that has come over the West in a short period of time has not been comprehended by most Christians, who believe falsely that it is possible to continue living the faith without real effort. That is, they don’t comprehend how radical the attack on Christianity is. And they don’t comprehend the futility of a response based on the false idea that we simply need to keep doing the same things that we have always done, and everything will work out.
Lear says that by 1940, it became possible to ask an ironic question that would have made no sense in 1840: “Among the Crow, is there a Crow?” That is, among the people who still identify as Crow, is there to be found anyone who is recognizably Crow? How do you know? More:
Alma Hogan Snell reports that her grandmother regularly complained, “I’m living a life I don’t understand”: She would lament, “I’m living a life I don’t understand.” She would be working and talking-then immediately she would fall silent. She would continue to work, but she was silent. I would be with her, and I would sit silent and wait for her. I became accustomed to that, so I was a very quiet individual at times. Then she’d come up with this sound she always made, “Hummmm, aaahh.”
She said it mournfully, like this thing that she was thinking about in her mind was so overwhelming; “Why has this thing come upon us? Now we are made to say `yes’ and `no.’ When the white man comes to us, we just naturally say `yes.’ We are not obligated to take what he has, but my children, my grandchildren are always right there to say, `Yes, we’ll do it. We’ll do it.’ They seem to like to do it. They seem to like what they see. I feel like I am losing my children to this new world of life that I don’t know.””
Sounds like a lot of Christian parents I know. By now you may be thinking, “What can we Christians learn from the cultural catastrophe that befell the Indians?”
So let’s ask: what did Plenty Coups do for his people?
As a boy, Plenty Coups did what Crow males often did, which was to fast and go out into the woods to dream. He had a dream in which he was shown the disappearance of the buffalo, and the triumph of the white man, symbolized by a devastating storm. This would devastate his people. But they could overcome it, said the dream, if they would listen to the voice of the chickadee. In Crow culture, the chickadee is a small bird, but a very wise one. The meaning here is that the Crow should learn to rely on their intelligence to prevail. The old martial values of Crow life would not help them survive against the war being waged against them. They needed something different.
Lear’s account of the dream’s meaning:
As a youth, alone in the woods for a few days as part of a tribal ritual of manhood, Plenty Coups dreamt of a storm that would fell all but one of the trees of the forest. On that one, lone surviving tree was a chickadee, a humble member of the Crow people’s aviary pantheon, noted for its capacity to listen and adaptively change course. When Plenty Coups returned, he told the dream to the tribal elders who interpreted it to mean that the Crow would face some catastrophe (the dream’s devastating storm) and that to survive it they would have to adapt from Crow virtues to Chickadee ones: from war virtues to other, more humble habits like listening, observing, and adapting to new situations, trading one sort of courage (martial) for another. They thought that the old Chickadee, who was no Crow, would have to be repurposed as a new icon of a new kind of courage and take the old Crow’s place.
A tribal elder said:
“The tribes who have fought the White man have all been beaten, wiped out. By listening as the Chickadee listens, we may escape this and keep our lands.”
The Crow accepted communally this interpretation of the dream, and committed themselves to living by its wisdom — this, even though the dream had not specified what the wisdom of the Chickadee would mean precisely for them.
Plenty Coups grew up to lead his tribe through this agonizing transition. The Crow made common cause with the white man against their enemies, not, said Plenty Coups, out of love for the white man or hatred for their enemies, but because they reckoned that this was the only way for them to survive as a people and keep their land.
This is a problem for moral psychology. If, roughly speaking, we believe ought implies can: if we think that in these challenging tines people ought to find new ways-not just of surviving-but of living well, we need to give an account of how it might be psychologically possible to do so. It would be depressing news indeed to learn that, should a civilization collapse, there might nevertheless be decent ways to go forward-but the best people of the civilization would be the least equipped to find them. Is it in the lineaments of our psychological natures that my flourishing as a member of my culture makes me less able to confront the challenges of a radically new future?
That is, are there ways in which a person brought up in a culture’s traditional understanding of courage might draw upon his own inner resources to broaden his understanding of what courage might be? In such a case, one would begin with a culture’s thick understanding of courage; but one would somehow find ways to thin it out: find ways to face circumstances courageously that the older thick conception never envisaged. The issue would then be one not simply of going over to the thick concepts of another culture, but of drawing on their traditions in novel ways in the face of novel challenges.
If this is a possible act, it would be good to know what kind of psychological adjustments make it possible. I want to argue that Plenty Coups did make just this sort of transformation.
First, the entire tribe fortified itself for this apocalypse by taking Plenty Coups’ dream as a valid prophecy sent by God. They could not fully comprehend its meaning at the time. All they could be sure of was that apocalypse was coming, and that they would survive as a people only by listening to the wisdom of the Chickadee. Lear writes:
The only substantive commitment embodied in the chickadee virtue is that if one listens and learns from others in the right way-even in radically different circumstances, even with the collapse of one’s world-something good will come of it.
We would like our ethics to be grounded in psychological reality. Thus whatever flexibility is required of a virtuous person, it ought to be something that can be inculcated in the education and training of a culture. But a culture does not tend to train the young to endure its own breakdown-and it is fairly easy to see why. A culture embodies a sense of life’s possibilities, and it tries to instill that sense in the young. An outstanding young member of the culture will learn to face these possibilities well. The situation we are dealing with here, however, is the breakdown of a culture’s sense of possibility itself.
This inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture. By and large a culture will not teach its young: “These are ways in which you can succeed, and these are ways in which you will fail; these are dangers you might face, and here are opportunities; these acts are shameful, and these are worthy of honor-and, oh yes, one more thing, this entire structure of evaluating the world might cease to make sense.”
This is not an impossible thought to teach, but it is a relatively new idea in the history of cultures, and one can see why a robust culture would avoid it.
You can see in this why so few Christians today can conceive of our own devastation, and why we are not preparing our young for what is coming into being now. Plenty Coups’ dream-vision prepared the Crow people for the catastrophic reality coming for them, but also offered them hope for survival.
Plenty Coups led his people toward compromise with the white man, and allyship, even though he had every reason to believe that their world was over. He was trying to shore up a place for his people amid the ruins of Indian life. The Sioux, on the other hand, chose to fight to the end. Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux criticized the Crow as collaborators. But time has shown that Plenty Coups’ vision was vindicated. Those who resisted the white man violently, however much courage that required, lost everything. The Crow managed to negotiate much better terms for themselves, and to come through the crisis in far better shape than their rival tribes.
This, says Lear, is because Plenty Coups gave his people “radical hope” — that is, hope that despite apocalypse, survival is possible if the people meet the onrushing crisis with a certain understanding. This is the virtue of the Chickadee: to listen and, despite your weakness, to pivot wisely based on the information you gather. Lear says that the Crow had to alter their definition of courage in the face of radically new circumstances. The old warrior virtues were useless under these new conditions. It was impossible to defeat the might of the white man. Plenty Coups saw that if it was impossible to survive this kind of fight, then it was no longer honorable to die this way, but rash. What Plenty Coups did, anchored by his faith that his dream was truly sent by God, was to redefine what it meant to be courageous, and what it meant for the Crow to live well.
Plenty Coups encouraged the young people of his tribe to get an education, because only by learning the knowledge of the white man would they be able to protect their people from the white man’s depredations. And he made a number of trips to Washington to fight — often successfully — for the land rights of his people. He was under no illusions about the white man, but he berated those of his people who surrendered to victimhood (though they were indeed victims!), saying to them, “Self-pity has stolen your courage, robbed you of your spirit and self-respect.”
Lear explains the “radical hope” of Plenty Coups like this:
Thus I think the case is made not just that it was psychologically advantageous not to give in to despair but also that it would have been a mistake to do so. It would also have been a mistake to “go down fighting.” The radical hope that was embedded in the ideal of the chickadee helped Plenty Coups throughout his life to make creative decisions in radically new historical circumstances.
And his fidelity to hope fits all of Aristotle’s hallmarks of courage. With the virtue of the chickadee he was able to reorient himself to what was genuinely shameful (criterion 1)-and to teach others. What would be shameful now would be to turn one’s back on the genuine wisdom of others; to give in to despair; to nostalgically insist that one can go back to the old ways without any change.
At a certain historical point, feeling ashamed that you can no longer live as a traditional warrior may be psychologically understandable, but it is a mistake. By providing an ideal for the times, Plenty Coups did not merely give himself and his people the psychological resources to adapt to a new situation; he also gave them an ideal in relation to which they could aim for something fine (criterion 2).
The aim was not merely the biological survival of the individual members of the tribe-however important that was-but the future flourishing of traditional tribal values, customs, and memories in a new context. This is an admirable goal. Moreover, the virtue of the chickadee explicitly advocates developing good judgment, and making decisions on how to act that are based on knowledge (criterion 3). This has been evident in the tribe’s defense of its land. And Plenty Coups’s strategy has involved serious risk (criterion 4).
This was not the paradigm risk of death on the battlefield, to be sure. It was a greater risk: that one had reoriented oneself toward shame in the wrong sort of way, and was unwittingly doing something shameful, not fine; that one’s strategy would not ultimately work and that the Crow would lose their land, their values-indeed, that they would be destroyed as a people. The stakes could not have been higher for Plenty Coups and his people.
Finally, it has been the aim of this entire chapter to argue that Plenty Coups’s radical hope was not mere wish-fulfilling optimism (criterion 5), but was rather a radical form of hope that constituted courage and made it possible. After all, through a series of canny decisions and acts, the Crow were able to hold onto their land, and Plenty Coups helped to create a space in which traditional Crow values can be preserved in memory, transmitted to a new generation, and, one hopes, renewed in a new historical era. This was possible because Plenty Coups was able to bring about an astonishing imaginative transformation.
Through his dream — and his fidelity to it — Plenty Coups was able to transform the destruction of a telos into a teleological suspension of the ethical. A traditional way of life was being destroyed, and along with it came the destruction of its conception of the good life. The nature of human happiness became essentially unclear and problematic. In such conditions, the temptation to despair is all but overwhelming.
And it was in just such a moment that Plenty Coups’s dream predicted that destruction and offered an image of salvation-and a route to it. The traditional forms of living a good life were going to be destroyed, but there was spiritual backing for the thought that new good forms of living would arise for the Crow, if only they would adhere to the virtues of the chickadee.
… I often receive criticism from other Christians who say that the Benedict Option is a form of surrender. These are people you might call Sitting Bull Christians. I don’t doubt their bravery, and I wish it were possible to prevail following their counsel, but I think it is a wasted gesture if you are riding horses into the face of liquid modernity’s Panzer divisions. This is what we are facing now. How can we endure faithfully, and having endured faithfully, prevail over those who would destroy us, body and soul, and our cultural memory of what it means to be Christian? This is what constitutes victory for Christians in the post-Christian world.
We really are living through a civilizational apocalypse that is visiting on us small-o orthodox Christians the same disorientation and dispossession that the coming of modernity via the US Army and the pioneers visited on the Crow and other Indian tribes. Chief Plenty Coups was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1917. We have the right to hope that he is in heaven, and that he will pray for us to attend to the wisdom of the Chickadee.
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In light of the catastrophe that is overtaking us, familiar modes of Christian leadership are dead, dead, dead. We need leaders who can give us radical hope, and who can forge a path for us within which we can remember who we are, and what we are to do. Yes, we are waiting for another, doubtless very different, St. Benedict, but we are also waiting for another, doubtless very different, Plenty Coups.