Culture warriors and traditores

Rod Dreher  engages David Mills and Robert P. George’s call to arms encouragement not to muster out of active duty in the culture wars. Rod’s not giving any ground in his conviction that the wars are unwinnable.

Mills and George do not mention, so far as I know, that some will not just lay down arms but will grudgingly (at first – then comes the cognitive dissonance) pledge obeisance to the new regime.

Last time we danced this dance, the Donatists were mostly from the poorer classes, the traditores from higher classes. This time it’s somewhat reversed, as Rod points out:

”Enough with the defeatism” is easy advice to give from the position of a tenured faculty member, or from the position of an unmarried young man who works for a conservative Washington think tank, or from the position of a writer for a conservative magazine. It’s a lot harder advice to take when you are like my friend the senior manager, or any of the non-tenured faculty I’ve met in my recent travels who are deeply worried about the atmosphere on their campuses.

This is a lesson that I, a crypto-Donatist, need to remember when I catch young Christian folks mouthing liberal groin pieties. Maybe they just don’t get it, but maybe they’re living too close to the margins to risk making themselves odious to those who can so readily defenestrate them.

On the larger question of whether to muster out of active duty, it bears remembering that there are (at least) two kinds of orthodox Christian conservatives:

The real battle is taking place beyond the purview of the pages of Time Magazine and the New York Times. The battle pits two camps of “conservative” Catholicism (let’s dispense with that label immediately and permanently—as my argument suggests, and others have said better, our political labels are inadequate to the task).

On the one side one finds an older American tradition of orthodox Catholicism as it has developed in the nation since the mid-twentieth century. It is closely aligned to the work of the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, and its most visible proponent today is George Weigel, who has inherited the mantle from Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak. Its intellectual home remains the journal founded by Neuhaus, First Things. Among its number can be counted thinkers like Robert GeorgeHadley Arkes, and Robert Royal.

Its basic positions align closely to the arguments developed by John Courtney Murray and others. Essentially, there is no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Catholicism … The Founders “built better than they knew,” and so it is Catholics like Orestes Brownson and Murray, and not liberal lions like John Locke or Thomas Jefferson, who have better articulated and today defends the American project.

Proponents of this position argue that America was well-founded and took a wrong turn in the late-19th century with the embrace of Progressivism … The task, then, is restore the basic principles of the American founding—limited government in which the social and moral mores largely arising from the familial and social sphere orient people toward well-ordered and moral lives. This position especially stresses a commitment to the pro-life position and a defense of marriage, and is generally accepting of a more laissez-faire economic position. It supports a vigorous foreign policy and embraces a close alignment between Catholicism and Americanism. It has become closely aligned with the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party.

On the other side is arrayed what might be characterized as a more radical Catholicism. Its main intellectual heroes are the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and the theologian David L. Schindler (brilliantly profiled in the pages of TAC by Jeremy Beer). These two figures write in arcane and sometimes impenetrable prose, and their position lacks comparably visible popularizers such as Neuhaus, Novak, and Weigel. Its intellectual home—not surprisingly—is the less-accessible journal Communio. An occasional popularizer (though not always in strictly theological terms) has been TAC author Rod Dreher. A number of its sympathizers—less well-known—are theologians, some of whom have published in more popular outlets or accessible books, such as Michael Baxter, William T. Cavanaugh, and John Medaille. Among its rising stars include the theologian C.C. Pecknold of Catholic University and Andrew Haines, who founded its online home, Ethika Politika. From time to time I have been counted among its number.

The “radical” school rejects the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible. Rather, liberalism cannot be understood to be merely neutral and ultimately tolerant toward (and even potentially benefitting from) Catholicism. Rather, liberalism is premised on a contrary view of human nature (and even a competing theology) to Catholicism …

Because of these positions, the “radical” position—while similarly committed to the pro-life, pro-marriage teachings of the Church—is deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, is deeply suspicious of America’s imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government. It is comfortable with neither party, and holds that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of liberalism—the pursuit of individual autonomy in either the social/personal sphere (liberalism) or the economic realm (“conservatism”—better designated as market liberalism). Because America was founded as a liberal nation, “radical” Catholicism tends to view America as a deeply flawed project, and fears that the anthropological falsehood at the heart of the American founding is leading inexorably to civilizational catastrophe. It wavers between a defensive posture, encouraging the creation of small moral communities that exist apart from society—what Rod Dreher, following Alasdair MacIntyre, has dubbed “the Benedict Option”—and, occasionally, a more proactive posture that hopes for the conversion of the nation to a fundamentally different and truer philosophy and theology.

(Patrick Deneen, An American Catholic Showdown Worth Watching). There’s not a stupid person listed there (though Rod Dreher, a journalist and blogger, tends to be a bit excitable). I think it’s fair to say that Orthodox, especially converts, lean toward the second camp. I certainly do, though I read and often cite writers from both camps.

Current news in favor or the radical camp: My “conservative” governor, widely viewed as a potential President before the Battle of Indianapolis, recently made pilgrimage to Las Vegas to court the support of a GOP kingmaker who made his money in vice. How reliable a friend can this be?

[I]f you are interested in this critique of Christianity and culture, you absolutely must subscribe to Ken Myers’s Mars Hill Audio Journal, which is hands down the very best resource for helping intellectual Christians understand the nature of the times in which we live.

(Rod Dreher – and me)

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Fair play

“I feel that by forcing us to change our constitution of being a Christian makes me feel unsafe and restricted about practicing my beliefs,” said Ng. “I find the derecognization very unfair and it doesn’t consider the values of religious groups or other groups that value traditions of leaders.”

(Katrina Ng, a Bible Study leader for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at San Jose State University, I believe) Eagle-eyed David Bernstein spotted (or someone finked on Ng) this first recorded instance of a Christian attempting the “unsafe” ploy.

I have a soft spot for IVCF, in which I was a student leader and where I met Mrs. Tipsy. Please, Brothers and Sisters, let’s not make this a trend. “Turnabout is fair play” only works where the other side wants to play fair.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Je suis un hérétique

Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College, spoke this morning to the Q Ideas conference here in Boston. He, and the college he leads, are under severe attack for holding to orthodox Christian teaching on LGBT. Gordon is Evangelical, but very far from a fundamentalist stronghold. Yet they are seen by many people — many powerful people — as a bastion of bigotry.

Lindsay told the audience about a phone conversation he had with his Congressman when Gordon first got into the news. He said that his Congressman told him straight up that he hated Gordon’s stance, and that he was going to do everything he could to force the college to change it — meaning that he was going to bring the force of federal law, inasmuch as he could, to compel the college to violate its corporate conscience.

This left Lindsay staggered. “There are very few playbooks to tell you what to do when your Congressman shouts at you,” he said.

(Rod Dreher)

* * * * *

[Response to expressed concern that Christian] prioritizing the wrongness of gay marriage will make us seem anti-gay. Seem? Christianity is opposed to the contemporary ideo­logy that equates us with our sexual desires and tells us we’re entitled to their satisfaction. We oppose the Gnosticism that says our bodies have no intrinsic moral meaning and are mere instruments in the service of our fine inner feelings. We assert the male-female union as normative, surpassed only by the sublime, supernatural vocation of the celibate life dedicated to divine service. Christianity can’t avoid being seen as ­anti-gay, ­because a failure to be “pro-gay” today is invariably regarded as “anti-gay.”

Christianity is “pro-­person.” I am profoundly ­sympathetic to Christians who want to provide hospitality and companionship to our gay friends—and that includes friends who don’t obey biblical norms, and even gay friends who have married. I have such friends—along with divorced friends and friends who cohabit—and friends who have stolen, cheated, and lied. The company of the perfect is vanishingly small, and I’m not among them. But we need to get a grip on reality: We are the bad guys of the sexual revolution. We are the heretics of our time: We forbid when it is forbidden to forbid. No appeals to the great cathedral of Christian doctrine are going to change that.

(R.R. Reno, emphasis added)

* * * * *

The one lesson that everyone in the gay marriage dispute should agree on is that the law has a pedagogical function: having been told (now) by the Supreme Court that objectors are motivated by animus, our society is simply starting to believe it. What else would we expect?  It is precisely what conservatives have been arguing about the institution for the past twenty years, and on this they have once again been vindicated.

(Matthew Lee Anderson)

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Frederica Matthewes-Green writes of “Why I Haven’t Spoken Out on Gay Marriage–till Now.”

Is it okay to call a woman a mensch? I’ve known of Frederica for well-nigh thirty years, when we were both Protestant (well, she was Episcopalian, but I stand by “Protestant”) and we were both involved in pro-life work, she as President of Feminists for Life, me as (my chronology is a little muddy here) legal counsel for Indiana Right to Life (a short gig) and/or Board Member/Advisor to Matrix Pregnancy Resource Center (a very long run).

She has never been strident or harsh, unlike me. Neither of us, to my knowledge, has written what would be called “hateful” in saner times.

We both found our way into the Orthodox Church eventually. We’ve had (very) occasional communication, and I influenced one of her Podcasts by (as I recall) correcting her legal misimpression a few years back.

But she has held back from speaking out until now. From her Facebook page:

I wonder if a reason I wasn’t motivated to fight against gay marriage is that my parents had gay friends when I was growing up. I’m talking about the ‘50s and ‘60s, in the original “deep south,” Charleston, South Carolina. There was a male couple that regularly came to town, and they stayed as houseguests. My best friend had a gay uncle who lived with her family. The nice men who ran the small bookstore on King Street were a couple. Everyone knew, and accepted it, and if anything felt protective toward them. There was no doubt some patronizing stereotyping mixed in (“Gay people are so artistic!”)

I think seeing them so readily accepted had the opposite effect from being alarming or confusing, for it was clear how few of they there were. Marriages were all around us; almost everyone got married, and divorce was very rare. There were marriages everywhere we looked, and only a tiny few were same-sex. It was evidently an oddball thing, and not the kind of marriage we (most of us) would have one day.

(It was a funny thing because the grownups I recall were uniformly racist, despite being pro-gay. I remember someone in my parents’ generation being very upset because her house was on the market, and a black doctor with a wife and two kids was interested. “If he wants to buy it, there’s nothing we can do!” she said. “It’s the law, we have to sell it to him!” She was very relieved when it was purchased instead by a gay couple.)

She still has concerns about the way the case against same-sex “marriage” has been presented, and is quite frank about the damage done to natural marriage by the 98%. For instance:

Some years ago I received a Christmas letter from the head of an evangelical organization. About halfway through he shared that, sadly, he had gotten divorced that past year. But in the next paragraph he had great news: God had given him a new wife!

Well, maybe there were extenuating circumstances, maybe I shouldn’t judge—but it still irritates me how blandly Christians accept this sort of thing.

When reminded of those higher standards, of not that long ago, people say, “But it would be too hard for divorced people to remain unmarried. It’s too hard to live without love.” Yet that’s exactly what we ask gay people to do. We should at least admit that it is not easy; it is in fact a kind of heroism, and we should honor it better than we do. I don’t advocate relaxing the rules (of the faith) for gays, but I wonder how straight people came to relax the rules for themselves.

Amen! When Mark Sanford, putative Christian, spewed the stream of “soul mate” kitsch about his Argentine mistress, I just wanted to puke. The only appropriate responses were (1) Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa! or (2) “Well, I guess the pretending to be Christian isn’t going to work any more.” (See what I mean about strident and harsh?)

But we’re reached a milestone:

I’ve resisted joining up with the “defend marriage” movement for a long time, and you might wonder why I’d change my mind now. It’s not that I think I have anything fresh to add to the conversation. People aren’t listening anyway; to gay advocates, I am just another hater. When I tried, a few years ago, to put my “live and let live” perspective into words, a gay blogger responded with a post stating, “Frederica says I don’t deserve to be loved.”

No, I’m joining the fray because it looks like the battle is lost. That means it’s time to stand together. It’s not hard to predict what happens next: winners silence their opponents, and losers are hounded, misrepresented, and punished for their views.

Well, what did we expect? What we are saying seems nonsense to the secular world, and is felt as actively antagonistic. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

This past Good Friday I was struck by the scripture that says Christ suffered “outside the gate,” as an outcast, beyond the city wall. Why should we be any different? As the Scripture says, “Let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured” (Hebrews 13:13). It’s time. Let’s go.

Read the whole thing. It’s totally not my style, but it’s ably expressed, and I’m sure it’s faithful to what she really believes.

Still, she can’t avoid taking flak from left and right.

* * * * *

I thought for a moment the author had gone off on a tangent, unresponsive to the question, but then he answers the question powerfully:

I’m glad Markham raises the question of whether First Things welcomes articles arguing for the validity of “lifelong, monogamous gay relationships.” I appreciate the delicacy with which he cordons off the question of gay marriage. But, no, we won’t. In the present climate, it is for all intents and purposes impossible for a person who publically dissents from gay rights orthodoxies to get a job teaching in higher education. It’s increasingly impossible to be the leader of a major corporation or to get a job at a major law firm. The New York Times certainly won’t publish the most modest demurrals from these orthodoxies. And I dare say one cannot find preferment in the Episcopal Church unless one subscribes to the same orthodoxies. Pretending that there is an honest public debate about the gay rights agenda is an act of dishonesty.

And not just dishonesty. There are many courageous people who have refused to capitulate to the ruthless Jacobin suppression of all dissent. Many have paid a heavy price, including gay writers who defend Christian teaching in our pages. Were we to play the idle game of “dialogue” on this issue, the implication would be clear: These people foolishly sacrificed their livelihoods and reputations for the sake of an ambiguity, not a truth. That’s an act of betrayal First Things will not commit.

(R.R. Reno again, echoing Frederica’s commitment to solidarity)

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A black friend’s grandmother, encouraging her children in the 1940s not to let their spirits and their dignity be broken by white hatred, counseled, “Don’t be the kind of person they think you are.” That’s great advice for Christians going forward.

(Rod Dreher)

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Saturday, 4/18/15

  1. Police Pendulum’s ominous swing
  2. How not to understand a law
  3. Certifying Plutocrats since 1784
  4. Gay Jackboot Update
  5. Person ≠ feline ≠ German Shepherd
  6. Defending The Pledge
  7. Da perp fell down da stairs

Continue reading “Saturday, 4/18/15”

Machiavelli meets Alinsky. Are there any survivors?

  1. You are the Power
  2. The Emperor’s New Nuptials
  3. Right and Wrong Compassion
  4. Intentional Infliction of Miffedness
  5. Lifelong Equilibrium

Continue reading “Machiavelli meets Alinsky. Are there any survivors?”