Monday, 10/19/15

  1. Disturbing Convergence
  2. Pie in the Sky meets Yes we Can!
  3. Sanctuary Cities
  4. Strong, clear, unbending perverts
  5. Tweet of the Week


My very busy week is past, but even in a busy week I take time to unwind and to bookmark things I want to return to. Four items encountered in the last week converged:

  1. Reading Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 for the first time.
  2. Rod Dreher’s blog The Struggle of Memory Against Forgetting.
  3. Walter Kirn’s delightfully illustrated If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy.
  4. How the NSA can break trillions of encrypted Web and VPN connections.

Bradbury’s book, for those of you who like me hadn’t read it, is about a future when homes have been rendered fireproof and firemen have been turned into book-burners, setters (instead of fighters) of fire. The protagonist, fireman Guy Montag, marvels that a woman stayed with her books and died a fiery martyrdom:

There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

He later talks — well, mostly listens — to his boss, the fire chief:

What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say.

“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag.

Dreher’s blog reflects on a slender book he devoured during an air flight, Paul Connerton’s 1989 book How Societies Remember:

Connerton begins by saying that “our experience of the present very largely depends upon our knowledge of the past,” and that “participants in any social order must presuppose a shared memory.” Those memories, he contends, “are conveyed and sustained by (more or less) ritual performances.” Finally, he argues that these performances have to be embodied to be effective. Let’s unpack this.

When a new regime or social order takes over, the first thing it does is to find ways to sever the society’s connection to its past. ISIS is now doing that in the areas it controls, by erasing any physical embodiment of the memory of the area’s pre-Islamic past. “The more total the aspirations of the new regime, the more imperiously will it seek to introduce an era of forced forgetting,” says Connerton.

ISIS is an extreme example, of course, but this happens in all societies that are undergoing revolutionary change ….

Bradbury had (in the mouth of someone who’s not necessarily trustworthy) the more benign explanation of “happiness” — not just trigger warnings, but a universal eradication of written triggers. But with the examples of books incinerated, and the ubiquitous mindless entertainment/virtual reality, eradication of memory is in plain view.

I think we’re undergoing revolutionary change, with sexuality in the vanguard. If Dreher is rightly reading Connerton (and Connerton is rightly reading social anthropology), two of the targets for eradication will be (1) Orthodox Christianity and (2) Roman Catholicism, since we with our “commemorative ceremonies” or “ritual performances” (Orthodoxy Liturgy, Catholic Mass) preserve memories most uncongenial to the revolution. Evangelicals: you get a break this time because you’re too amnesiac to be a real threat to the new regime.

Finally, Walter Kirn can pretty much convince you that privacy is dead, and that the data collection and analysis infrastructure is in place for totalitarianism in the United States. The rationale, if NSA is forced to admit massive snooping, is probably terrorism, but I take no comfort in that.

And forget relying on encryption; the final article will make you skeptical of that, too.

Of course, we should all be just fine with all this as long as we’re happy, secure, and aren’t doing anything shameful.

And of course, I’m not saying that just to placate the spooks.


When I became a Catholic in 1993, I committed myself to living chastely, as the Church required. This was a desert experience for me, who was not used to denying himself in this way, but it was a desert experience that brought me out of bondage to my own disordered desires. It was hard, but it was necessary, and it was necessary because it was hard.

At virtually no point did I believe, or have reason to believe, that the institutional church and its ministers had my back. In fact, the silence from the pulpits was total. There is, or was, no sense in contemporary American Catholicism that asceticism is a normal part of the Christian life, and that we might help each other bear those burdens. One of the reasons I sympathize so instinctively with gays and lesbians like Wesley Hill and Eve Tushnet, who keep raising the issue of the Church needing to make affirmative space within its life for same-sex attracted Christians who seek to live celibacy, is because the loneliest and most difficult period of my life as a new Catholic was the four years in which I struggled to be celibate, before I married.

I didn’t need Father to remind me every week in his homily to keep my pants up. That’s not the point. What I could have used was any sign that the life to which I had submitted, in obedience to what I believed was the truth, mattered to the Church. The message I constantly received from the silence in the parish(es) was:You are wasting your time trying to live out these teachings. Nobody here cares about this stuff, so why should you?

Rod Dreher, writing about what John Allen describes as

The gap between those who believe the demands of classic Catholic teaching on sex, marriage, and the family may be unrealistic or inappropriate for some share of the contemporary population, and those convinced that it’s widely attainable in the here-and-now.

When I think of same-sex attracted serious Christians, I always think of this essay, too. Save them both before the NSA erases them.


One of the more predictable things in life is that I will disagree vigorously if not contemptuously with any Editorial by the New York Times Editorial Board. Saturday, I thought the cosmos might have been upturned by an exception: The Great “Sanctuary City Slander”: Laws forbidding sanctuary policies are a false fix to a concocted problem. But God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world: the NYT couldn’t take a valid point and let it stand on its own.

They start off well enough explaining what sanctuary cities are: “jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, or try in other ways to protect unauthorized immigrants from unjust deportation.” And they’re probably right to highlight a federal bill to punish these cities by denying them federal law-enforcement funds. But then they go on a rant against Republicans, painting a picture of nativism and stupidity so wildly exaggerated that even the Republicans deserve better.

Here’s what I hoped they’d say. “Sanctuary city” is a made-up term to describe a choice of local law enforcement priorities. Cities are not obliged to pitch in and help INS locate and deport people who are in the country illegally. And there’s nothing conservative about denying federal funds to sanctuary cities if they won’t get in line — that’s statist bullying, a technique best left to progressives.


I wrote at some length 20 months ago about my near miss with the Bill Gothard operation, which I was exposed to for far too long when he was mastering his craft. His craft may be unknown to most of you. Now that he is withdrawn from operations, it’s probably not important that you know, except for this little caveat:

Whenever you go looking for strong, clear, unbending authority, you’re going to find Bill Gothard.

(Unnamed young lawyer who was brought up in Bill Gothard’s quasi-cult and lived to tell about it and recover her shattered faith, via Rod Dreher)

That’s a strong and absolute-sounding statement. Maybe it’s conscious hyperbole.

But it has a terrible basis in fact. Gothard apparently stands exposed now as some kind of ephebophilic fetishist.

So am I a relativist? I think not.

When I hear “strong, clear, unbending authority” I think of the kind of person who’s shocked at human failings, not the kind of person who’d never even notice most human failings because he/she has never acknowledged a true moral norm (i.e., a relativist).

Moreover, if you go looking for another kind of authority than “strong, clear, unbending,” are you less likely to find a satyr or fetishist? I’ve long had a hypothesis that sensitive “male feminists” are just trying to get up a different kind of skirt.


* * * * *

“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.