- Go easy on thy neighbor
- Normal versus Weird
- Unthinking liberal responses to religion
- Please, God, Stop Chelsea
- The Pure Flix mystery solved
- Dangerous Manichean Diplomacy
- Islam as Culture War Ally?
The great commandment is not to love our neighbor as we love ourself. Instead, it is to go easy on our neighbors as we go easy on ourselves.
Attributed by R.R. Reno to Italian public intellectual Gianni Vattimo, who apparently was not being sarcastic. I am quoting it because the Moralistic Therapeutic Deist mindset is pandemic, and the admonition (if admonition is what it is) is carrying coal to Newcastle.
Instead the place of the strong gods of traditional culture, the globalized future will be governed by the hearth gods of health, wealth, and pleasure. Our high priests will be medical experts, central bankers, and celebrity chefs.
Julia Ioffe is an accomplished journalist who writes for a variety of mainstream newspapers and magazines. I was struck, however, by her recent tweet in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election last November: “Russian govt media watchdog blocks all Russian access to YouPorn and PornHub. Is this the America you want, Donald?” It’s unwise to read too much into tweets. Perhaps she is mocking Trump for being an unlikely vehicle for the re-moralization of American society. I doubt, however, that was her intent. In all likelihood, evocation of Russia in conjunction with Trump seeks to dramatize the choice we face in 2017. Trump’s rhetoric of building walls and shredding free-trade deals evokes a trajectory of consolidating and strengthening the body politic after a long season of disenchantment and weakening. This, Ioffe seems to suggest, sets us on a road to censorship and illiberal authoritarianism. If we care about sustaining a liberal society, then however repugnant we may find ubiquitous online pornography, we need to double-down on the weakening patterns of the postwar era that minimize boundaries and lift restrictions. Which forces me to wonder: Has the high moral mission of liberalism and its noble defense of freedom really come down to unlimited access to pornography?
A couple of years ago, United Nations ambassador Samantha Power sought to counter Putin’s annexation of Crimea in a symbolic way. She did so by hosting a party for Pussy Riot, a group of Russian performance artists known for staging public orgies and other transgressions. All of this is very familiar. Pussy Riot engages in now conventional strategies of disenchantment that are widely celebrated by our establishment as integral to cultural “progress.” Just as it is forbidden to forbid, today it is conventional to be unconventional.
We are coming to a dead end. The postwar consensus now tells me that I must choose between pornographic transgression and Putinism, just as it is telling the young French woman to choose between multicultural utopianism and fascism. These are not happy choices, and a political culture that frames our most important public questions in these ways is in trouble.
Imagine a world where people didn’t agree that marriage was a concept—where there was no social understanding of marriage. And imagine that your marriage was really important to you, and that, when you interacted with other people, no one mentioned your marriage; there was no respect for it and no acknowledgment of its existence. You would do a lot to claw out some space to manifest that your marriage was important. And that’s how it is with the Benedict Option. We have a relationship with Christ. Really, it should be our most important relationship. But my relationship with Alexi is treated as more real and important and relevant. If I say, “Oh, I can’t make it, Alexi and I have a thing,” that’s normal. But if I say, “Sorry, I have to go to church,” that’s weird.
(Leah Libresco Sargeant in Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker profile of Rod Dreher)
[Andrew] Sullivan has a long-standing disagreement with Dreher over same-sex marriage, but he believes that the religiously devout should be permitted their dissent. “There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion. I really don’t think that florists who don’t want to contaminate themselves with a gay wedding should in any way be compelled to do so. I think any gay person that wants them to do that is being an asshole, to be honest—an intolerant asshole. Rod forces you to understand what real pluralism is: actually accepting people with completely different world views than your own.”
(Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker profile of Rod Dreher)
The crude conventional wisdom is that Bill Clinton craved adoration and Hillary Clinton craved power. But Chelsea Clinton seems to have a more crippling want: fashionability—of the sort embraced by philanthropic high society. So you tell The New York Times that your dream dinner party would include James Baldwin, Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Jane Jacobs, and Jane Austen, and discussion would be about how “people and communities can evolve to be more inclusive, more kind, have a greater and broader sense of solidarity, while still respecting individual liberties; what provokes or blocks those changes; and what stories might resonate today to encourage us toward kindness, respect, and mutual dignity.” You almost have to bow down before someone who could host Shakespeare for dinner and make the agenda wind up sounding like a brochure for the Altria Group. At least Kafka would be on hand to capture the joy of the evening.
To find fault with the former First Daughter is to invite the wrath of thousands. Love of Chelsea correlates closely with love of Hillary, toward whom her fans have long felt an odd protectiveness, as if she were a stroke survivor regaining the power of speech rather than one of the most influential people in the world. That goes even more for Chelsea, who is often treated less like an independent 37-year-old multi-millionaire and more like the 12-year-old who still deserves to be left alone.
But let’s have a reality check. No one bothers George W. Bush’s daughter, Barbara Bush, who quietly works on her nonprofit, Global Health Corps. On the other hand, if you’re posing for magazine covers, granting interviews, doing book tours, placing your name on your parents’ multi-million-dollar foundation, and tweeting out daily to 1.6 million people, then—guess what—you’re a public figure. And if you’ve openly entertained the possibility of running for office if “it was something I felt called to do,” then assurances to the contrary aren’t quite good enough. You’re a public hazard.
I now have a better idea what’s going on with Pure Flix videos invading my Facebook.
Movies and videos aren’t a big part of my life and Pure Flix, even rebranded as Epiphany, isn’t likely to change that. But it sounds as if, just maybe, it may have succeeded in creating Christian® entertainment that isn’t open to immediate scorn and derision.
Joseph Mussomeli fleshes out and affirms what I’d already come to believe:
We should not expect our political leaders or our media to view foreign policy concerns in too complex or nuanced a manner. Votes and audiences, after all, are generally garnered where simple themes and stark contrasts between us and our adversaries are most pronounced. But from our diplomats we should expect better. It is a sad irony that the hiring process for being selected into America’s diplomatic corps (the Foreign Service) has arguably the most intellectually rigorous standards of any government institution. The vetting process is designed not only to favor those with broad knowledge of current events and history, but also to weed out those who are incapable of complex analysis and whose minds are rigid and inflexible … Yet, once one becomes a diplomat all that natural ability to think deeply and see problems from all perspectives can be a serious impediment to career advancement whenever higher level policymakers have made a decision about who are the “bad guys” in any given international situation …
Russia and Russia’s leaders are flawed, imperfect, inclined toward violence, and covetous of power—but this doesn’t make them much different from every other nation-state to one degree or another. Their counter-list of grievances against the U.S. and our allies is quite lengthy: the seeming encirclement of Russia as NATO persists in its enlargement, the creation of Kosovo in probable violation of the post-World War II understanding not to alter and change borders, the unilateral abrogation of the 1972 ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty by the U.S., the installation of missile defense systems in former Warsaw Pact countries, the brutal bombing of Libya… just to name a few.
Those of a Manichean bent will dismiss Russian complaints as contrived and exaggerated: a figment not just of Russian imagination, but of Russian paranoia. “The Cold War is over” is the tiresome refrain from NATO each time it adds a new member closer and closer to the Russian border. Yet in 1998, the year before the onslaught of new members had begun, our foremost Russian expert, George Kennan, warned that NATO enlargement would inevitably trigger a new Cold War given justifiable Russian concerns for its own security. Even a superficial understanding of Russian history—devastating invasions by Mongols, Napoleon and Hitler—should have given NATO greater pause. But new NATO aspirants, themselves having suffered at the hands of Russian armies, prevailed and the vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact was recklessly filled by an ever-expanding NATO.
This same argument—that the Cold War is over—was used to dismiss Russian fears about installing missile defense systems in Eastern Europe: Talking points went out to all U.S. embassies explaining that the Russians have nothing to fear and that these systems were not directed against them. And to be frank, Russian concerns about these missile defense systems did seem overblown and absurd. At leastRussia’s fears seemed baseless until the 2016 presidential campaign when almost every Republican candidate urged accelerating those very same missile defense systems—that we had been saying for years had nothing to do with Russia—in order to send Russia a tough message.
To think in Manichean terms is not just bad theology; it is also dangerous diplomacy.
Of all the childish things we should put away as responsible adults, this penchant for demonizing the other and always making excuses for ourselves should be high on the list. The crucial question to always ask is one we were all taught in kindergarten: Would I have done anything differently if I were in that person’s situation? This is a skill every diplomat and political leader should cultivate: what would I do if I were the leader of this other country? If our leaders were courageous enough to really ponder this question they would be surprised and humbled. While many of us would never countenance the brutality of some of Mr. Putin’s action, it is unlikely that any of us would have supinely tolerated the continued encroachment of NATO or the persistent demands of the West for U.N. resolutions to legitimate attacking this or that country. Indeed, we might even conclude that for Russian leaders to have acted in any other way toward the West than they have would be a dereliction of duty.
(Joseph Mussomeli) You get the drift. If you want to disinfect your mind from the stark black and white propaganda our government and media feed us, read the whole thing.
William Kilpatrick disabuses me of a tendency I’ve indulged:
Many Catholics look upon Islam as an ally in the struggle against militant secularism. Since Muslims are opposed to permissiveness, pornography, same-sex “marriage,” and other aspects of the secularist agenda, many Catholics assume that they must share similar values about marriage and sexuality.
But this is not the case. The Islamic emphasis on modesty and chastity shouldn’t be confused with the Christian standard. Christian sexual ethics are based on respect for women, whereas Islamic sexual ethics are motivated in large part by a disparagement of women.
Islamic family values are not about honoring women, but about protecting a man’s honor. And, in Islam, a man’s honor is bound up with his ability to control the women in his life. If a wife, daughter, or sister does anything to jeopardize the honor of her husband, father, or brother, she risks severe punishments and even death. In the West, a disobedient Muslim daughter may have her head shaved; in the Muslim world she may be killed.
Good point. The rest of the article strikes me as mostly elaboration of these three paragraphs.
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Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)
“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)