Sunday, 10/8/17

    1. Laïcité comes to America
    2. How to cultivate true feelings
    3. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
    4. Team Trump gets one right
    5. Why so little schadenfreude?
    6. Modern slavery


It is often hard for an American to get a solid read on the situation in France, because our political and religious cultures are so different. An American professor living and teaching in France helped me with this question.

“The thing that’s really important to understand is that in our country, we talk about freedom of religion, meaning that the government is restrained from stepping in and telling us how to live out our faith,” he said. “In France, they think of freedom from religion, meaning that the state is supposed to protect people from too much religious influence. French people have internalized that mindset.

“My wife is not a religious person, but she was seriously offended when a restaurant on our street went halal,” he continued. “She felt it was an attack on French identity.”

“Whereas in America, we would have just shrugged our shoulders,” I replied.

“Yes,” he said. “But she said that getting bacon on her hamburger was part of what it means to be French. It really bothered her. This goes deep in France.”

I passed that thesis along in the days that followed to various French natives, and they all agreed quite strongly that the American professor was correct. This helped me understand a remark I’d heard earlier in the week that puzzled me. Over lunch, an intelligent and genial older Catholic professor mildly criticized Catholic young people who had gone to the Paris missions congress that week as “militants.” Sensing that my dining companion — a dear man, let me emphasize — had misunderstood the meaning of the word in English, I told him that “militants” had a negative connotation. Yes, he said, I know that. So, what I thought would have encouraged him as a Catholic — seeing a bunch of young French Catholics enthusiastic about their faith — in fact put him off. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the vibrant faith of the young threatened to upset the settled order by making the unbelieving majority think they had something to fear from Christians.

[I]t was unsettling to me to grasp that laïcité, the French concept of secularism, is rapidly becoming the standard in the US. Liberal elites since at least the Sixties have understood “freedom of religion” in a freedom from religion sense (and, to be honest, a freedom from Christianity sense). The evolution of gay rights has been a disaster for religion liberty in that the gay rights movement has been able to seize the most powerful narrative in postwar American life — the civil rights movement — claim it as its own, and tar traditional religion with the stink of old-time white supremacy. Whatever happens in law, the culture is already moving powerfully in this way. Even if the Supreme Court establishes a more generous interpretation of religious liberty’s bounds versus gay rights claims, the court of public opinion’s verdict is increasingly unsparing. In a way, I think the sense of paralysis that older French Catholics feel might be explained by having conditioned themselves to suppress religious feeling, for the sake of the Republic. We are already at the point where people who should know better — journalists, who are supposed to have a strong appreciation for the First Amendment — believe that “religious liberty” is not a fundamental right, but a partisan cause.  This is a bad sign.

(Rod Dreher, reflecting on what he learned during his French book tour, emphasis added)

I added the emphasis because I immediately saw the parallels to unfolding American attitudes in the story of halal being seen as an attack on French culture. I could paraphrase it as “Americans increasingly feel that the right to have everyone validate their subjective realities is part of what it means to be American.”

The courts of the land cannot protect us from the judgment of the court of public opinion — and as Mr. Dooley said, the Supreme Court follows the election returns.


Another wonderful Christian I shared a table with was François Esperet, a former gendarme who now works in the Paris mayor’s office, and who is a poet …

François told Yrieix [Denis, for a magazine interview]:

Q: You once said that the media show prohibits us from having authentic feelings. How do we do today cultivate true feelings?

A: How do you recover your health? We have to stop poisoning ourselves. It is therefore necessary to first disconnect from all media, all of the inputs which call forth the worst in our minds, souls and hearts. I once realized that the days of the year when I am the best writer, the best husband, the best father, the best friend, the best neighbor, are those where, for some reason or another I did not let myself be informed (by media) of anything. To deprive ourselves of media — everyone is afraid of it, and yet no one has ever died of it. In order to cultivate true feelings, false feelings sown like tares and wheat must be plucked out. And these false feelings do not emanate only from what the bad media is, as opposed to the good. Let’s not waste too much time separating the right media from the bad, like good drugs from the bad. Let’s be free of it entirely, and all the rest will be given to us.

The next morning I had one of the best interviews of the trip: with Thomas Renaud, a journalist from Aleteia. We sat in a hotel lobby next to a TV with the sound off. Thomas’s back was to the TV, so he couldn’t see what was on the screen. He asked excellent, philosophically rich questions, but behind him, on the screen, was one filthy hip-hop video after another. It was as if the barbarians’ rapaciousness were being broadcast straight to us — a jarring experience.

(More from Rod Dreher, reflecting on what he learned during his French book tour)


[W]e await Justice Kennedy’s opinion on the great moral questions of our day. He’ll soon tell us whether the Framers intended that the handful of wedding vendors with religious scruples about same-sex marriage can be punished by the state.

[F]or the vast majority of people in America or beyond, nothing is changing …

I have listened to earnest public-spirited people, with years of government service, explain that with Donald Trump’s election, the entire post-1945 liberal world order is unraveling. Why? Was the election really worse than the Soviet invasion of Hungary? More frightening than seeing tanks fire on government buildings in Moscow? No. I dig into the reasons and discover it is because none of their friends were hired in to the Trump administration.

In one way, this is all very comforting. A great deal of damage was done in the great efforts for change in the 20th century — not just wars that could have been avoided, and ideological revolutions that tried to remake human society by sailing to utopia on oceans of human blood.

But I worry, too. Don’t you? …

(Michael Brendan Dougherty)


President Trump is prone to crude language and gestures. His behavior can be inexplicable. He came to the job with no experience in government and it often shows. But he understands, unlike his increasingly radical political adversaries, that the federal government has no business forcing nuns to pay for pills that terminate pregnancies. And he’s not afraid to stand outside the media consensus.

… The Trump Administration formally reversed the Obama policy of demanding that the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious organizations provide contraceptive services—including the week-after pill—in violation of their beliefs.

His predecessor, on the other hand, fought with nuns. Even though much of the country was exempted from the mandate, largely because many insurance plans were grandfathered under the law, Mr. Obama and his team evidently thought it was important to force the Little Sisters to bend to his will.

But Mr. Obama seems to have picked on the wrong nuns. And the nuns for their part seem to have picked the right lawyers. Last year the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the nuns and demanded a rewrite of the HHS rule to ensure respect for religious belief. Even after suffering this defeat at the highest court, Mr. Obama still wouldn’t relent, which required today’s Trump Administration rewrite, which is still only an interim final rule and should be affirmed in court.

Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the nuns, explains:

Now that the agencies admit the mandate was illegal, we expect the leadership of the Department of Justice will cooperate in getting a final court resolution so the Little Sisters can stop thinking about lawyers and mandates and return to spending all their energies caring for the elderly.

Your humble correspondent is guessing that someday, someone is going to write a fascinating account of how Donald Trump, a thrice-married Manhattan celebrity, came to be America’s champion of religious liberty.

(James Freeman, He’s With Them, Wall Street Journal) This is, in a sense, a sequel to Friday’s item from Hugh Hewitt on why Christians will be sticking with Trump.

I applaud Becket Fund for its stellar legal work and concur that pending litigation should be mercifully laid to rest now that Team Trump has floated  regulation that exempts any employer with religious or moral objections to providing coverage for all medications we call “contraceptive” (although some of them may be abortifacient in some cases or depending on how one conceptualizes abortion).

I would wager a modest amount that the new lenity will not be widely abused, for the same reasons that employees having to pay for their own is not an outrage: contraceptives are just not very expensive.

I’d think, therefore, that employers with less than sincere religious or moral objection would gladly pay the toll to avoid genuinely costly and disruptive family leaves for parents of newborn children — an anti-natal attitude I do not condone but on which I would wager.


I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I feel so little schadenfreude over Harvey Weinstein’s unmasking as another Democrat sexual predator.

I agree that he “is counting on a remarkable one-step plan to gain absolution for what is reported to be decades of harassing young women in his employ—his progressive politics” and that he “didn’t make it in Hollywood without knowing his audience.” Will the progressive world prove that it’s only really against sexual harassment when Republicans do it?

On the other hand, the New York Times, which did the unmasking, is lobbying against slap–on-the-wrist and quick restoration, both in the Editorial Board and here:

Mr. Weinstein knows the ways of Hollywood well enough that he might get away by acting out his part in this clichéd repentance script. Or, at 64, he may have played out his last cards. Either way, what’s telling is that Ms. Bloom and his other advisers seem to believe their best chance of salvaging their damaged client is, like the Catholic Church of yore, to pay for his sins in the coin of liberal affirmation. The behavioral issues will take time.

In her interview, Ms. Paglia noted that, in the case of Mr. Clinton, “Hypocrisy by partisan feminist leaders really destroyed feminism for a long time.” She might have added that it also helped Donald Trump get elected. Here’s hoping the outspoken feminists who have been chummy with Mr. Weinstein, Meryl Streep and Michelle Obama chief among them, don’t make that mistake again by giving the grotesque Mr. Weinstein a pass.

(Bari Weiss)

The Times also reports that Weinstein has given $1.4 million to Democrats since 1990. Really, that’s chump change. I’d wager his bigger contribution has been hosting events where others give.

No, on second thought, there’s no reason for schadenfreude:


It has been a delight to follow Obianuju Ekeocha on Twitter. She is absolutely fearless in calling out things like our neo-imperialist birth control policies.

* * * * *

“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)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.