The Tablet is conducting an online survey to find out what people think of the new translation on the Mass after a full year of its use.
Log on and let them know what you think.
David Blankenhorn and I have had a useful exchange. In his last posting he questioned my argument that judging homosexual acts wrong isn’t akin to the racist view that skin color makes someone inferior:
I’m sure that Rusty Reno knows as well as anyone that almost no gay people (certainly no openly gay people, or at least none that I can think of) would accept the premise that being black-skinned is fixed whereas being gay is not — i.e., that being gay can be properly understood, as Reno suggests, as simply the choice to commit certain acts. Reno can defend this position, of course, if that’s his position (and of course it’s a position that many have argued), but in my view in 2012 he can’t simply (with legitimacy) assume it, as if it were an uncontested fact, rather than what the whole fuss is all about.
Blankenhorn is right. That’s what the fuss is all about. We tend to assume that sexual expression is a normal and perhaps necessary part of being a healthy person. Thus, if you have homosexual desires, then it’s altogether unreasonable, and indeed unjust, for me to say that you should not have homosexual sex. (Here I want to be very clear that I’m talking about moral judgments—me saying “that’s wrong”—not legal ones.)
I want to explain why this view of sexual identity cannot serve as a reason to think people like me are “anti-gay.”
A few days ago I wrote a sharply worded attack on Ken Mehlman’s argument that supporting gay marriage is the properly “conservative” position. David Blankenhorn offered some thoughtful reflections about what’s at stake for me (and others).
He raises a key question. Can those of us who resist gay rights or gay-marriage turn around and claim not to be “anti-gay”? I think he’s right to conclude that we can’t, at least not in the way a term like “anti-gay” is used.
Here’s how I see it. At the very least, the gay rights movement seeks to remove moral judgments about same-sex acts from any functional role in public policy. Whatever we think about the rights and wrongs of sexual morality, when it comes to the blurry sweep of options conjured by the LGBT tag, we’re not allowed to act on them in matters of employment, education, political office, etc. I take this to be what Blankenhorn refers to as “accepted” by society. In its more ambitious modes and following the Selma Analogy to the civil rights movement for blacks, the gay rights movement envisions positive and affirmative measures to try to get rid of or at least minimize the sexual morality that deems LGBT desires disordered and their attendant sexual acts immoral (for example, school programs, diversity training, etc.) This is probably what Blankenhorn means when he speaks of homosexual conduct “affirmed” by society.
Ken Mehlman is either deluded or disingenuous. The former chairman of the Republican National Committee is among those now trying to bring the Republican Party around to the cause of gay marriage. In today’s Wall Street Journal he made his case.
Here is the most egregious paragraph.
Some misperceive the issue of marriage equality as exclusively progressive. Yet what could be more conservative than support for more freedom and less government? And what freedom is more basic than the right to marry the person you love? Smaller, less intrusive government surely includes an individual deciding whom to marry. Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment, and foster family values.
Same-sex marriage will encourage fidelity and commitment, and foster family values? We can’t predict the future of culture, and I suppose Mehlman is entitled to his dreams. But a sober-minded observer sees that same-sex marriage puts an exclamation mark on the transformation of marriage and parenting from the basic norm for adult life into one life-style choice among many, one that we can enter and exit as our choices change. There’s nothing about same-sex marriage other than the now redefined word “marriage” that remotely suggests “family values.”
Even more ridiculous is the notion that redefining marriage makes government less intrusive. The notion of civil rights that fuels the push for “marriage equality” requires pumping up the power of the state to bulldoze older traditions and attitudes that stand in the way of the full acceptance and affirmation of homosexuality. It’s going to lead to litigation, regulation, mandated school programs and “inclusivity” seminars, and lots of other legislation. For good and for ill, the civil rights revolution of the 1960s created entire government bureaucracies, which in turn led to corporate diversity consultants and many other positions, all keyed to compliance.
Marco Rubio was caught off guard during an interview by Michael Hainey for GQ. He was asked how old he thinks the earth is.
I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
What’s going on? Why would the interviewer even ask the question? And why would Rubio be so evasive?
In many circles, the earth’s age is a test question. For conservative evangelicals at places like Dallas Theological Seminary, it’s meant to determine who can be trusted to sustain the classical commitments of conservative Evangelicalism, not the least of which is a commitment to the propositional inerrancy of scripture. It’s also a political test question, one designed to identify who is willing to line up with conservative populists to resist the cultural control of the liberal establishment.
It’s clear that Hainey knows what’s what when it comes to evangelical politics, which is why he asked the question. And it’s clear that Rubio does as well, which is why he evaded, giving what is in effect a theological version of Obama’s famous response to the question about when life begins: that’s above my pay grade.
Good grief. In a phone call to donors, Mitt Romney explained his defeat by referring to the “free stuff” that Democrats give their constituencies. He said that Obama’s strategy was to “give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government.”
I don’t deny the importance of pork. I lived for 20 years in Nebraska, and so I’m not unfamiliar with the “extraordinary gifts” known as agricultural policy. But it seems that today’s Republican Party is dominated by a perverse economic materialism that’s positively Marxist in its mechanical determinism. The idea that black or Hispanic voters tilt heavily Democratic because they’re “bought” by government handouts reflects a mentality that is extremely ideological. Hasn’t Mitt Romey ever heard of Lyndon Johnson. His “gift” to blacks was the Civil Rights Act. Or Barry Goldwater, the Republican who ran against him in 1964. He voted against the Civil Rights Act.
What today’s Republican Party can’t seem to get its mind around is that globalization has disoriented and disadvantaged large portions of American society, just as industrialization did more than one hundred years ago. Democrats aren’t “creating dependency” by inventing social programs, they’re responding to the social reality in the way progressives have for more than a century. I’m not in favor of the progressive approach, but the fantasy that politics is simply about everybody getting the best deal for themselves is absurd. We have an instinct for solidarity, not just self interest.
David Axelrod is right. Romney’s post-election remarks suggest that he’s stuck in the 47% mentality. It’s a gray place, one that essentially says that Blacks, Hispanics, and other who voted for Barack Obama aren’t concerned about the common good, but just about themselves. Not a message likely to win their votes any time soon.
I’m frustrated by the way in which the Republican leadership has largely suppressed debate about moral and cultural issues in this electoral cycle. Yes, the economic situation is very important. But in the long run a productive economy requires a healthy culture. I wish Karl Rove would put a post-it note on his computer screen: “It’s the culture, stupid.”
But the question of abortion came up yesterday. Romney said he had no anti-abortion legislation in mind (how could he in light of Roe v. Wade?), but would reinstate the Mexico City policy that forbids U.S. aid that goes to funding abortions. Basically, since Reagan this has been the Republican position when the party has controlled the White House.
No news, but what caught my attention was the statement by the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund: “Mitt Romney’s views on women’s health are far outside of the mainstream, and that’s why he’s trying to hide them in the last weeks until the election.”
“Women’s health.” That’s now the standard euphemism for abortion, which can’t be anything other than encouraging to those of us eager to defend the unborn. You know you’re winning when the other side does everything it can to avoid saying the word “abortion.”
“Out of the mainstream.” That’s another rhetorical device that suggests weakness. Pro-lifers aren’t people one argues with on the merits. No, they’re “extremists” who are “out of the mainstream.” I guess the Catholic Church is out of the mainstream, and so are Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews. And then there’s the rising percentage of Americans who find our abortion regime morally troubling, a cohort now in the majority. I suppose they’re “out of the mainstream” as well.
When liberals talk about views being “out of the mainstream,” it’s sign that they are on the defensive, retreating behind the barricades of the Establishment.
Recently I was rereading Rawls on the notion of public reason. This idea is dear to Rawls, because it’s part of his larger vision of participatory democracy. We need to be “in on” the reasons behind public policies, because that’s necessary in order for us to be able to assent or dissent in an informed way to the regime that governs us.
Informed consent (or dissent, as the case may be) is part of the deep meaning of political freedom. Yes, what Isaiah Berlin called our negative liberty can be protected by various civil rights that limit government interference, but positive liberty, what Kant called autonomy, involves willing for ourselves or consenting to what the state requires us to do.
Mother Jones recently posted a video that captures Romney talking to some Republican Party donors.
In response to a question Romney drew on a distinction that I’ve heard a number of people make. The future of the country is in the balance, this way of thinking argues, because nearly half the population are “takers” who don’t pay income taxes and are in some way dependent on government, while the other half are “makers” who produce and drive the economic engine forward. So, we are warned, the “takers” will overwhelm the “makers.”
I’ll leave analysis of the impact of this video on the campaign to the political handicappers. When it comes to the substance of this way of thinking, however, I find myself agreeing entirely with David Brooks’ column yesterday. Anyone who imagines that we can divide Americans in such a facile way doesn’t know much about our country.
In fact, I’m probably more exasperated by this way of thinking than Brooks, who is pretty exasperated.
Joan Desmond at the National Catholic Register conducted a very useful interview with Ross Douthat.
I find myself agreeing with what Douthat has to say about Catholicism’s realignment from Democratic to Republican (a very partial and complicated but real change). We face a challenge. Because the Democratic Party is increasingly dominated by a secular mentality at odds with the public role and influence of religion, religious people are moving to the Republican Party. The danger for Cardinal Dolan is that the Catholic Church will become Republican in the same way that some Catholic liberals of the old school are now apologists for the Democratic Party. The trick, it seems to me, is to get things moving in the other direction. If there is in fact a continued shift of Catholics toward the Republican Party, then we need to work to make the GOP different—in a Catholic sort of way, as Douthat says.
Well, lots more. This new report about a civil union between three people (a man and two women) in Brazil suggests that those of us worried about the slippery slope aren’t out of our minds.
I should say that Brazil and South America in general has a much stronger political tradition on the Left than in the United States, and so the truisms of the Left (“marriage is what we say it is”) are more likely to be followed to their logical conclusions. But as many have pointed out, plural marriage is a logical conclusion of the “equality” argument made on behalf of same-sex marriage. In fact, the logical conclusion of same-sex marriage is the end of marriage as a normative institution. Its logic is that we can have sex, babies, and domestic contracts in whatever styles and arrangements suit our desires.
I’m not one who thinks that social reality invariably follows to logical conclusions. (Even though it’s often a good bet when it comes to many social trends, the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy.) My guess is that marriage between a man and women for the sake of children will remain quasi-normative in America, in part because it is actually gaining strength among the upper middle class and elites. But there’s little doubt in my mind that “redefining” marriage weakens it as an institution.
And has been the case for most of the personal liberation projects since the 1960s, the poorest and most vulnerable will pay the price.
Times sure have changed. It wasn’t but a generation ago (OK, a long generation, but still) that the Republican Party was the party of moderately conservative mainline Protestants, while Jews and Catholics were solidly in the Democratic camp. Now the GOP will feature a rabbi giving the convention’s opening prayer, and a Cardinal the closing prayer.
Both are friends of the magazine. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik has written for us over the years. Cardinal Tim Dolan was an Erasmus Lecturer half a dozen years ago. There’s some precedent. There certainly are Jewish Republicans (some of whom read this blog, I hope), and Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia gave the opening prayer for the 1972 GOP convention that nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Nonetheless, Soloveichik and Dolan are signs of the times.
The Democratic Party is becoming the secular party with an attitude, as the HHS mandate and arguments of Obama administration lawyers in various religious cases indicates. This is driving religious people toward the Republican Party. That’s been happening for decades, of course, most obviously in the shift of Evangelical voters toward the Republican Party in the 1980s. (They went for Jimmy Carter as one of their own in 1976.) They reshaped the GOP, as the recent Republican primaries showed so clearly. It will be interesting to see how a second wave of Jews and Catholics continues to reshape the GOP.
A particularly amusing book came across my desk recently. It’s Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans by David Niose, a “secular activist” in Washington. This is not a book to turn to for nuance. Here’s a sample:
Anti-intellectualism, the disappearing middle class, the sorry state of participatory democracy, the low level of public dialogue — all these problems (and many others) trace back, directly or indirectly, to the exaltation of religion and marginalization of non-believers.
The “indirectly” is magnanimous, isn’t it?
Basically, Niose thinks the Religious Right is the root of all evil (directly or indirectly). But for religious believers butting into politics and speaking up in the public square, we could have a pretty good country. We’d be solving the problems of poverty, injustice, global warming (and many others!) in the mornings, and going to yoga classes in the afternoons.
What’s pathetic about this book is the pious posturing that punctuates the bitter denunciations. Here’s a sample: “Secular activism is not about bashing religion but about defending the rights of those who choose secularity as a personal identity and worldview.” We can all get along nicely if the rights of secularists are respected. Sounds very friendly and peaceful and tolerant, but like liberal tolerance more generally, it’s very fake. Niose presumes one very important “right” that secularists enjoy, which is to define what counts as reasonable, mainstream, and true. Funny how that might lead to conflict with religious people.
Nonbeliever Nation is one of those books that’s so bad that it’s useful. It exhibits a simple-minded mentality that would make any self-respecting fundamentalist blush. Is there anyone more comically parochial than a confident secular cosmopolitan who after watching Fox News can’t contain his outrage?
Well, well, there’s tolerance, and then there’s tolerance. A recent interview of Martha Nussbaum in the Boston Review shows what at least one pillar of our liberal establishment has in mind when it comes to Catholicism.
The interview by Boston Review Web Editor David V. Johnson was prompted by Nussbaum’s new book, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age. I skimmed the book when it came out. It’s Martha Nussbaum at her self-confident, insular, verbose worst, useful only as an efficient way to get up to date on the latest liberal pieties. (Nussbaum can be very sanctimonious.) And the same holds for the interview, which is shorter and thus to be preferred to the book.
Here is a telling exchange:
I’ve been on a T. S. Eliot kick of late. Last week I reread The Idea of a Christian Society, and for the first time read through Eliot’s elusive After Strange Gods, a volume he never allowed to be reprinted (but which is of course available on Google books). I have always relished Eliot’s pungent attacks on Liberalism. And I thrill to his voice as a prose writer, a voice that makes authoritative statements on behalf of authority. This time was no different. Eliot is one of the twentieth century’s most articulate spokesmen on behalf of what is sometimes called “orthodoxy,” the cultural condition of settled judgments about truth and falsity, good and evil, beauty and ugliness. It’s orthodoxy that enriches our souls and give our native creativity genuine depth and profundity.
I was in this rapturous state of mind when I had a conversation with a rather more skeptical friend. He admires Eliot as a poet, but disregards his pronouncements about culture and politics. Moreover—and this took me up short—my friend insisted that Eliot’s role in the twentieth century was in any event more radical than conservative. He was after all one of the great literary modernists of the early twentieth century, and modernism was a kind of radicalism, because it a refused to remain within the frame of established orthodoxies. Eliot the poet was a very different man from Eliot the critic, and Eliot the theorist of culture, or so my friend claimed.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the spreading efforts to combat obesity by reducing the consumption of sugary drinks.
The Richmond, California City Council put a measure on the November ballot that taxes businesses on the basis of how much Coke and Pepsi they sell. Although the proposal differs from Mayor Bloomberg’s more direct method of regulation, the goal is the same: to promote health by deterring bad behavior. Oops, did I say “bad”? I meant to say “unhealthy,” which for our secular elites is about as bad as bad gets. When it comes to sex, children are not to make “unhealthy” choices. Same with drugs. Same with the kinds of people they hang out with.
In any event, the Richmond, California initiative shows that Mayor Bloomberg’s plans for New York do not reflect the isolated mentality of a waistline obsessed billionaire. Richmond is a middle class town in the northeastern part of the Bay Area. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if voters approve the plan. It’s human to want to live in a community that disciplines our desires, and in our officially non-judgmental culture if the only thing we can get is discipline ordered toward the good of health, then we’ll take it.
There is an opening here. The sociological studies show the harms caused by divorce just as the epidemiological studies show the problems caused by obesity. Why not a tax on divorce? Or a tax on abortions? As the City Council in Richmond know, if you tax something, you get less of it.
Just a thought.
I recently had a very interesting conversation with Wheaton art historian and First Things writer Mathew Milliner. Matt has been trying to think about how to understand artistic creativity in relation to cultural authority. T.S. Eliot is an obvious place to start. His famous essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” outlines a view in which the constraining authority of tradition provides the most fruitful context for genuine creativity. As Eliot later put it, we need an “orthodoxy” if we are to thrive.
While reading the literature on Eliot, Matt discovered that in recent decades Eliot’s legacy, both as a poet and critic, has been diminished by charges of anti-Semitism. For example, Anthony Julius argues that anti-Semitism wasn’t just a moral flaw in Eliot, but instead is “an inseparable part of his greater literary undertaking.”
Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos Salingaros are nothing if not clear and forceful: artistic modernism is a anti-tradition of anti-art oriented toward domination rather than beauty.
Here is a particularly trenchant set of observations about architectural modernism from “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism,” a recent article in the New English Review:
The ever useful Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new survey. The focus falls on attitudes toward the recent push by the Catholic Bishops to highlight the threats posed to religious liberty.
Results aren’t too surprising. If you’re a Catholic and have heard about the concerns surrounding the HHS contraceptive mandate, you’re more likely to agree with the bishops (56%) than if you’re an atheist (8%). If you go to Mass frequently, you’re more likely to agree (68%) than if you don’t go frequently (49%). If you’re a Catholic who agrees with the bishops that there are threats to religious liberty in current policies, then you’re likely to support Romney (60% to 34% for Obama), and if you don’t you’re in Obama’s camp (78% to 19%).
In sum: if you’re going to church regularly, the bishops’ message resonates. This includes Evangelicals (55% of those who heard of the bishops’ protests agree, while 31% disagree). Meanwhile, if you don’t go to church or are a liberal Protestant—or if you’re inclined to support Obama in any case, you are much less likely to be troubled.
The Catholic World Report has posted a wide-ranging interview with New Criterion editor Roger Kimball.
Kimball’s new book, The Fortunes of Permanence, collects his recent essays of literary, artistic, and cultural criticism. This interview reflects quite well what I’d call Kimball’s metaphysical concerns. He nicely diagnoses one of the consequences of moral relativism: boredom. I’m less and less convinced the “relativism” accurately describes the mentality that threatens us. Moral “minimalism” seems more accurate, because there remains a sense that some things are wrong and must be prohibited. But the robust view of morality as a system of honor and shame ordered toward disciplining our souls, and thus bringing our humanity to a richer, fuller perfection . . . well, that’s not just inoperative, it’s positively prohibited, because deemed “oppressive.”
And without this robust view, culture goes flat, and our souls go flat. Upshot: culture devolves into entertainment, distraction, and therapeutic policing of excesses and dysfunction.
In any event, read the interview and take in Kimball’s multifaceted take on our present age.
Professor Robert George at Princeton has been one of the most articulate spokesmen for the view of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. He has demonstrated the absurdity of liberal claims that there is no rational basis for objecting to same-sex marriage.
Today on Public Discourse he has an important reflection on the wishful thinking of some who imagine that we can strike a “grand bargain” with proponents of same-sex marriage. Here is the money paragraph.
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Russell Jacoby has some reflections on the state of conservative intellectual life, which he regards as moribund. No news here. It’s long been a conceit of the Left that conservatives are dumb, and if not dumb, then deranged, or paranoid, or racist, or self-interested—take your pick.
Jacoby’s occasion for recycling this tired truism is David Gelernter’s new book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats), which he thinks is short on arguments and full of shrill right-wing clichés about tenured radicals and rootless intellectuals. I can understand the response. America-Lite is an angry book, too bitter for my taste. But Gelernter is a intuitive, associative thinker, someone who makes striking and sometimes penetrating observations. It’s a shame that Jacoby lacks the desire or interest to search out the deeper thesis in America-Lite.
Gelernter is interested in the social formation of American elites. This is a very important topic, because elites provide political and cultural leadership, and in so doing set the direction for society as a whole. His arresting claim is that universities have become “imperial,” by which he means singularly influential in the formation of contemporary elites. Places like Harvard and Yale now credential and to a large degree define what it means to be a member of America’s elite.
What is it about our elite culture that is so fixated on contraception? Over at Public Discourse, Greg Pfundstein and Meghan Grizzle report on the latest decision by the Gates Foundation to put more than $4 billion behind efforts to expand the use of contraceptives worldwide.
As they point out, increases in general education and economic development are strongly correlated to family planning, not the availability of contraceptive technology. But our age loves the idea that life’s difficulties can be solved by technology. Democracy? The internet and cell phones will provide it. Women’s health and empowerment? The Pill will do the trick.
In his column in the New York Times, Ross Douthat chronicles the decline of liberal Protestantism.
The Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations were once pillars of the WASP establishment, providing religious leadership and inspiration in nation-defining events such as the civil rights movement. Now? Well, these Christian churches have so thoroughly embraced the social mores of our secular elites that they’ve lost a great deal of their distinctive purpose. Why go to church when you can get what you need by reading the editorial pages of the New York Times?
The self-destruction of mainline Protestantism is an often told story. But Douthat makes an important observation.
If liberals need to come to terms with these failures, religious conservatives should not be smug about them. The defining idea of liberal Christianity—that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion—has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.
I would go a step further. The decline of liberal Protestantism has played an important role in the political polarization of America. By and large, the secular Left has come to dominate the Democratic Party. One effect has been to drive religious voters toward the Republican Party, turning our political life into one of the primary places for working out a struggle to define the future of American culture. It’s because institutions like the Episcopal Church have become irrelevant that there are few moderating forces at work on the Left today.
The decline of mainline Protestantism has meant the decline of Christian influence over American elite culture. No Christian (or Jew or Muslim, for that matter) ought to celebrate the end of liberal Christianity. It hasn’t meant the end of liberalism, only the end of a religiously and morally serious liberalism. That’s been bad for America, and bad for religious Americans.