Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., has a new book out, Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light.
Or maybe it’s a reprint of her old book, The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth. It’s hard to tell. Once an author starts down the road of making a living off being a “former something-or-other,” everything begins to sound the same. Richard John Neuhaus used to call it the “Just-Barely-Escaped Syndrome”—I grew up in one of those awful, stifling homes with evangelical [or Catholic or Orthodox Jewish or whatever] parents, and I just barely escaped!
One of the common rhetorical moves of the syndrome is what I call the “Melancholy Roar,” after Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” perhaps the ur-text for all such claims:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
What one does, for the Melancholy Roar of the Just Barely Escaped, is mention how sad it is that we are too grown up to believe this stuff anymore. Even that complete atheist Philip Larkin couldn’t fight off the temptation to make the move at the end of “Church Going,” and Larkin was a poetic genius. Countless lesser lights have run to embrace the temptation—and for obvious reasons. It lets us smile, sadly and condescendingly, at our own parents. We get to feel nice and superior, at the same time.
One of those lesser lights, by the way, is Valerie Tarico, Ph.D. (I don’t why, but I just love that “Ph.D.” after her name. It’s so cute, like a child pretending to be an adult by playing dress up with her mother’s shoes. Some day, of course, she’ll fall prey to the inverted snobbery of academics and realize that people with Ph.D.s don’t actually put Ph.D. after their names these days. In the meantime, though, we get the joy of seeing it in all its unselfconscious pretentiousness.)
Anyway, Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., is a Huffington Post columnist who makes her living off having been brought up as an evangelical. From which she just barely escaped. And the memory of which—its old certainties, its naive community, etc.; you know the schtick—sometimes makes her a little melancholy, although she’s now put away such childish things. And, let us not forget, such mostly evil things, for “Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth,” as the subtitle of her earlier book proclaimed.
Quite how truth can be corrupted when, as the title of her new book demands, we should be “Trusting Doubt,” is not clear. If everything is doubted, then there’s no truth left to be corrupted. But self-contradiction is OK. We’re large. We contain multitudes.
A friend reminds me that Tarico is the author of the Huffington Post column last year that told us about her own abortion. And about how she did it for her children.
I’m serious. That’s why she aborted her own baby, she says. To help her future children. Because she had toxoplasmosis, which means her unborn child might—might—have had blindness and brain lesions. So for the sake of the later children she might—might—bear, she did away with it:
Not only would we would be taking a chance on the quality of life of our first child, but potentially committing any future children to a life of caretaking that they had no option to choose or reject. We would be risking our own ability to give to the community around us—and possibly creating a situation in which our family needed to suck more out of society than we could put back into it. As painful as the decision felt, our moral values were clear, and we scheduled to terminate the pregnancy.
“Our moral values were clear.” Something about the phrase always makes me want to reach for the aspirin. Can I just remark that people who actually have moral values don’t usually talk about them as “moral values”? For that matter, Tarico’s moral values aren’t, in fact, particularly clear. To read her column is to see her trying to thread her way through a field of land mines, a hundred public pieties set to explode at the slightest misstep. The blind don’t deserve to live? Children aren’t taught compassion by caring for others? Children get to chose whether to be caring or not? Handicapped people “suck more out of society” than they put back into it?
There are people—from Social Darwinists to Nazis—who would say such things, of course, although Tarico doesn’t want to see herself in their company. But she really is in their company. This is where a giving up on human life goes. This is what happens when you make the Nietzschean move but feel compelled to say it in a nice way. Killing children, for the sake of the children.
Joseph Bottum is editor of First Things.