Tuesday, June 30, 2015
The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Next Culture War
Christianity is in decline in the United States. The share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and attend church is dropping. Evangelical voters make up a smaller share of the electorate. Members of the millennial generation are detaching themselves from religious institutions in droves.
Christianity's gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues. More and more Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture. They fear they will soon be treated as social pariahs, the moral equivalent of segregationists because of their adherence to scriptural teaching on gay marriage. They fear their colleges will be decertified, their religious institutions will lose their tax-exempt status, their religious liberty will come under greater assault.
He continued: "We have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist."The Supreme Court's gay marriage decision landed like some sort of culminating body blow onto this beleaguered climate. Rod Dreher, author of the truly outstanding book "How Dante Can Save Your Life," wrote an essay in Time in which he argued that it was time for Christians to strategically retreat into their own communities, where they could keep "the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness."
Most Christian commentary has opted for another strategy: fight on. Several contributors to a symposium in the journal First Things about the court's Obergefell decision last week called the ruling the Roe v. Wade of marriage. It must be resisted and resisted again. Robert P. George, probably the most brilliant social conservative theorist in the country, argued that just as Lincoln persistently rejected the Dred Scott decision, so "we must reject and resist an egregious act of judicial usurpation."
These conservatives are enmeshed in a decades-long culture war that has been fought over issues arising from the sexual revolution. Most of the conservative commentators I've read over the past few days are resolved to keep fighting that war.
I am to the left of the people I have been describing on almost all of these social issues. But I hope they regard me as a friend and admirer. And from that vantage point, I would just ask them to consider a change in course.
Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.
Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.
Consider a different culture war, one just as central to your faith and far more powerful in its persuasive witness.
We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.
Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.
the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.
This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It's doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.
I don't expect social conservatives to change their positions on sex, and of course fights about the definition of marriage are meant as efforts to reweave society. But the sexual revolution will not be undone anytime soon. The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable. Social conservatives are well equipped to repair this fabric, and to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
I hear he has a serious case of cancer of the mouth.
Sent from my iPad
On Jun 28, 2015, at 2:18 PM, Juan Matute <email@example.com> wrote:
POLITICS | NEWS ANALYSIS
As Left Wins Culture Battles, G.O.P. Gains Opportunity to Pivot for 2016
WASHINGTON — A cascade of events suggests that 2015 could be remembered as a Liberal Spring: the moment when deeply divisive and consuming questions of race, sexuality and broadened access to health care were settled in quick succession, and social tolerance was cemented as a cornerstone of American public life.
Yet what appears, in headlines and celebrations across the country, to represent an unalloyed victory for Democrats, in which lawmakers and judges alike seemed to give in to the leftward shift of public opinion, may contain an opening for the Republican Party to move beyond losing battles and seemingly lost causes.
Conservatives have, in short order, endured a series of setbacks on ideas that, for some on the right, are definitional: that marriage is between a man and a woman, that Southern heritage and its symbols are to be unambivalently revered and that the federal government should play a limited role in the lives of Americans.
Remarkably, some of these verities have been challenged not by liberals but by figures from the right.
The past week and the month that preceded it have been nothing short of a rout in the culture wars. Bruce Jenner, the famed Olympian, became Caitlyn Jenner in the most prominent moment yet for transgender people. The killings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., at once renderedthe Confederate battle flag unsuitable for government-sanctioned display. And Friday's legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide elevated a community that had been consigned to the shadows for centuries of American life.
But even as conservatives appear under siege, some Republicans predict that this moment will be remembered as an effective wiping of the slate before the nation begins focusing in earnest on the presidential race.
As important as some of these issues may be to the most conservative elements of the party's base and in the primaries ahead, few Republican leaders want to contest the 2016 elections on social or cultural grounds, where polls suggest that they are sharply out of step with the American public.Continue reading the main story
The critical question is whether the Republican Party will embrace such a message in order to seize what many party officials see as an opening to turn the election toward economic and national security issues."Every once in a while, we bring down the curtain on the politics of a prior era," said David Frum, the conservative writer. "The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues. And Republicans can say, 'Whether you're gay, black or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.' "
Of course, many of the Republicans running for president are keen to move on from the culture wars, but others, like Mike Huckabee and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, are already seizing on matters like same-sex marriage and what they call judicial overreach to distinguish themselves in a crowded primary field. And the conservative activists and interest groups that play an important role in the primary will not let any of the candidates simply move on.
"Our candidates running in a primary are put in a little bit of a box by the events of this week, but at the same time, it does change the landscape for the general election, which is a blessing," said Carl Forti, a Republican strategist who has worked on presidential races. "I'm glad I'm not on a campaign and don't have to advise my candidate on how to navigate those three issues this week, because the answers for the primary and the general are radically different."
Privately, some of the strategists advising Republican hopefuls believe the last week has been nothing short of a gift from above — a great unburdening on issues of race and sexuality, and on health care a disaster averted. Rhetorical opposition to the Affordable Care Act will still be de rigueur in the primaries, but litigating the issue in theory is wholly different from doing so with more than six million people deprived of their health insurance.
Collectively, this optimistic thinking would have it, June will go down as the month that dulled some of the wedge issues Democrats were hoping to wield next year.
"Whether the presidential candidates agree or disagree with the results of all this, it allows them to say these issues have been settled and move on to things that offer more of a political home-field advantage," said Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota.
While acknowledging that the country has become more tolerant and, in some ways, culturally liberal, many Republicans contend that America is still receptive to a more conservative approach on economics and national security. After all, the same week that highlighted the ascent of cultural liberalism also illustrated the limitations of economic populism, as organized labor was unable to block a measure giving President Obamaexpansive trade authority.
"There will always be side issues, but none of that will compete with people's primary concerns, which are the economy and who is going to be able to keep the country safe," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster advising Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
"We have been observing the deconstructing of America in the last six and a half years," said Tony Perkins, the head of the conservative Family Research Council. "The tolerance level has been exceeded."Yet as the 2012 presidential race demonstrated, the immediate demands of a Republican primary can outweigh the eventual priorities of a general election. And, given last week's events, conservative hard-liners in the coming Republican contest will be even hungrier for candidates to demonstrate that they are willing to employ all possible means to repel what they see as an assault on foundational values.
What outrages social conservatives is not only the narrow issue of same-sex marriage rights, but also what they see as a violation of religious liberties that they believe are intrinsic to the country.
When Senator Cruz said the past week had featured "some of the darkest 24 hours in our history," he spoke for those conservatives who believe the America they know is slipping away.
What is unclear about the wide Republican field is whether a candidate has yet surfaced who is deft enough to appeal to such devoted conservatives without going so far to mollify them as to scare away less dogmatic voters.
Of the well-financed candidates, Jeb Bush has done the most, on matters of race and marriage, to portray himself as a candidate who can appeal to a more socially tolerant country. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who made his name on fiscal issues, has surprised some in the party by positioning himself on the right on cultural issues. Mr. Rubio has been more cautious, trying not to inflame primary voters while also speaking in a measured fashion to avoid harming himself if he is the nominee.
Yet even if the party's eventual standard-bearer can win the nomination without providing much fodder for Democrats to use in the general election, he or she will not be able to ignore cultural issues entirely. Self-identified white evangelical voters can make up as much as 40 percent of a Republican presidential nominee's vote.
That is what worries many of the party's strategists. "Some of our candidates will play to them and take positions that aren't helpful in a general election," Mr. Forti said.
And while a window may be open for Republicans to shift the race in a different direction, Democrats will do their best to keep the focus on subjects many Republican candidates want to avoid. Many of them, Hillary Rodham Clinton told Democrats on Friday night in Virginia, appear "determined to lead us right back into the past."
Friday, June 26, 2015
Why Are So Many Pundits Trashing the Pope?
The pontiff crosses a Western taboo
By Matt Taibbi June 26, 2015
"While the pontiff sanctimoniously attacks 'those who are obsessed with maximizing profits,' Carrier Corporation -- a $13 billion for-profit company with 43,000 employees worldwide (now a unit of U.S.-based United Technologies Corp.) -- ensures that the air in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel stays clean and cool."
I'm normally not a big fan of the Catholic Church, or popes in general. But if anyone should be allowed to adopt a "sanctimonious" tone, it's probably a pope, right? Isn't an air of moral superiority part of the job description?
Malkin might have been joking, but she doesn't usually go for Art Buchwald-style funny in her prose. Moreover, it came in the middle of a passage in which she unironically called the pope a hypocrite for criticizing global capitalism and using air conditioning at the same time.
This is the same bizarre argument that right-wing columnists pulled out during Occupy Wall Street, when, for instance, Charles Krauthammer called protesters hypocrites for complaining about corporate capitalism even as they drank Starbucks, wore Levis and used iPhones.
At first glance, the Francis encyclical seems like Typical Pope Stuff, full of organized religion's usual sour grapes over various new altars humanity has chosen to worship before – in particular, technology and profits. Francis repeatedly argues that the sweeping changes of humanity's recent past (which of course include a dramatic reduction in the influence of religion) haven't been all they're cracked up to be.
"The growth of the past two centuries," he writes, "has not always led…to an improvement in the quality of life."
The pope also manages to bootstrap a collection of old Catholic grievances into the hipper, more millennial-friendly conservationist argument. He insists that "the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion," and somewhat implausibly complains that consumerism is a bigger threat to our supply of natural resources than overpopulation.
The passage on overpopulation is particularly odd. The pope seems to argue that instead of trying to offer "reproductive health" services to poor nations, we should just throw away less food. Francis in other words wants us to be better stewards of the environment, but only if we can do so without using condoms.
So there's a lot of the familiar churchy terror of progress in here. But some of the Francis diatribe is more urgent and political. In parts it reads like a Bernie Sanders stump speech, denouncing wastefulness and greed. One passage is striking:
"The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy….Some circles maintain…that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth….For them, maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion."
The relentless quest for profits, the pope writes, has left the planet mired in problems: escalating levels of crime and violence, huge populations of migrants without rights, hunger, degradation, the destruction of the environment. On that last note, he levels a blunt insult at the cosmetic end-result of capitalist achievement: "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."
Language like this inspired caterwauls of wounded anger from establishment pundits all over America, where the nation's opinion priests seemed determined to shoo the ignorant pope away from issues above his pay grade.
Right-wing goofballs like Malkin and Cal Thomas ripped the pope for being the dupe of scientists pushing a climate change conspiracy theory, with Thomas accusing the pope of joining the "disciples of the environmentalist cult." Ross Douthat quickly denounced Francis as a "catastrophist" who thinks humanity's recent technological achievements are a "500-year mistake."
People from all corners piled on. A columnist for the Missoulian conjured a memorable image in his piece, "Pope Francis Goes Off the Rails." A writer for The Federalist named Denise McAllister even argued with a straight face that the Jesuit pope – a man who dedicated his life to the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi – somehow misunderstood the Gospels' instructions on poverty. The West Virginia Coal Association complained that Francis failed to appreciate the wonders of fossil fuels. And the National Post even went so far as to say that the encyclical read "like the Unabomber manifesto."
What was so weird about a lot of these articles was their strident, accusatory tone. The pope is a hypocrite! A cultist! An apostate! A substandard economist! It wasn't just that the pope was wrong, but that he'd stuck his beak somewhere where it didn't belong.
Of course the most hilariously obnoxious response belonged to Times columnist David Brooks, whose "Fracking and the Franciscans" piece actually chides a Jesuit pope for underappreciating the importance of self-interest. Brooks, who in his spare time has carried the preposterous title of a Yale Professor of Humility, wrote his piece in the same florid style of a papal encyclical:
"The innocence of the dove has to be accompanied by the wisdom of the serpent — the awareness that programs based on the purity of the heart backfire; the irony that the best social programs harvest the low but steady motivations of people as they actually are."
How's that for sanctimony, Popeface! Amateur!
Lindsay Abrams at Salon has already done a thorough takedown of this strange Brooks broadside against the whole Christian love thing, so there's no need to get into that too much here. But there was one part of the article I found truly incredible, a section on the pope's failure to appreciate the wonders of the Asian economy:
"A raw and rugged capitalism in Asia has led, ironically, to a great expansion of the middle class and great gains in human dignity….
Pope Francis is a wonderful example of how to be a truly good person. But if we had followed his line of analysis…there'd be no awareness that though industrialization can lead to catastrophic pollution in the short term (China), over the long haul both people and nature are better off with technological progress."
Has it really come to this? Is it now conventional wisdom to admonish the Catholic Church for underappreciating the contributions of Chinese totalitarianism toward "human dignity?"
It's nauseating enough when Western economists laud the Chinese "economic miracle," as if there's some deep secret involved in using slave labor to hoard mountains of manufacturing profits.
But asking us to appreciate the "gains in human dignity" offered by a society without freedoms of speech, assembly, political choice, religion or labor organization is beyond absurd. For that matter, so is calling the Chinese economy a model of free-market progress, when it's actually a system that depends almost entirely on ongoing, intimate interference from the world's most ubiquitous and domineering central government.
That the pope's letter inspires such hysterical stupidities speaks to how deeply upsetting it must be to our guardians of mainstream opinion. But what exactly has all of these people so upset?
To me, all of this speaks to the weirdly cultist, neo-Randian, Road to Serfdom vibe that is increasingly swallowing up the American cultural and intellectual mainstream.
Capitalism and competition aren't merely thought of as utilitarian systems for delivering goods and services to people anymore. To people like Brooks and Rand Paul and Charles Murray (also known as Jeb Bush's favorite author), the free market is also a sort of religion that can address every important human question.
We used to think of wealth and spirituality as being two completely separate things. But in the minds of some in modern America, they're becoming fused. The way Brooks and others clearly imagine it, one achieves wealth first, then dignity follows behind. We're losing the ability to imagine a dignified life without money. Which is pretty messed up.
In the past, it was completely natural for a religious leader like a pope to suggest that our economic system leaves important spiritual questions unanswered. After all, that's what religion was supposed to be for, addressing the non-material parts of our lives. But in modern times, this idea offends many people.
Hence this bizarre wave of criticism directed against an elderly cleric in a funny hat who is being blasted for being impractical, unrealistic and insufficiently appreciative of the material, despite the fact that it's precisely a pope's job to be all of these things.
I'm not religious, and I'm not particularly a Luddite or an anti-capitalist. But I'm open to the idea that there should be something else in life beyond money, or that we may be losing something important when we communicate by clicks and drags instead of face-to-face meetings. Is that really such revolutionary thinking, especially coming from a pope? It seems like such a strange thing to get angry about.