Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Get Religion bait

posted by Rod Dreher

For the second Saturday in a row, The New York Times surprises me with unpredictable (for the Times) and engaging religion journalism.
Last week Mark Oppenheimer profiled Eve Tushnet, a Catholic lesbian writer in Washington who is happily and openly gay, and happily and openly chaste. Excerpt:

But it is on her blog that a small but presumably learned readership finds her most ambitious writing: lengthy, often obscure, for gay love, against same-sex marriage, and serious about Scripture, saints and medieval philosophy. She writes about obscure Hungarian fiction (“Janos Nyiri’s ‘Battlefields and Playgrounds’ is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.”) and struggles in print with St. Anselm’s “ontological proof” of the existence of God.
It is not simple to embrace both traditional Catholicism and unrepentant, if sex-free, gayness. For example, Ms. Tushnet finds it difficult to interest fellow Catholics in their church’s theology of friendship, as articulated in books like St. Aelred’s “On Spiritual Friendship.” She says that when she talks to people about the religious importance of same-sex closeness, “they look at you like you’re trying to get married in the church.” And few of her friends share both her theology and her predilections for Edmund White, Jean Genet and the Smiths.
She may befuddle others, but for her, life is joyful. She takes obvious pleasure in being an eccentric in a tradition with no shortage of odd heroes, visionaries and saints. “You can be really quite strange, and the Catholic church will canonize you eventually,” she says.

This really is a wonderful piece of journalism. I very much doubt Mark Oppenheimer agrees in the least with Eve Tushnet on the subject of homosexuality and religion, so what was so good about this piece is that he suspended judgment, and let Eve speak for herself. I’m so used to seeing in the Times pieces of cultural and religious journalism that take the position — either in subject matter of how the piece is framed — that would neither surprise nor challenge your average Manhattan secular liberal. But the actual world is far more diverse. Whether or not you agree with Eve’s take on life, it’s refreshing to learn about it from the newspaper, and to encounter a piece of religio-cultural journalism in the Times that one feels is not about trying to lead one to a particular conclusion, but rather simply to examine the world as it is.
The Times surprised me again this morning with Katherine Zoepf’s piece from Saudi Arabia, profiling a Saudi woman who is campaigning against expanded rights for women. [For some reason, on the website it's listed as having been published on May 31; it's in this morning's print version of the Times, however]. Excerpt:

Surprising, too, are the complexities turned up by the debate, which go far beyond what some Saudis see as the simplistic Western argument that women are simply entitled to more rights.
Take Ms. Yousef. She is a 39-year-old divorced mother of three (aged 13, 12 and 9) who volunteers as a mediator in domestic abuse cases. A tall, confident woman with a warm, effusive manner and sparkling stiletto-heeled sandals, her conversation, over Starbucks lattes, ranges from racism in the kingdom (Ms. Yousef has Somali heritage and calls herself a black Saudi) to her admiration for Hillary Rodham Clinton to the abuse she says she has suffered at the hands of Saudi liberals.
She believes firmly that most Saudis share her conservative values but insists that adherence to Shariah law and family custom need not restrict a woman seeking a say. Female campaigners in the reform camp, she says, are influenced by Westerners who do not understand the needs and beliefs of Saudi women.
“These human rights groups come, and they only listen to one side, those who are demanding liberty for women,” she said.

Set aside whether or not you agree with Ms. Yousef’s crusade. What makes this such a useful report is found in that line I quoted at the end. It’s not what people like me and thee (I’m betting) want to hear, but it’s what we need to hear, to remind ourselves that the world is more complex than we prefer to think. The story discusses how Saudi society is constituted, psychologically and culturally, and why the sort of thing that seems perfectly obvious to us in the West — that women should have more rights and liberties — is by no means obvious to Saudi men and women. Here’s the last graf from that report:

Yet Ms. Fahad conceded that most Saudi women cleave to tradition. “If you actually talk to ordinary people,” including in her circle, she said, “you’ll find that most people want things to stay the same.”

That’s true about human nature in general, isn’t it? People like Eve Tushnet and Rowdha Yousef aren’t supposed to exist. But they do. Readers of the Times need to know about them, and to take them seriously. I would rather have journalism that seeks to explain the world as it is, without cheerleading, implicitly or explicitly, for a culturally liberal or culturally conservative narrative. American newspapers, especially the Times, so often fail in this regard (for example!), so it’s important to praise them when they get it right.
Over to you, GR…



Advertisement
Comments read comments(23)
post a comment
lancelot lamar

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:44 am


Eve Tushnet truly is a highly original and compelling writer and thinker. God bless her.



report abuse
 

Bruce G

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:56 am


on the website it’s listed as having been published on May 31; it’s in this morning’s print version
Yes, don’t know the exact date but I remember reading that article online a week or two ago.



report abuse
 

Indy

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:57 am


It’s good that the writers listened to and fairly represented the people about whom they were writing. Journalism really is a mixed bag, too often writers read for familiar framing, although not always intentionally. It takes a lot of effort to recognize and fairly represent the square pegs. And to ensure their voices are heard in debates. It’s something that is needed in writing about people in all areas, religion and politics included. Michael Smerconish pointed to the need for discernment in an editorial yesterday (“On cable TV and talk radio, a push toward polarization.”)
http://wpht.cbslocal.com/2010/06/11/smerconish-in-the-washington-post/
Smerconish described how difficult it has been for tv producers to label him, and observed that
“I’d argue that the climate in Washington is being shaped by an artificial presentation of attitudes on cable TV and talk radio. To view and to listen is to become convinced that there are only two, diametrically opposed philosophical approaches to the issues. And yet, working daily in both mediums, I often think that the only people I meet who see the world entirely through liberal or conservative lenses are the hosts with whom I rub shoulders.
Buying gas or groceries or attending back-to-school nights, I speak to people for whom the issues are a mixed bag; they are liberal on some, conservative on others, middle of the road on the rest. But politicians don’t take their cues from those people. No, politicians emulate the world of punditry.
Opinions from the middle are underrepresented, even shunned, in the modern debate.”
Is simplistic framing due to laziness? Comfort? A tin ear? Dunno. But it’s good to see that some can rise above it.



report abuse
 

mouseytalons

posted June 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm


Hi All,
I don’t usually comment on these kinds of articles, however, I am excited to finally hear a story as it should be reported. Too many reporters in my area (Minnesota) put some kind of spin on the story that should be left out, and the stories should be reported as they are, and the conclusions left up to the readers.
Thank You.
G_D Bless



report abuse
 

hlvanburen

posted June 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm


Interesting viewpoints in both of these women’s views, and the Times did indeed do a fair job of reporting on them. Yes, I disagree with some of the points made, but in spite of that the story is good reporting, and both women deserve to be commended for expressing their views so cogently. Thanks again for calling our attention to it.



report abuse
 

Charles Cosimano

posted June 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm


“You can be really quite strange, and the Catholic church will canonize you eventually,” she says.
That wins the Understatement of the Week award. Has the Catholic Church ever canonized anyone who was not quite strange?



report abuse
 

N.A.O.

posted June 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm


True, Charles, being a saint is not exactly going with the current.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted June 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm


I read Ms. Tushnet’s blog quite often. I disagree with her on a lot of issues (she’s generally _politically_ conservative as well as religiously), and among other things I do disagree with her that homosexuality is wrong. That said, she’s a great writer, and often has very thought-provoking things to say.
I’m not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination, but reading her reflections (and Ross Douthat’s) on the 60th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Japan, made me realise that American conservatism might have more morally and intellectually serious people in it then I had previously thought.
NAO,
Yes, ‘strange’ is rather an understatemnt for someone like St. Simeon Stylites.



report abuse
 

Geoff G.

posted June 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm


Hmm. I’m not sure I understand why people like Eve Tushnet aren’t supposed to exist. There are chaste straight people. Why not chaste gay people? That only makes sense if you think homosexuality is a choice and that all gay people are sexually insatiable and amoral.
I thoroughly support her choice to live her life in accordance with her beliefs, and I’m glad that she speaks articulately on behalf of her way of life.
What is curious to me is that, while most gay people wouldn’t understand her choices and might look at her quizzically, they’ll respect her ability to choose for herself (naturally, there are exceptions, but for the most part this is true).
Would that that were true for her co-religionists.



report abuse
 

Jon

posted June 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm


May I complain a little bit about the use of “chaste” as a synonym for “celibate”? To be sure all (truly) celibate people are also chaste, but not all chaste people are celibate. “Chastity” is sexual virtue (behaving sexually with temperance, prudence, fidelity etc.); “celibacy” is remaining single, presumably for life.
Please note I am not in any way complaining about Ms Tushnet and the choices she has made.



report abuse
 

Neil D

posted June 12, 2010 at 7:10 pm


I wonder if a few centuries ago, it was possible to find some slave in the USA who was content with their situation. I can certainly imagine a slave born in the USA who had a benevolent owner (Thomas Jefferson?) and figured, given the nature of southern society, that they had it pretty good.
“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted June 12, 2010 at 7:25 pm


Yes, ‘strange’ is rather an understatemnt for someone like St. Simeon Stylites.
Saint Simeon, as I live and (barely) breathe! Mr. Eat What God Has Given You himself! First ran into the guy in the long Grand Guignol set-pieces from Lecky’s History of European Morals
(New York: Appleton, 1869) quoted in Henry Hazlitt’s The Foundations of Morality from 1964, and don’t think I’ll forget him if I make it to an Okinawan age. Lecky:
But of all the evidences of the loathsome excesses to which this spirit was carried, the life of St. Simcon Stylites is probably the most remarkable. It would be difficult to conceive a more horrible or disgusting picture than is given of the penances by which that saint commenced his ascetic career. He had bound a rope around him so that it became imbedded in his flesh, which putrefied around it. “A horrible stench, intolerable to the bystanders, exhaled from his body, and worms dropped from him whenever he moved, and they filled his bed.” Sometimes he left the monastery and slept in a dry well, inhabited, it is said, by daemons.He built successively three pillars, the last being sixty feet high, and scarcely two cubits in circumference, and on this pillar, during thirty years, he remained exposed to every change of climate, ceaselessly and rapidly bending his body in prayer almost to the level of his feet. A spectator attempted to number these rapid motions, but desisted from weariness when he had counted 1,244. For a whole year, we are told, St. Simeon stood upon one leg, the other being covered with hideous ulcers, while his biographer was commissioned to stand by his side, to pick up the worms that fell from his body, and to replace them in the sores, the saint saying to the worm, “Eat what God has given you.” From every quarter pilgrims of every degree thronged to do him homage. A crowd of prelates followed him to the grave. A brilliant star is said to have shone miraculously over his pillar; the general voice of mankind pronounced him to be the highest model of a Christian saint, and several other anchorites imitated or emulated his penances.



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted June 12, 2010 at 7:36 pm


American newspapers, especially the Times, so often fail in this regard (for example!), so it’s important to praise them when they get it right.
David Skinner offered a complementary thought on the demise in 2005 of The Public Interest, the influential political quarterly founded forty years earlier by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell:
A 1966 essay on journalism by Kristol looked into how the legacy of muckraking and a devotion to amateurism undermined “the greatest newspaper ever,” the New York Times. Reporters tended to have little expertise in the subjects they covered, while careers were made by splashy but ultimately trifling stories about public officials’ minor or even nonexistent conflicts of interest. Editorials functioned as royal pronouncements, rarely condescending to bother with evidence or reasoning. More than its findings, many of which still ring true, the triumph of the essay lies in Kristol’s amused and urbane tone: A copy should be sent to every right-wing crank who has ever used the acronyms MSM (mainstream media) or LMB (liberal media bias) to show how a sophisticated understanding of the media can coexist with trenchant criticism of their shortcomings.



report abuse
 

BobSF

posted June 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm


May I complain a little bit about the use of “chaste” as a synonym for “celibate”? To be sure all (truly) celibate people are also chaste, but not all chaste people are celibate. “Chastity” is sexual virtue (behaving sexually with temperance, prudence, fidelity etc.); “celibacy” is remaining single, presumably for life.
The distinction you note is only valid for married heterosexuals (or at least I would guess Ms. Tushnet would support that view). Rod, too, no?



report abuse
 

Siarlys Jenkins

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm


To the extent that ALL slaves are or were satisfied with their lot, there would be no moral basis or political will to end slavery. It is the dissatisfaction which motors a movement for abolition. There have certainly been societies where slavery was considered the norm for most people, and accepted for centuries. On the other hand, Sparta’s helots revolted more than once, and so did those who followed Spartacus.
We’re going to have to live with the fact that people in some parts of the world will do things very differently than we do, but I would add one caveat. Individuals who are motivated to find something different, say, the life we offer in our country, should have the option to move, without hindrance. There are also women in the USA who choose the role of “wife, submits to her husband.” If that is truly their choice, and sometimes it is, so be it. We can’t grab them by the scruff of the neck and insist “No, you have to be liberated like I am.” Liberation at gun point is no liberation at all. There are many subtleties to what people actually find behind the words we argue with.
“and odin”
Yes, those who prefer odin can make that choice. I don’t.



report abuse
 

Hector

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm


Re: To be sure all (truly) celibate people are also chaste,
Not necessarily. Someone who indulges in heavy sexual fantasizing, solitary vice, entertains sexual desires, etc. might be celibate (in the sense of not being sexually active) but not really particularly chaste in a spiritual sense.
Bob SF,
True, but not all Christians agree with Rod or Ms. Tushnet, so why should they get to define the terms?



report abuse
 

Hector

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:32 pm


And by the way, I think it’s somewhat silly to talk about Tushnet and this Saudi woman in the same light. I disagree with the RC position on homosexuality, but it is just not in the same ballpark as the vicious and fierce Saudi Arabian oppression of women. I can have a civilised and friendly conversation with a conservative Catholic priest about homosexuality, and we can agree to disagree on the matter, amicably and peaceably. One can’t have the same kind of discussion with a defender of a system who thinks women should not be allowed to go around in public without a male guardian.



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted June 12, 2010 at 10:59 pm


There are also women in the USA who choose the role of “wife, submits to her husband.” If that is truly their choice, and sometimes it is, so be it. We can’t grab them by the scruff of the neck and insist “No, you have to be liberated like I am.” Liberation at gun point is no liberation at all. There are many subtleties to what people actually find behind the words we argue with.
After Wendell Berry published in 1987 his famous essay “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer”, in which he discussed his wife’s role in editing and typing his manuscripts, he received as if from Central Casting a sheaf of letters from believers in Progress, many parroting a received narrative to the effect that he was exploiting his subservient wife.
Sixteen years later, in “Feminism, the Body and the Machine”, he did what I would have done on the spot – good Kentucky farmer that he is, he took out his frickin’ shotgun and shot ‘em dead, right between the eyes.*
Me an’ Wendell are like that. Then we have the little wifey – actually, she’s quite the imposing mutha, at least in my case – roast ‘em, in a white wine sauce with shallots, mushrooms and garlic.
*Without exception, the feminist letters accuse me of exploiting my wife, and they do not scruple to allow the most insulting implications of their indictment to fall upon my wife. They fail entirely to see that my essay does not give any support to their accusation—or if they see it, they do not care. My essay, in fact, does not characterize my wife beyond saying that she types my manuscripts and tells me what she thinks about them. It does not say what her motives are, how much work she does, or whether or how she is paid. Aside from saying that she is my wife and that I value the help she gives me with my work, it says nothing about our marriage. It says nothing about our economy.
There is no way, then, to escape the conclusion that my wife and I are subjected in these letters to a condemnation by category. My offense is that I am a man who receives some help from his wife; my wife’s offense is that she is a woman who does some work for her husband—which work, according to her critics and mine, makes her a drudge, exploited by a conventional subservience. And my detractors have, as I say, no evidence to support any of this. Their accusation rests on a syllogism of the flimsiest sort: my wife helps me in my work, some wives who have helped their husbands in their work have been exploited, therefore my wife is exploited.
This, of course, outrages justice to about the same extent that it insults intelligence. Any respectable system of justice exists in part as a protection against such accusations. In a just society nobody is expected to plead guilty to a general indictment, because in a just society nobody can be convicted on a general indictment. What is required for a just conviction is a particular accusation that can be proved. My accusers have made no such accusation against me.
That feminists or any other advocates of human liberty and dignity should resort to insult and injustice is regrettable. It is equally regrettable that all of the feminist attacks on my essay implicitly deny the validity of two decent and probably necessary possibilities: marriage as a state of mutual help, and the household as an economy.
Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate “relationship” involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided…



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted June 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm


actually, [the little wifey]‘s quite the imposing mutha, at least in my case
I meant to link to a recent snapshot of Mutha.
Even Wendell’s pal Jesus, too, did an I-am-Spartacus mooning on Wendell an’ Tanya Berry’s humourless bitchslappers.
And speaking of general indictments used as private condemnations, there’s this, from commenters I quoted in a post I did on my preference for traditional, unwesternized Asian women, We Love You Long Time (Once We Saw the Local Talent) – and We’re Crack Shots, or, Here Come Mai Lo, Da Bride:
“…Asian women fully assimilated to western values do not have the charm or allure of Asian women proper. They’re as grating and unattractive as the white Western women they’ve learned how to ape. It takes more than a certain skin colour and cast of face and an Asian name, to make a woman an ‘Asian woman’.
“…you are quite right about Asian women…I’m always amazed at these articles that seem to suggest that my preference in a mate is subject to community debate and approval. Where the —k do people get that idea?
“Somehow, they do get the idea that it is their business. That’s why I’ve got a 9 millimeter Beretta and a double barrel Winchester shotgun at my house. If the jackasses who make New York law would act like decent people and change the law, I’d probably carry my Baretta in an holster with me when I go to certain places.”



report abuse
 

Jon

posted June 13, 2010 at 7:44 am


Me: To be sure all (truly) celibate people are also chaste,
Hector: Not necessarily
OK, let me stipulate that perfect chastity is impossible, since original sin taints us all.
Re: The distinction you note is only valid for married heterosexuals
My distinction is valid for everyone. There is not one morality for one set of people and another morality for others. The same moral principles hold good for all humanity.
Also, what constitutes “marriage”? We tend to think it’s when the state issues a certain piece of paper to a couple, but that’s been the case for just a little over two centuries. I hold to the older definition which saw mariage as existing between two people who, without intervening bar, pledge themselves to each other in their heart. The sacracment of matrimony is recommended to all Christians certainly as it brings God’s grace formally into a marriage, and the legal protections offered by the state are not trivial– but neither is necessary for a couple to be married.



report abuse
 

BobSF

posted June 13, 2010 at 3:32 pm


Hector: True, but not all Christians agree with Rod or Ms. Tushnet, so why should they get to define the terms?
They don’t. But we are discussing Ms. Tushnet’s views, so within that framework, gay chaste does EQUAL gay celibate.
In the Saudi context, gay celibate = gay in jail.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted June 14, 2010 at 5:44 pm


“I hold to the older definition which saw mariage as existing between two people who, without intervening bar, pledge themselves to each other in their heart. The sacracment of matrimony is recommended to all Christians certainly as it brings God’s grace formally into a marriage, and the legal protections offered by the state are not trivial– but neither is necessary for a couple to be married.”
Agreed.
And thusly, it applies to “two people” who are of the same sex. QED



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another blog to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Rod Dreher. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Most Recent Scientology Story on Beliefnet! Happy Reading!!!

posted 3:25:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mommy explains her plastic surgery
In Dallas (naturally), a parenting magazine discusses how easy it is for mommies who don't like their post-child bodies to get surgery -- and to have it financed! -- to reverse the effects of time and childbirth. Don't like what nursing has done to your na-nas? Doc has just the solution: Doctors say

posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the October 12, 2006, entry in which I revealed and explained wh

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to!

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a racist verdict, and a bizarre one -- but there's more t

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.