"Crunchy Con" has a new home. Peruse these earlier posts, or visit the current blog by clicking here.

Beginning April 10, Rod Dreher launched his "Crunchy Con" blog on Beliefnet. He is editor of the Sunday commentary section of The Dallas Morning News, and author of "Crunchy Cons" (Crown Forum), a nonfiction book about conservatives, most of them religious, whose faith and political convictions sometimes put them at odds with mainstream conservatives. Born and raised a Methodist in south Louisiana, he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993.

Bunnies and Eggs? Please?

Matthew is six. Last night, after we said our nightly prayers, he said, “Hey, tell me some Easter stories, and I’m not talking about bunnies and eggs, either.”

Okayyyy. I told him about the mystery of Judas’s betrayal. His response: “So, Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him, and he let it happen anyway? Why didn’t he stop him?”

I dealt with that the best I could. I went on with the Passion narrative. He says at one point, “So, Pontius Pilate was kind of innocent, right?” Well, no, not exactly, I explained. And explained and explained. We went on, until he asked, “So if Jesus was God, why didn’t he save himself?” I explained that one too. I’m not sure it took, so I reassured him that all of this is a great mystery of God’s love. Matthew said, “If God knew he was going to have to die, why did he do it?” I did my best, but I didn’t expect to have to explain all that to a six year old. I kind of thought we’d still be at the bunnies and eggs stage. Though we never really have done Easter bunny stuff at our house, so I guess Julie and I brought this on ourselves.

If It Bends, It’s Comedy; if It Breaks….
I was thinking about Alan Alda’s line from Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (one of my favorite movies) while reading Peggy Noonan’s insightful column today. She gives gingerly advice for the Bush White House in the springtime of its discontent. It’s a diplomatic column, but as I read it, the points she makes are pretty, well, pointed. Her main point, made upon the occasion of the recent deck-chairs-shuffling on the White House staff, is that the problem is not the people around Bush; the problem is Bush himself. By creating an environment in which people who offer advice the White House doesn’t want to hear become enemies, the president has done himself and his government serious harm. Writes Noonan:

Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, [economist Bruce] Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles. There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, "Those people aren't drinking the Kool-Aid, they're sucking it from a spigot!"
Next, she comments on Bush’s boundless self-confidence, and his belief that no matter what people say now, history will vindicate him. Writes Noonan: “Message to all biography-reading presidents, past present and future: Just because they call you a jackass doesn't mean you're Lincoln.”

Finally, she says of the president: “It matters that he becomes his broadest self and comes to tolerate dissent, argument, ambiguity. That actually would be daring. It would mark not the appearance of change but change, not the appearance of progress but the thing itself.”

This is very thoughtful and well-considered advice from someone who clearly wants the Bush White House to succeed. My fear is that she’s just earned herself a spot on the Enemies List. And this White House will continue to be broken on the inflexibility of its master. As Michelle Cottle observed about the Decider-in-Chief, “No one doubts that Bush knows how to make decisions. The increasingly pertinent question is whether he knows how to make good ones.”

It was almost touching how well-meaning liberal sorts thought that having to assume the reins of governing would moderate the bloodthirsty Jew-hating Islamist fanaticist movement Hamas. Is there anybody left who believes that after Hamas’s endorsement of the Tel Aviv suicide bombing this week? And now comes news from Jordan that Hamas has been stockpiling weaponry  there in secret. “Not our guns,” says Hamas. Right.

I heart Anne Morse
Anne Morse says some really nice things about my book “Crunchy Cons” at BreakPoint. Thanks Anne! Excerpt:

We Christians, who claim to value family and neighbor and community—why do we settle for so much less? We carefully keep our kids away from the corrosive influences of public schools and trashy films and Internet porn, yet mindlessly move into soulless suburbs, into neighborhoods (so-called) that impoverish us socially, morally, and spiritually, and that often force us into long commutes to work, further separating us from family life.

As a fellow crunchy con asked Dreher, “If family is so important to us conservatives, why do so many of us bring into our daily lives so many things that take away from family life?”

A good question, from the author of one of the most important books of 2006—one that will almost certainly become a conservative classic.
LAT on Mahony
Here’s the terrific Los Angeles Times editorial today on Cardinal Mahony’s grubby endgame. It clarifies something: Mahony did not claim that the seal of the confessional would be violated by his having to turn over personnel files to the DA, only that something LIKE the seal would be. Uh, no–but having made that dubious claim, it will be interesting to see how Mahony now reacts. It sounds like SCOTUS did the right thing here. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine, it would seem…

Don’t Look Now
But the white working class in Britain might be defecting in serious numbers to the far-right British National Party–so warns a top Tony Blair adviser. This, I’m afraid, is the frightening consequence of the mainstream European political parties failing to come to grips with immigration, multiculturalism and the nonassimilation of immigrants.

I remember being in the Netherlands and Belgium 20 years ago, and listening to native-born Dutch and Belgians talk about the massive problems their societies were having with immigrants, especially Muslims, failing to assimilate–but these people being afraid to talk openly about their concerns, for fear of being denounced as racists. In fact, they themselves wondered if their commonsense concerns made them racist. It didn’t take a psychic to see that if the mainstream political parties didn’t figure out some way to deal effectively with these challenges, they were going to create the conditions under which the far-right would rise.

If you read Bruce Bawer’s latest on how political correctness still guides the Euro-establishment’s response to Islamic extremism, you can almost hear the jackboots in the distance. And they are being called forth by the cowardice of the mainstream parties of the left and right. This is scary stuff.

'Habemus papam!'
I was sitting at my desk watching CNN and chewing my fingernails when the name of the new pope–Joseph Ratzinger–was announced. I let out a huge whoop, which startled everyone else in the department.

Pope Ratzinger! Could it really be?

That night, we had roast pork and German wine to celebrate in my house. For me, the thing I was hoping for from Benedict was a return to order and disciplined governance in the church. I had come to believe that John Paul was such a mystic, such a pastor, that he failed to govern the church properly, which was one of his responsibilities (all bishops are required to “teach, sanctify and govern”).

We saw this most clearly in the sex-abuse crisis, where John Paul’s bishops failed miserably to fight the corruption, and John Paul himself seemed unable to come to grips with it. It made a big impression on me that John Paul met with all kinds of representatives of groups that had been victimized by the church throughout history–but never with the Catholic victims of his own pederast priests and enabling bishops.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s office, I knew from various informed sources, had simply been overwhelmed by the staggering number of sex-abuse reports coming in from the United States. John Paul may have had his head in the sand, but Cardinal Ratzinger has not.

A year on, where do we stand? Given the enormity of the problems facing him, I wouldn’t have expected Pope Benedict to fix them all in 12 months. It was a real blow, I think, that he appointed the Archbishop of San Francisco, William Levada, to replace him at the CDF. Levada does not have a good record on responding to the sex abuse crisis, nor is he known for doctrinal orthodoxy. But we’ll see. Similarly, I don’t think he’s had the opportunity to appoint enough bishops for us to discern where he’s headed, but John Paul’s general record of appointing mediocre company men desperately needs improvement. By this time next year, we’ll have a better idea of where Benedict stands.

A number of people are saying that as much as they love Benedict, they miss John Paul’s rock-star style. Not me. I would be thrilled if Benedict would do nothing but stay in the Vatican and rebuild the church from within. Of course no pope post-JP2 can get away with that. Still, it would do the church good, I think, to have a respite from the cult of personality that built up around JP2. I am deeply impressed by the clarity of Benedict’s writing and teaching. JP2, God bless him, was a brilliant and holy man, but I found his writing to be maddeningly opaque and elliptical. Benedict is much more straightforward. We need that.

Finally, I love this pope because he seems to understand the dire historical moment for Christianity, especially in Europe. Because of him, I’ve gone back to learn what I could about St. Benedict of Nursia, for whom he’s named, and how St. Benedict responded to the crisis of his time. We really are living in a Benedictine moment of history, I think, and aside from the questions of church governance, it seems to me that Benedict is the man for our time.

Dom’s onto Roger the Dodger
As you read yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ request to keep priest personnel files out of the hands of the D.A. Cardinal Mahony had argued that to do so would be to violate the seal of the confessional, which Catholic priests are supposed to be prepared to suffer, even die, before breaking. Catholic blogger Dominic Bettinelli’s got Cardinal Mahony’s number :

If Cardinal Roger Mahony hands those files over he will be exposed as cynical and manipulative, because if he really thought those files should be protected under the seal he would go to jail before violating that seal. Canon law requires no less. But if he turns them over, and it looks like he will, then we will see that Mahony simply used the seal of the confessional as a legal tactic to cover his butt.
Anybody want to take bets on what Mahony will do? My guess is that Mahony is a deeply cynical man, and has been playing the confessional card merely as a legal tactic.

Sam’s Club Republicans, meet Lee Raymond

I would love to know what the superhero tag team of Ross ‘n Reihan, the guys who identified the Sam’s Club Republicans http://www.theamericanscene.com/pubs/lat011105.html think about the issue of the ExxonMobil CEOs ultracush retirement package, and how it will play in a political year in which gas prices are through the roof and big-bucks lobbying is on the minds of voters. Fellers?

Executive compensation, Part II
Yesterday, I raised the question of whether the gargantuan retirement package granted to ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, whether or not it is a moral and political issue for conservatives, especially religious conservatives. I asserted that it is, and that those Republicans who argue that the decisions of the free market cannot be questioned are wrong. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it morally right. A reader in Austin writes:

I don’t consider myself a “crunchy con” (though I confess an affinity for Birkenstocks and locally grown produce), but you hit the nail on the head about just because the market allows something doesn’t make it right. No man in history will ever need that much money to survive. All Raymond does is perpetuate stereotypes about CEO’s as greedy fat-cats. My dad is a CEO for a manufacturing company that has weathered the downturns in the manufacturing industry fairly well. However, at the moment he is making about 1/3 of what he made a couple years ago (before the downturn). Why should the CEO make exponentially more at the expense of the company, worker morale, and public image? As a staunch conservative (who is watching the Republican Party drift away from her) situations like Exxon’s are infuriating because it just reinforces the stereotypes we are attempting to abolish. Repubs in power need to realize they can’t take advantage of working-class conservatives anymore. Things like this just anger the hell out of us.
This reader sounds like what the nonpartisan Pew Center might describe as a “Pro-Government Conservative” in its 2005 Political Typology report. Go here and scroll down to find a fuller description of this kind of conservative, which Pew identifies as key to GOP victories. They are, broadly speaking, religious and social conservatives who vote Republican, but because of their precarious financial situation–they are working-class–they tend to support government programs more than other conservative voters. They are also mostly women. It stands to reason that high gas prices mean a lot more to them than they would to better-off conservative voters. It also stands to reason that executive compensation packages like Lee Raymond’s–and he is by no means the only American CEO with astronomical compensation–will strike them as fundamentally unjust.

You can stand there and yammer on about the glories of the free market all you want, but at the end of the day, you’ve got working men and women struggling to pay the gasoline bill at a gas station whose former CEO just got a $400 million parachute. Which do you think is going to resonate more with them?

I tell you, if the Democrats would only be more welcoming to social conservatives…

Reihan Salam, Coolhunter
Has Reihan found an online service helpful to Crunchy Cons? Sounds like it.
Reihan’s also been poking around the WaPo’s latest polling, which finds that President Bush’s unpopularity is turning Red Staters into, ahem, Pinkos. He revives an eight-year-old Christopher Caldwell essay that now looks to have been ahead of its time. I agree with Reihan (and Ross) that conservatives have got to retrench and reframe certain values issues.

This past weekend, as I think I mentioned, I gave a speech to the Sierra Club in Arkansas about why greens should reach out to conservatives, and how to go about it. If I were a sensible Democrat, I would start talking about the environment in terms of family and religious values, and about the conservative virtue of stewardship.

Roll Away the Stone!
Hallelujah, it looks like Roger the Dodger Mahony’s aggressive strategy to cover up for alleged molester priests has come to an end, thanks to the California Supreme Court. May justice be done.


Re: Obscene
I just did some math. Lee Raymond’s salary last year amounted to $141,000 a day. It’s going to be 101 degrees here in Dallas today. What if the retiring ExxonMobil mogul dedicated a single day’s salary to buying mid-priced window-unit air conditioners from a local Wal-Mart. Know how many houses of poor north Texans with no air conditioners he could outfit? Over 400–and that’s buying retail!

With a single day’s salary.

Never Again”?

Yesterday I meet Salih Mahmoud Osman, a Darfurian who works as a human-rights lawyer in Sudan, where he is also a member of Parliament. He was in Dallas at the invitation of a local Jewish organization that’s trying to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur, and spur the U.S. government to more action. Three of us from the editorial board met with him. It was striking to observe how calm and collected he was when talking about the genocide of his own people. I guess if you tell the same story often enough, you get used to it.

He did show anger once. I raised the topic of the recent Arab League summit in Khartoum, in which once again the Arab Muslim states failed to do anything to stop the genocide of their fellow Muslims at the hands of the Arab Islamist government of the Sudan.

I asked Mr. Osman how it felt to him as a Muslim to see so many Muslims indifferent to the fate of his people. His eyes flashed, and he said: “Let me tell you one thing. Since this situation erupted, never have we seen a single person from the Arab world or the Muslim community to come and show sympathy with the survivors. That’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact. This is very much causing injury to the feelings of the survivors and victims. When the Egyptian association of doctors and lawyers went down [to Darfur] to make a recommendation, they came back with a report denying that violations happen. The Arabs and the Muslims deny [the genocide] even more than the government of Sudan! This is shameful.”

He said that in one instance, an Egyptian stood up at a public meeting and said that the reports of genocide in Darfur were a conspiracy by Christians, Jews, and the Western media. A representative of the Sudanese government took the podium and admitted that yes, these attacks were going on, but said you have to expect that sort of thing in war. Mr. Osman went on: “Ninety-nine percent of the people of Darfur are Muslims. That is why in our opinion this is about ethnicity. The people of Darfur are not Arab.”

No, they’re not: they’re black. I asked the Jewish leader who had brought Mr. Osman to town if she had invited leaders from the local Muslim community to hear him speak. She said she had, but had received no response. That’s telling.

Later, I thought about all the white Christian churches in the U.S. during the civil-rights era and before that remained silent or actively approved of the persecution of black Christians. It is to the great shame of us all that racism even trumps our devotion to our God.


I noticed on my drive into the office today that I need to fill up the car after work. There goes another $50. And you know, I’m thinking about retiring ExxonMobil chief Lee Raymond’s obscene retirement package, about which:

"In 2004, Mr. Raymond, your bonus was over $3.6 million," Sen. Barbara Boxer said. That was before new corporate documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that revealed Raymond's retirement deal and his $51.1 million paycheck in 2005. That's equivalent to $141,000 a day, nearly $6,000 an hour. It's almost more than five times what the CEO of Chevron made.

"I think it will spark a lot of outrage," said Sarah Anderson, a fellow in the global economy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank. "Clearly much of his high-level pay is due to the high price of gas."

Exxon defends Raymond's compensation, pointing out that during the 12 years he ran the company, Exxon became the largest oil company in the world and that the stock price went up 500 percent.

Yeah, yeah, conservatives will say that’s what the market will bear, so what’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: is it just for a man to make this kind of money? Good grief, I’m very far from a socialist, but to think of that kind of unthinkable wad accruing to a single man offends me.

Yesterday here in Dallas, where Lee Raymond lives, the temperature was 101 degrees–shattering the April record. They’re saying now we could have an extremely hot summer.

I cringe to think of what my family’s electric bill is going to be–but my wife and I decided last night to redirect some of our charitable giving to help poor people pay their electric bills this summer. Poor and working-class people will also be struggling to pay those bills while pressed hard by gas prices that may be at $3 a gallon this summer, forecasters say.

I bet I’m not the only one who’ll be thinking about Lee Raymond and his $141,000-a-day retirement package as I’m gutting this awful summer out.

At some point, shouldn’t religious conservatives have something to say about this orgy of executive compensation? Isn’t it a moral issue? Like I said, many Republicans will say if the market will provide for Raymond like this, then the market is beyond judgment. That cannot be what traditionalist conservatives say. The free market is not Almighty God.

Separation of Journalism and Life
Steve Sailer, a journalist, makes a pretty solid hit on journalists for being out of touch with real life.

He starts by praising a column by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker, who is African-American. Tucker wrote about an experience she had trying to find laborers to work on a family house renovation project, and how she discovered to her great dismay that the stereotype of black men who won’t work has basis in fact.

The interesting thing about the column was Tucker’s admission that the black men she knows best are all hard-working–but she admits that she lives “in an insular world of middle-class affluence, rarely stumbling into the troubled universe of marginalized underachievers,” and that because she never has to deal with idle black men who won’t work, she had–wrongly, she now believes–dismissed that as a “stereotype.”

What to make of this? It was brave of her to admit this, and it makes me as a journalist wonder about what inaccurate stereotypes I have based on the fact that I live in the same socioeconomic pod as Cynthia Tucker. For my entire career, I have observed serious bias against political, social, and religious conservatives in newsrooms, bias that I’ve pretty much written off to the fact that most journalists don’t know any actual conservatives. Steve Sailer surmises:

"To reach a high position in American life, it doesn't pay to waste time associating with a wide range of your fellow human beings. You are much better off spending as much time as possible schmoozing other ambitious people who can help you out. It pays to adopt whatever conventions they exhibit in terms of what you are supposed to talk and write about. And, for highly verbal people like journalists, it's safest if you train yourself never even to think about anything you aren't supposed to express."I’d disagree with some of that. Given the way most journalism jobs are structured today, most journalists I know simply don’t have time to associate with a wide range of people. I gave a talk at a Dallas civic club last week and appreciated the opportunity to meet and talk with small businessmen. I can’t tell you the last time I had the chance to do that, and how useful it was to me professionally. But I was way behind the rest of the day because I did that.

I am the editor of a section at my newspaper, and I don’t get out of here at night till 7 or 7:30. Because of that, I can’t participate in church activities, sports, civic groups, or … anything, really. And yet, being disconnected from the larger world directly harms my ability to do my job properly. Anyway, I think it’s hard to argue with the claim that American journalists are, by and large, highly insulated from the way most of our own countrymen think and live.

Iran's End-Times Scenario
Along those lines, I think the inability of many American policy elites, including journalists, to understand the religion could be very dangerous with regard to the current president of Iran and his nation’s ambitions. A friend of mine has this idea that one reason conservative Christians in the U.S. are the most hostile among various American demographic groups to Islam is a kind of back-handed tribute to the Islamic faith: these Christians know the power of religious faith to motivate someone, and therefore understand how futile it is to think that materialist rewards will dissuade the true believers from jihad.

I have written before about the little-known (in the West) fact that Islam has an end-times scenario worked out, just as Christianity does. For Shi'a Islam, things are a little different. Here’s an excerpt from a New Republic piece describing the fervor over the “Hidden Imam,” or “Mahdi,” in Iran:
In Shi'a mythology, however, the Twelfth Imam survived. The Shi'a believe that he merely withdrew from public view when he was five and that he will sooner or later emerge from his "occultation" in order to liberate the world from evil.

Writing in the early '80s, V. S. Naipaul showed how deeply rooted the belief in the coming of the Shia messiah is among the Iranian population. In "Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey" he described seeing posters in post-revolutionary Tehran bearing motifs similar to those of Maoist China: crowds, for instance, with rifles and machine guns raised in the air as if in greeting. The posters always bore the same phrase: TWELFTH IMAM, WE ARE WAITING FOR YOU. Naipaul writes that he could grasp intellectually the veneration for Khomeini. "But the idea of the revolution as something more, as an offering to the Twelfth Imam, the man who had vanished ... and remained 'in occultation,' was harder to seize."

According to Shi'a tradition, legitimate Islamic rule can only be established following the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. Until that time, the Shi'a have only to wait, to keep their peace with illegitimate rule, and to remember the Prophet's grandson, Hussein, in sorrow. Khomeini, however, had no intention of waiting. He vested the myth with an entirely new sense: The Twelfth Imam will only emerge when the believers have vanquished evil. To speed up the Mahdi's return, Muslims had to shake off their torpor and fight.

Now, get this: Amir Taheri, writing in The Telegraph, reports  that Iran’s fanatical president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, believes he has been given the divine task by the Hidden Imam of provoking a clash of civilizations with the West to pave the way for the Hidden Imam/Mahdi to reveal himself and rule the world. If this is true, it is beyond useless to try to check Tehran by usual means.

How do you tell someone who genuinely believes he’s on a mission from God to stand down? You don’t. We have got to get serious about understanding Iranian religion. They are not Episcopalians in hijabs.

 Should Rumsfeld Resign?

Yes, absolutely, and not just because six retired generals say so.

I'm reading "Cobra II"--insightfully reviewed here  by David Rieff--at the moment. If you've been following the discussion of the book, you know that it's the first comprehensive history of the Iraq War, and that it's based in part on a review of classified documents, as well as extensive interviews with military figures involved in planning and executing the war.

You quite clearly see that the main reason we are in the mess we're in today in Iraq has to do with the Bush administration refusing to take seriously anything that contradicted what it wanted to believe. Specifically, Rumsfeld had big ideas for how he wanted to change the military, and he tried to force the armed forces to live by his vision even though he was told by senior members that this wouldn't work in wartime.

These conclusions aren't new, of course, but it's something to read in such detail what Rumsfeld and Bush were told, and by whom--and to reflect on how things might have been different had they listened. And to reflect on how we had no business going to war there at all.

I supported that war. I realize in bitter retrospect that, having been a New Yorker on 9/11, and seen the south WTC tower collapse in front of my own eyes, I wanted vengeance. I wanted some Mideastern Arab crazy to pay, I didn't much care who it was. And I was scared that it would happen again. Anything Team Bush said to justify the war they wanted to fight, I believed.

Now, though, I wouldn't believe a thing they said. How can one, given such a catastrophic failure in judgment? The thing is, the monster of WMD-armed Islamic extremism really is still out there, and the U.S. has to be prepared to fight it. Iran looms on the near horizon--and say, anybody troubled by the bogus threat of "Left Behind"-ism in this administration should read Amir Taheri's chilling dispatch on the most recent apocalyptic adventures of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and reflect on what a true eschatalogical nutter in power looks like.

I find myself incapable of trusting this bunch who got us into this foolish Iraq debacle to make the right decisions on Iran--and to be honest with the American people. There's no getting rid of Bush and Cheney, but Rumsfeld? Yes.

If, God forbid, the U.S. has to go to war with Iran, we had better do so only as a last resort, and we'll have to do it with the country united. Unity will be hard enough for Bush to pull off after the calamity of Iraq--but impossible to do, I think, with Donald Rumsfeld in place. Bush and Rumsfeld are already strongly resembling Johnson and MacNamara, but even MacNamara had the sense to resign after he'd failed.

Optimism at War
Among the virtues of David Rieff's New Republic review of "Cobra II" was this nugget. Rieff asks why so many in the military believed that things were going better in Iraq than they obviously were:

Gordon and Trainor offer no opinion on the subject, but in my view it is probably unfair to focus exclusively, as they do, on the neo-conservatives, or even on the Bush administration as a whole. Rumsfeld, after all, is about as far from being a believer in democracy-building as it is possible to be--a major reason why he always emphasized to military commandeers his preference for strategies that would allow U.S. forces to withdraw quickly. More broadly, the Iraq mess cannot be separated from the problematic question of America's official ideology. I do not mean capitalism or Christianity. I mean optimism.

I believe that Bush really was convinced that all we needed to do was kick over the dictator, and Iraq would be more or less okay. I believed that. I know that I have no excuse.

What conservatives like me counted on was the groundless belief that Saddam and Saddam alone had deformed Iraq. What we didn't consider was that Iraq itself contributed to the making of Saddam. I had read David Pryce-Jones' brilliant  "The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs" during the run-up to the war. It is impossible to step away from that book, which deeply probes the way the Islamic religion, tribal culture, and the shame/honor dynamic shapes (and deforms) Arab societies, and remain sanguine about the possibility of liberal democracy in that region.

But good old American optimism doesn't want to hear that. Good old American optimism has no tragic sense of life. Good old American optimism produces radical and dangerous documents like this . In its leftist iterations you get things like school busing and gay marriage; in its rightist, you get the Iraq War. It's the same refusal to be bound by history and its lessons about human nature.

Weekend in Little Rock

I spent most of Easter weekend in Little Rock, where I gave the keynote address at the annual awards banquet of the Sierra Club of Arkansas .

Great bunch of people. I talked about how environmentalists can appeal to conservatives, and why they should. I told them that the conservationist ethic is deeply ingrained in traditionalist conservatism, but most American conservatives have forgotten this, if they ever knew it. Time spent reading Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, and other intellectual godfathers of conservatism would pay off for environmentalists, who could present their case to conservatives in terms they (we) can understand and relate to.

I was pleased to hear one of this year's award winners, an activist housewife who helped save a watershed, tell the Sierrans that a year ago, she thought they were all the kind of extremists who dressed up in chicken suits for p.r. stunts (apparently a Sierra Club member ages ago did this in Little Rock, and the image stuck). In fact, as anyone who was at that dinner could see, Sierra Club members are as normal looking as anyone at a church supper. It was a useful point, though: environmentalists get tagged among conservatives with the image of their farthest extremes, just as pro-lifers do in the liberal mind.

The reason for this, I think, is that those of us who don't want to confront our comfortable prejudices want to portray the opposition in the worst possible light. It's not true for pro-lifers, and it's not true of environmentalists. They've got a great group in Arkansas, the Sierra Club, and I was honored that they invited little old crunchy-con/theocon me to share their table this year. I also told them to reach out to the conservative church people, who more and more are waking up to the responsibility we have before the Lord to care for creation.

Liberal Tolerance
Here's a photo of Sally Jacobsen, a professor at Northern Kentucky University, ripping down a field of crosses erected as a pro-life memorial protest at the school. This occurred after she encouraged her students to do this. The right-to-life group responsible for the memorial is going to press charges against the vandal-professor. Good.

South Park and Mohammad

Well, I watched the latest controversial episode up until the part where they blasphemed against Christ.

This disgusted me, and I turned off the TV before the worst part hit (I knew what was coming, and didn't want those images in my mind).

Still, I do credit Trey Parker and Matt Stone's point: Comedy Central will sanction grotesque insults to Jesus Christ and Christianity, but won't even allow Mohammad to be shown at all. Comedy Central is clearly not motivated by sensitivity toward religious people, but by stone-cold fear of Islamofascism.

Caitlin, Mon Amour
I’m a great admirer of Caitlin Flanagan’s essays, which have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and naturally I’m telling everyone I know they’ve got to get her new book, “To Hell With All That!”,  a collection of those essays.

I interviewed her the other day by phone for the Sunday commentary section of the Dallas Morning News, which I edit. There is more real life and good sense in that book than in anything I’ve read in ages. The thing I admire about her most is her courage: she says things that most writers of her stature lack the clarity of vision or the bravery to say. In the book, she identifies as a liberal Democrat, but she’s rather conservative on marriage and family issues–which has earned her no end of grief from the left. Here’s a key paragraph from a piece on her in L.A. Weekly that tells us a lot about why the left is so unattractive:

For her part, Flanagan seems to be feeling the pain of backlash from those she has judged. A week after our meeting—during which she has very likely read the Elle profile, which brought out the pious parson in her, a side I didn’t see—she calls me back and tells me she has a quote for me that she hasn’t given anyone else. “I am pro-choice, anti-war, anti-Bush, I’m a Democrat, and only a conservative on family issues,” she says plaintively. “I’ve got nothing but derision from the left — you’ve got to check everything on the menu to please them. But the right has been good to me, even though they disagree with me about abortion. I can go on Tucker Carlson and he’s respectful. The head of the Southern Baptist Convention had me on the radio. But the feminists humiliate me. We, the Democrats, have a real small tent. The Republicans have a big tent.” She must have in mind those beacons of open-minded tolerance, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter.
This is a telling paragraph. Here you have a distinguished writer, a woman of the left, making an anguished point about the lock-step intolerance of her own side, and the writer of the piece cannot even let the thought breathe before jumping in to extinguish it. It’s as if the ritual recitation of those three talkshow hosts’ names is enough to crush the Bad Thought before it takes root. Of course Caitlin Flanagan didn’t have those three extreme examples in mind; she’s talking about countless conservatives who don’t think she’s right on abortion and maybe not on other issues, but want to hear what she has to say because she’s a thoughtful and interesting person.

Are there morons on the right who try to squelch political debate and dissent for the sake of reinforcing a party line? Absolutely, and I’ve had to deal with some of them in promoting my book. But I’ve also found a respectful hearing on conservative talk shows, even though I’m pretty hard on the groupthink among my own political tribe. Even National Review, whose writers strongly disagree with my ideas, gave me a blog for five weeks to talk about the thing. I’ve had the privilege of sitting at Bill Buckley’s table on a couple of occasions, and watched him listen attentively and graciously and seriously to guests like Ira Glasser of the ACLU and the perennial NYC liberal pol Mark Green. Bill was truly interested in what they had to say, and watching him treat his guests, who probably agree with him on pretty much nothing, with respect and thoughtfulness was a real lesson to me.

I’m not saying that all, or even most, people on the right have the grace of Bill Buckley (more’s the pity). But I can see why Caitlin Flanagan feels so burned by her own side, and so favorably toward the right. I’ve lived in leftish cities most of my adult life, and working in journalism, I’ve moved socially and professionally mostly in liberal circles. Trust me, you could parachute into a church supper at First Baptist of Bugtussle, Alabama, and find minds more open than in many social-slash-media gatherings I’ve been to. Except at First Baptist, Bugtussle, they don’t flatter themselves that they are open-minded and tolerant.

Schadenfreude Alert!
The Religious Left at prayer. I would've paid cash money to have seen Madame Bishop say this from the pulpit: "My sistas and brothas, all my homies and peeps, stay up -- keep your head up, holla back, and go forth and tell like it is."

Seriously, she said that. You can't make this stuff up. And remember, Bob Edgar, Jerry Falwell did not make your side do this.


Holy Thursday
Today is Holy Thursday, and I'm going to say something incorrect, but it's been on my mind all morning, and, well, it needs saying.

A recent correspondent of mine, A., told me she is planning to be received this Easter into the Catholic Church, I, of course, congratulated her and wished her well, but I surprised myself by warning her to go into it with eyes wide open. I didn't want to discourage her in any way, so I kept my comments brief, and anyway, I don't know her well enough to get too deep.

What I should have told A., who is young and married, but as yet without children, is that she is taking up a cross that she probably doesn't yet understand. When I became a Catholic on Easter Vigil in 1993, my heart was bursting with enthusiasm. I knew, or thought I knew, what a mess the Church was in, but none of that robbed me of my joy. I had my pope, I had my friends, and I had the Sacraments. That would be enough.

What I wasn't prepared for was the sad but undeniable fact -- and I have lived in too many places since then to think that this was an aberration -- that for someone who is an orthodox Catholic (that is, one who really believes that what the Church teaches is true), life in the Church is pretty much a lonely and frustrating place. When I converted, I was a single man in my 20s, and one of the crosses I had to take up was a solid commitment to chastity -- and this, living in a big city and moving in media circles, where nobody believed in any of that stuff. If you think your parish priest will be there to help you at all, unless you are extraordinarily fortunate, forget it. In my experience, with rare exceptions, you will get no encouragement to live in the culture of life, whether it's struggling for chastity, or struggling to live up to the hard teachings of the Church across the board, from the clergy. A few years later, when I became engaged to be married, I signed up for classes to learn Natural Family Planning, the Church-approved method of fertility regulation. At that time in the Archdiocese of Miami, where I was then living, you couldn't get NFP instruction; a Couple-to-Couple League training couple I finally found told me that they'd been rebuffed by parish after parish, which didn't want to burden Catholic couples with this archaic church teaching that nobody cares about anyway.

OK, fine. Everybody knows the Church is a mess. You do the best you can. This worked for my wife and me, until a couple of things happened: 1) we had kids, and 2) the sex-abuse scandal broke wide open.

The kids: when you are childless, I've found, you can get by without a community of serious believers, but as the kids get older, you need to be able to rely on the community to help you educate them in religion and morals. You will have to learn how to tell your inquisitive young child that what Father said from the pulpit today is untrue, that the Church actually teaches something else. You will have to learn how to teach your child to respect Church authority when that same authority is misleading him and everybody else. You will have to figure out how to teach your child to love and obey the faith when there is no way to tell what anybody else at the parish believes, or if they even care about right belief. And you might even find yourself wondering what kind of icon of the faith you are to your children when you are so angry at the idiotic, vapid, happy-clappy sermons that you have to step outside during the homily. I know this isn't just me; I hear it from Catholic dads a lot. I recently learned that in an old parish of mine, the new priest who took over the youth program cut all the doctrinal content out, and replaced it with self-esteem training.

This is the Catholic Church most people will enter this Easter, I believe. Rome is very far away indeed.


Holy Thursday, Cont'd
And then there's the scandal. In 2001, before Boston exploded, Father Tom Doyle, whom I'd called for direction on one particular sex abuse story, told me that if I kept digging in this area, "You will find yourself confronting darkness that you can't imagine now exists." But how could one not keep digging, especially after hearing the stories of what horrible things had been done to little children, and the way church authorities treated their families, who wanted only justice?

Father Doyle was right. Most of us, I presume, are aware of the terrible things that have gone on. We can read the papers. But what most people don't know are the things that haven't been reported. I have been privy to certain stories that I am morally certain are true, and which indicate that the sexual and sex-related corruption in the clergy is worse than most people know. But I've not been able to write any of this because my sources have in many cases been clergy or laity whose livelihoods depend on the favor of bishops. "Please don't write this," one lady told me, after relating a horrible story that independently checked out, and which put a powerful conservative bishop in a rotten light. "I'm a single mother, and I depend on the church paycheck to raise my kids. If you write this story, I'll lose my job. I just wanted to tell you what happened so you would know what's going on."

You hear enough stories like this, and you talk to a man whose son blew his own brains out because he'd been molested by a priest, now in jail -- a priest whose molesting the diocese had long known about. Four other suicides have been attributed to this priest's molestation. You hear stories like that, and see up close the ruin of good Catholic families, and you see how even to this day, bishops and certain priests are engaged in cover-up and denial -- and you ask: What if that had been my sons? What if that had been us? It eats away at you. And you might be fortunate enough to know good and faithful priests, and to know their own struggles with the spiritual and moral decadence in their own diocesan structure. And you might even see them made to suffer by their own bishops, for no reason other than they have the courage to stand for the Catholic faith, as opposed to seeing themselves as mere functionaries in the Sacrament Factory. It will occur to you at some point what a crazy mixed-up situation it is to see the Catholic Church attack itself like this. After a while, especially if you have children, you might start to wonder if the institutional Church is more foe than friend. And where does that leave you?

These are the days, almost 2,000 years ago, that Jesus was abandoned by all the men who had been at his side during easy times. They would all fall away, even Peter, the future Bishop of Rome. If I were advising someone about to enter the Catholic Church, I would tell them to focus on the loneliness of Christ in these last days. I would tell them to forget all the pomp and pageantry and all the triumphalistic stuff that so captivated me at the beginning of my journey as a Catholic, and to focus on the suffering Christ, and the mystery of his having been abandoned. Because you are entering a church in which, practically speaking, the apostles who ought to be standing faithfully by his side have run away (in place). Look for Mary, and Mary Magdalene, wherever they are today. It is their example that will help you endure this time of trial. And try to understand the difference between optimism and hope. On that more depends than you know.


Our Godless Democratic Party
Big shout-out to Ross Douthat for responding to the complaints about "theocrats" taking over the GOP by pointing out that religious conservatives found a natural home in the Republican Party because the secularists drove them out of the Democratic Party. Ross cites that well-known study published in the Public Interest that identifies how this happened. I wrote on it as well for Touchstone a couple of years back, and mentioned media bias against religious conservatives. Here's an excerpt:  
True story: I once proposed a column on some now-forgotten religious theme to the man who was at the time the city editor of the New York Post. He looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "This is not a religious city," he said, with a straight face. As it happened, the man lived in my neighborhood. To walk to the subway every morning, he had to pass in front of or close to two Catholic churches, an Episcopal church, a synagogue, a mosque, an Assemblies of God Hispanic parish, and an Iglesia Bautista Hispana. Yet this man did not see those places because he does not know anyone who attends them. It's not that this editor despises religion; it's that he's too parochial (pardon the pun) to see what's right in front of him. There's a lot of truth in that old line attributed to the New Yorker's Pauline Kael, who supposedly remarked, in all sincerity, "I don't understand how Nixon won; I don't know a soul who voted for him."

In the main-and I've had this confirmed to me by Christian friends who labor elsewhere in the secular media--the men and women who bring America its news don't necessarily hate religion; in most cases, they just believe it's unimportant at best, menacing at worst. Because they don't know any religious people, they think of American religion in categories that have long been outdated. For example, to hear journalists talk, Catholics are berated from the pulpit every Sunday about abortion and birth control; reporters think I'm putting them on when I tell them that I've been a practicing Catholic for 10 years and I've only heard one sermon about abortion and none about contraception. For another, outside the Jewish community, there are no stronger supporters of Israel than among American Evangelicals, and that's been true for at least a generation. The news has yet to reach American newsrooms, where I've been startled to discover a general assumption among Jews and non-Jews alike that these "fundamentalists" (i.e., any Christian more conservative than a Spong-ite Episcopalian) are naturally anti-Semitic.

In a further comment, that New York Post city editor inadvertently revealed something else important to me about the way media people see religion: As far as he was concerned, Catholics and Jews were the only religious people who counted in New York City (he himself is a non-practicing Jew), because they were the only ones who had any political pull. Because journalists tend not to know religiously observant people, they see religious activity in the only way they know how-in terms of secular politics. Thus, when your average journalist hears "Southern Baptist," she immediately thinks of an alien sect whose rustic adherents lurk in the shadows thinking of cunning ways to manipulate Republican politicians into taking away a woman's right to choose. The trouble is, she doesn't think much further, and it is unlikely that anyone in her professional and social circles will challenge her to do so.Let me be very clear: I am not saying that Democrats are "godless." That would be absurd. I am saying, though, that the Democratic Party has made it very difficult, even impossible, for religious conservatives who might otherwise favor Democratic policies on environmental protection, on the economy, on foreign policy, and what not, to affiliate with them. Why? Because if you are a social conservative -- if you are pro-life, hold traditional views on sexual morality and family structure, and have serious concerns about the direction of biotechnology -- it is quite clear that the Democrats do not want you around stinking up the place with your fundamentalist views. This is a real shame, as Ross notes, because it gives the Republican Party room to take religious conservatives for granted. But we remember how Gov. Casey's party treated him, and it's going to take the Dems a long, long time to overcome that.


William Sloane Coffin, RIP
Once upon a time, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, who died yesterday, mattered. He was the radical-left Protestant cleric who was a big deal in the civil rights and antiwar movements, and later in the nuclear freeze movement. His was certainly a fascinating American life, but in retrospect, moreso for what he symbolized -- the long decline of mainline Social-Gospel Protestantism into irrelevance -- than for what he accomplished. I hadn't thought about him for years, until I became reacquainted with him in a Mark Bowden piece in the November 2005 issue of The Atlantic. I won't link to it, because you have to have a subscription to see the article, but it's about the captivity of the American hostages in Tehran. This excerpt from the Powerline blog gets to the gist of how shameful Coffin's life wound up:  
The present excerpt from Bowden's book revives the unpleasant memories of the takeover itself; it makes your blood boil all over again. The excerpt tells the story of the hostages' first Christmas in captivity. Iranian authorities allowed an American contingent to visit the hostages to celebrate Christmas with them. The leader of the delegation was William Sloane Coffin, famous as the liberal anti-Vietnam War activist:

[Bowden writes:] In what the students regarded as a "major concession," they allowed three liberal American clergymen to visit and celebrate Christmas with the captives. All three were chosen, according to a spokesman for Iran's Revolutionary Council, because of "their militant history against imperialism." Most famous was the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, the celebrated senior minister of New York City's Riverside Church. Coffin was a large man with sloping shoulders and long, curly dark hair that was retreating fast toward the crown of his head but still fell thickly over his ears. He did not seem ministerial, with his up-from-the-streets New York accent, earthy humor, and background as an officer in the Army and then in the CIA. But he had seen the light, left the Agency, and entered the ministry, achieving prominence as the chaplain of Yale University and a civil-rights worker long before he became nationally known for his often eloquent opposition to the Vietnam War. Accompanying Coffin were the Reverend William Howard, a tall, urbane, dignified African-American Baptist minister who headed the National Council of Churches and was a noted civil-rights and anti-apartheid activist, and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a Catholic leader from Detroit who was famous for his advocacy of liberal issues inside and outside the Church. Coffin had defended the hostage-takers in public statements in the United States, saying, "We scream about the hostages, but few Americans heard the screams of tortured Iranians."

[Powerline concludes:] In my discussion with Bowden yesterday, Bowden said he found Coffin's behavior "just outrageous." Referring to Coffin, Bowden said, "It's a free country, but we have to put up with a lot...I'm just appalled by American leftists' kneejerk anti-Americanism." Coffin and his colleagues had "aided and abetted the militant Islamic fascists."

The Park Slope Baby E-Mails
A Big Cheese at Beliefnet who read my book "Crunchy Cons" asked me if the organic vegetable thingy my wife and I belonged to when we lived in Brooklyn was the Park Slope Food Co-op. That co-op has the reputation for being hysterically politically correct. No, we belonged to another organization, in a nearby Brooklyn neighborhood, but the p.c. of the Park Slope Co-op, and of Park Slope, was legendary. I offer to you as evidence this collection of e-mails from a Park Slope parents' listserv, in which a hapless Park Slope mom says she found a little boy's winter hat, and wants to know if anybody lost one. Thus begins the descent down the rabbit hole of life among the overprivileged liberal elite. In some far distant future, archaeologists will unearth the Park Slope Baby E-Mails, and people will wonder what kind of crack-brained society existed there. It makes "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" seem like the most reasonable question imaginable.

 Phony Mahony

Over at NRO, George Neumayr is all up in Cardinal Mahony's business over immigration.

Gaming the System

So this white guy has his two white adopted twins, who have ever-so-slightly tan skin, go through genetic testing to see if there's enough minority in their background to qualify for racial preferences in college admissions. The results came back too late to help on that count, but it turns out that the boys are "9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African" -- a fact that the businessman dad hopes will be useful in getting financial aid.

I have some Cherokee in my own family tree on my mom's side, which might explain her slightly tanned skin. I'd better get my kids genetically tested now to see if they can get in on the spoils. I actually had a Cherokee tell me not long after we moved to Dallas that it would be worth my while to see if the Cherokee ancestor of mine was a close enough relation to qualify my sons for college scholarships. It was interesting that the first thing he said when I told him that I have a trace of Native American ancestry was to encourage me to work the system to my financial benefit.

Oh Yeah, That

Remember avian flu? It kind of fell off the media radar, and now most people I know think of it as one of those alarmist stories that never pan out. Well, here at the newspaper we just met with Dr. C.J. Peters, director of the Center for Biodefense here in Texas, and he told us two things worth remembering: 1) Nobody knows when or if this thing is going to cross over into the human population (though they can make educated guesses about the "if"); and 2) Cities, institutions and companies who are not preparing for the possibility of an epidemic are crazy. "Every city needs its plan, and the planning has to be at a fine-grain level," Dr. Peters said. "You can't just have some guy standing on TV saying, 'We need to worry about the flu.'"

He said that we need to be thinking of all kinds of contingencies, like what to do if all schools have to shut down indefinitely, how food will get delivered, and so forth. This is probably low on the list of priorities, but I couldn't help wondering how churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions should and would operate in such an emergency. We're talking a potential mortality rate of between 25 and 50 percent of all infections (versus 1 to 2 percent in the catastrophic 1918 flu epidemic). What should a church (or whatever) be prepared to do for the sick and dying? What is the right thing for religious believers of all kinds to do in such an extreme situation? We had better start thinking about it.

Moral Equivalence

Working as a card-carrying member of the MSM [mainstream media], I often observe how the U.S. media works to downplay news that would reflect poorly on Islam. Sometimes it's conscious, sometimes not, and I have been on the receiving end of the firestorm of complaints that some Muslim organizations generate when you criticize them at all, however fairly. (The assumption is that any criticism must be ipso facto bigoted). Last year, I, along with a couple of colleagues from the paper, had a long lunch with one of my most ardent local Muslim critics, a well-spoken and exceedingly polite Mideast immigrant. We had a full and frank exchange of ideas, and while we didn't agree, it was quite cordial. Then, at the end, he asked me why I kept describing the popular Islamic evangelist Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as "violent," when in fact he is not violent at all. Sure, said my lunch companion, Qaradawi supports suicide bombing in Israel, but that's defensive violence, so it doesn't count. But that's it.

I pointed out that Qaradawi has supported murdering homosexuals and wife-beating, both of which are, well, violent. My lunch companion shot back, "I believe in those things" -- and then added what a wonderful thing it was that the Prophet had helped a repentant adulteress get free from the burden of her sins by ordering her stoned to death. "You call this violence," the man said. "We call it deterrence."

I say all that because I get so tired of American journalists -- and I've heard this with my own ears -- drawing moral equivalencies between Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. and Islamic fundamentalists here and abroad. Here, from my own newspaper yesterday, is an example of what I'm talking about. This story appeared on the front page, and the reporter who wrote it is an excellent journalist: 

LONDON - In the past three months, Muslims around the world have rampaged against cartoons in a Danish newspaper deemed to be mocking Islam, and an Afghan faced the death sentence for converting to Christianity. Meanwhile, two popular Christian preachers in the U.S. stoked the flames by labeling Islam as an evil or violent religion.

The list of provocations from both sides appears to have grown by the day since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, and fears are mounting that the world's Christians and Muslims could be heading toward an irreparable split.Hmm. Muslims burn down embassies and "rampage" over cartoons, and try to have a man executed for leaving Islam for Christianity. How on earth did those popular Christian preachers get the idea that Islam might be violent and evil? One wonders. And more straightforwardly, one wonders how one justifies drawing an apparent moral equivalence ("provocations from both sides") between one side actually committing violent acts, and threatening homicide, and the other side offering harsh judgments.

Kevin Phillips’ New Book

This morning I snorted at religious left muckety-muck Bob Edgar’s blaming the eeeeevil machinations of the religious right for the fact that the religious left has collapsed as a political force in this country. Later on, I was thinking about something a friend told me not long ago about a major book project he was familiar with, one that proposed to expose the religious right as full of wickedness and chicanery and maleficent intentions to take over the country. My friend, who is a religious liberal, said that as much as he wishes that were the case, the book in question struck him as having little to do with the world as it is, and everything to do with the world as the East Coast publishing elite and media types believe it to be. This struck my religious-liberal pal as a shame, because he wants his side to come up with an effective way to counter the religious right.

I fear that Kevin Phillips’ latest tome, “American Theocracy,” is in this same vein of self-deceptive wishful thinking. I know it feels good for the left to imagine religious conservatives as a faceless horde of pitchfork-wielding snake-handlers ready to truck-bomb laboratories and abortion clinics, but this kind of hysteria has little to do with reality, and everything to do with making those who hold these beliefs feel comfortable in their own sense of superiority and righteousness (the religious right, of course, can be guilty of the very same thing). From where I sit on the religious right, I see us pretty much losing the culture war. The Schiavo intervention went bust. The Iraq War supported by many on the religious right has turned into a debacle–but let me say here that most religious conservatives I know who supported the war did so from noble motives: They really did think–mistakenly, as it turns out–that knocking off the dictator would enable the Iraqi people to enjoy the liberty and peace. They were naïve, not evil.

We appear to be moving to a situation in which gay marriage will be imposed by the Supreme Court, or where at least that is conceivable, notwithstanding Alito and Roberts, who as far as I can see are the only two reasons left for feeling good about the administration. Even Marvin Olasky, the World magazine editor and author of compassionate conservatism, recently decried how his idea under this administration has been degraded to a “rationale for patronage.”

In short, we now see not only the limits of American power, but of the political power of religious conservatives. The next generation of religious conservative leaders, men like Rick Warren, are not explicitly political, in the Falwell and Robertson mode.

I think–well, I hope–that my generation of religious conservatives will approach politics more soberly, and with less of a crusading spirit–and certainly with less faith in the Republican Party. Anyway, I believe that culture is where the action is nowadays, not politics, and I think you’ll see that start to play out as the older generation of religious conservative leadership fades away.

But that’s a blog for another day. While I might broadly agree with Phillips that America’s dependence on oil and its scandalous indifference to our mounting debt–both of which are moral issues–portend ill for the future, he loses me completely by scapegoating religious conservatives. More on which later, when I get back from lunch…

The Church of Big Rock Candy Mountain

Dan Wakefield has a big piece up in The Nation talking about efforts to organize the Religious Left to counter the Religious Right. Well, God bless 'em for trying (well, not all of them--the clergy organized to protect the right to kill unborn children make my skin crawl; at best, I could see viewing abortion as a necessary evil, but never something that should have the blessing of God). Anyway, I don't fault the Religious Left for trying to organize at this late date, but I do think they're fooling themselves. Here's Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches:

Almost everything we do is in response to the religious right. They have done an excellent job over the last forty years in silencing moderate to progressive voices. We're trying to be silent no more, we're trying to stand up when they're telling us to sit down, and we're trying to speak out when they tell us to be silent.
It's pretty funny to hear Bob Edgar blaming the fact that nobody cares what he and his organization have to say on a supposed decades-long strategy by the Religious Right to gag them. Please. Edgar & Co. have done it to themselves. It's no secret that the mainline Protestant churches, where most Religious Leftists are, have been hemorrhaging numbers for years, and Catholics are as likely to vote Republican as Democratic. When all you stand for is the Social Gospel - and the Democratic Party has no use for you or any religious person who is not a black minister--your appeal will necessarily be limited.

I should say that I am one of those religious conservatives who believes that the Church, broadly speaking, has become too aligned with the GOP, and that we would be better off maintaining a certain critical and prophetic distance from power. That said, I was fairly liberal when I began coming to faith as an undergraduate, and worshiped at a liberal Protestant church. Gradually I came to realize that this church and their way of life demanded nothing from me - it offered no sense of transcendence, no meaningful connection to Scripture, no sense of the numinous, no nothing. When the pastor asked us to pray the "Our Father-Mother," I thought, "OK, this is goony, I'm out of here." I didn't become conservative--not then--but I did intuit that this church stood for nothing except goo-goo liberal trendiness. Even as a political liberal, I found that phony. Several years later, taking instruction in a class at a Catholic parish, I endured the Catholic version of same. I wasn't sure I wanted to be Catholic, but I was quite certain that this priest and that nun were not serious about anything but the Gospel of What's Happening Now. Why bother, you know? I left, and found myself a hard-shell Irish priest in an inner-city parish, for whom the faith meant something more than comforting the consciences of the educated liberal middle class.

"You don't go into a liberal community and talk about your faith and your prayers - they snicker," former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger told Dan Wakefield. The Left has done a pretty good job in this country of weeding out its religious believers. Sounds to me like Bob Edgar would do better to quit blaming the Religious Right for shutting up the witness of the Religious Left, and start asking why his own side has been so ashamed of his lot.

Immigration and the Catholic Church
My friend N. is a practicing Catholic and a public school teacher in California. For years she has been telling me that they’re overwhelmed with the children of illegal immigrants, and that it is extremely difficult to teach these kids because of the parents’ attitudes toward education. She said that for most of these kids of illegal Mexican migrants, it is very hard to get them to do their homework (she contrasts this with the children of Asian immigrants, who whatever their difficulties with English, work hard to overcome it because, in N.’s view, the Asian parents have a different attitude toward education). And she said that continuity is hard to maintain with the Mexican immigrant kids, because their parents think nothing of pulling them out of class for two weeks at a time for family trips, and so forth.

Yesterday N. wrote me about the illegal immigration mess to say:

I hate to say it, but the Catholic Church really is to blame for some of this. It's done everything possible to facilitate illegal immigration, to the extent that our local Catholic charities primarily focus on immigrants and ignore old European-Americans. We stopped giving a long time back. Personally, I think illegals should enroll their kids in Catholic schools (for free, of course) instead of off-loading the illegal students on the taxpayers. Let the parochial schools handle the problems that the bishops are helping create, and then we'll see how kind hearted and liberal these folks really are.
It would be interesting if the news media would quit taking at face value the statements that the Catholic bishops make on behalf of the church, and inquire as to what the Catholic laity really think about illegal immigration. The media are quick to do this when the opinions of the laity on matters like contraception, abortion and so forth differ from the official Church position. It would be interesting to see how far the laity-–or portions of it-–is from their bishops on this matter.


Religious Persecution in Iraq

If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should read Lawrence Kaplan’s recent New Republic piece about the plight of Iraqi Christians. He reports that they are being pummeled by the sectarian violence, and with no broader community to support and defend them, many are desperate to flee the country.

Ironically, the proselytizing efforts of American evangelicals are making it harder on the native Christian population (who are mostly Eastern Rite Catholics, or members of other ancient Eastern churches) to withstand assault by Islamic extremists, who blame all Christians for what the evangelicals are doing.

Even though the removal of Saddam has unleashed cutthroat violence against Christians, the United States refuses to let all but the tiniest trickle of them emigrate to America. Why not? The Christians are the best-educated Iraqis, and there is a large Arab Christian population in the United States to receive them and help them get started here.

Could it be that to let the Christians leave would put lie to the idea that Iraq has any chance of becoming a liberal democracy? I don’t know, but I do think this country has a moral obligation to Christians, to Iraqi gays, and to all minority groups who stand to be slaughtered by the contending Islamic forces. We have an obligation to open our doors to them, to give them refuge.

Go, Marty, Go!

At The New Republic blog, Marty Peretz rather bluntly points out what a religious phony John Kerry is on the religion issue. Here’s an excerpt, sanitized for your convenience:
Kerry asserted that "the Koran, the Torah, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles had influenced a social conscience that he exercised in politics." My God, what [barnyard epithet] politicians feel obliged to utter! Or maybe the [barnyard epithet] is already second nature, or even first. But since Kerry raised it, let me ask: What hadith of the Prophet influenced him the most, and why?


Judas Shmudas

Why on earth are people freaking out over this Judas business? Don’t they know that there are lots of Gnostic gospels, and they’ve been dismissed as unreliable and uncanonical since the early church days? (A Catholic scholar gives the lowdown here ). Yesterday I spoke to Archbishop Dmitri, the Orthodox Church in America’s Archbishop of Dallas and the South, and he just rolled his eyes. Why is it, he said, that folks want to take a gospel written 250 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and treat it as something on par historically with gospels written by men who knew Jesus? He continued, “The early church dealt with this kind of thing from the very beginning. It’s amazing to me that people nowadays act like there’s something new here.” At a time like this, it helps to have an Orthodox Christian around. They have long memories.

Get Whitey!

A friend e-mailed yesterday from New York City to say his next-door neighbor had been killed in a racist incident last week in Harlem. The dead man was a white guy who stopped to give money to a beggar, and was set upon by a mob of young black guys who chased him, yelling (say witnesses) “Get whitey!” The victim ran into the street, was hit by a car, and died.

Michelle Malkin has details. The New York Post asks on its editorial page how come the mainstream media were all over the Howard Beach racist thuggery, when a white mob did the same thing to a black guy, but are ignoring this hate crime? I can tell you: for the same reason it ignored the murder of Mary Stachowicz: because it doesn’t fit the MSM template. As Andrew Sullivan once wrote of the MSM’s ignoring the gay torture murder of Jesse Dirkhising:

In the month after [Matthew] Shepard's murder, Nexis recorded 3,007 stories about his death. In the month after Dirkhising's murder, Nexis recorded 46 stories about his. In all of last year, only one article about Dirkhising appeared in a major mainstream newspaper. The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times ignored the incident completely. In the same period, The New York Times published 45 stories about Shepard, and The Washington Post published 28. The discrepancy isn't just real. It's staggering.

What we are seeing, I fear, is a logical consequence of the culture that hate-crimes rhetoric promotes. Some deaths—if they affect a politically protected class—are worth more than others. Other deaths, those that do not fit a politically correct profile, are left to oblivion.
Re: Judas Shmudas

Thanks to the smooth blog stylings of Ross Douthat http://theamericanscene.com/, I see that Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker takes a critical look at the Gospel of Judas, and finds that the Dead White Mediterranean Males who established the biblical canon did a pretty good job of keeping the Gnostic gnonsense out of the Bible. Caitlin, Mon Amour Speaking of the NYer, one of the most consistently interesting essayists around is its Caitlin Flanagan, seen here http://www.theatlantic.com/about/people/cfbio.htm in a bio from her previous employer, The Atlantic Monthly. She’s got a new book out, “To Hell With All That,”  out this week. It’s a terrific, incendiary collection of essays, as well as some new material. I swear, I was reading the final two pages out loud to my wife, and got all emotional. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.

Anyway, I interviewed her this morning for my Dallas Morning News op-ed section, and asked her how come she calls herself a liberal when so many liberals seem to hate her guts. Her response was–and I’m paraphrasing–that she really is a liberal (pro-choice and all that), but one who believes that it’s a great and fulfilling thing for women to stay at home taking care of their kids and keeping house. She said to me that the left pretends to be tolerant, but in fact if you diverge one step from the party line, they set upon you with knives.

One thing I, as a religious conservative, find so interesting about her work is how clear-eyed and combative she is about the culture of sleaze we’re left to raise our kids in. She’s currently in a big contretemps with Planned Parenthood over its teen sex-advice online column, which Flanagan (correctly) says is mainstreaming to young audiences sex techniques you used to have to read magazines in brown paper wrappers to learn. Flanagan’s a supporter of the old Planned Parenthood, but says this new attitude they have is insane. She’s right about that.

Here’s why I bring her up here: she told me that she’s not an evangelical, but she has enormous respect and enthusiasm for the counterculture the evangelicals are building for their children. She said evangelicals are the authentic counterculture in America today. I was listening to her going on, and thinking, “Yep … yep… oh Caitlin, you have GOT to get the heck out of Los Angeles, for your own sanity!”

Seriously, as someone who left NYC–which, don’t get me wrong, I loved with a passion–for Dallas, mostly so I could live in a culture where the choices we made for organizing our family and raising our kids were generally supported by mainstream culture–I understand what she’s going through. I’m not evangelical either, but Dallas is such a good place to raise kids in large part because of the evangelical influence here.

Borderline Morality

We had half a million Latinos marching in downtown Dallas yesterday–the biggest rally in this city’s history (it was five times that of the big Tom Landry Appreciation Day back when the Cowboys coach retired, which tells you something).

It was by all accounts an exemplary event: only one arrest (it was for public drunkenness), lots of American flags, and so forth. Here in Big D, the local Catholic cathedral was a centerpiece of the rally, as the Catholic bishop of Dallas, Charles Grahmann, has thrown his lot in with the demonstrators (which is fine, I guess, but he has been so awful on the sex-abuse scandal that I can’t help feeling that Bishop Grahmann, like the even-worse Cardinal Mahony in Los Angeles, is doing his best to rehabilitate his image in the media). I have mixed feelings about the church’s involvement in this matter. Certainly the church is right to have a big heart for immigrants, and to defend their human rights and dignity. But I wouldn’t feel so conflicted about it if the church–all churches felt equally strong about the importance of obeying U.S. laws. Does the church really have nothing to say on behalf of those people who live along the border who are swamped by illegal migrants, and who wonder why their government refuses to secure our border? Does the church have nothing to say to taxpayers who wonder why they should have to see their public schools and public hospitals overwhelmed by demands from people who sneaked into this country illegally? Does the church not care about how much more difficult the presence of illegal migrants makes it for unskilled American laborers to find work–and at decent wages?

The rhetoric of church representatives often recalls the church’s glorious past in serving previous waves of Catholic immigrants. But Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies told me once that there is a major difference between those immigrants and today’s Mexican and Central American migrants. Back when the Italians and Irish were immigrating en masse to America, they were leaving countries that were culturally and economically similar to the United States. Today, many of these south-of-the-border migrants are coming to an advanced First-World nation from a dirt-poor Third-World nation, and are having serious problems assimilating. What’s more, said Krikorian, the church a century or so ago made a deal with the new immigrants: We’ll stick up for you and advocate for you, but we will also help you assimilate by teaching you how things are done in your new country, and we’ll expect you to conform. Nowadays, the church does not serve a bridge role between the new immigrants and the American mainstream.

My Dallas Morning News colleague Macarena Hernandez reports that she saw a sign at the rally yesterday reading, “God Has No Borders.”  No, but the United States of America does, and it has a right–even an obligation–to enforce them. I wish religious leaders would recognize that.

Mushroom-Clouded Debate

President Bush is live on CNN right now trying to tamp down alarm over Sy Hersh’s piece reporting that his administration is considering using tactical nuclear weapons to take out Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That meme is out of the bottle, though, and nothing’s going to put it back in soon. After reading the Hersh piece yesterday, I was in a miserable state of mind, because I cannot conceive of any good options here, only catastrophic ones.

To be sure, the idea of using nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike against Iran is–well, if it’s not “nuts,” as Jack Straw calls it, it’s at least an extremely ill-advised option. (Why not “nuts”? I’ll get to that). Crossing the nuclear threshold would unleash God knows what on the world, which is why–assuming Hersh’s piece is accurate–senior military advisers are against it.And I am very skeptical about the prospect of war on Iran at all. If we hadn’t botched the Iraq war, the U.S. would be in a much better position to wage an effective war on Iran, which unlike Iraq, is a real country with a real army. But should we attack Iran now, the Shi'a of Iraq would rise up against us, and the sporadic jihad that the Islamofascists have been waging against the West would turn into a real shooting war. Or at least I wouldn’t bet against it.

The governments in the Persian Gulf would be grateful that we’d done this–I was in Dubai at a conference in December, and the tension I picked up from Saudi and Emirati officials over Iran’s rising hegemony was palpable–but they could in no way come out on our side, nor, I think, could they control the reaction of their own populations. A war against the Islamic Republic of Iran could easily turn into a regional cataclysm that could at the very least plunge the world into economic depression, and probably much worse.

What’s more, it is hard to imagine an unpopular president who got us into a bad war on dubious pretenses, and who is suffering deservedly in the polls as the public goes sour on the war, rushing into a new war that would likely be far, far worse. Well, it’s not hard to imagine this president doing that, but it’s hard to imagine the public going along with it, conventional or nuclear.

And yet, and yet...

Iran is ruled by lunatic Islamofascist revolutionaries who have been quite open about their intention to get nuclear weapons and use them to forward their revolutionary goals. They are quite clear that they would relish the opportunity to finish what Hitler started regarding the Jews. They have missiles that can hit southern Europe now, and the range of which will only improve with time. A nuclear Iran will set off a nuclear arms race in the Mideast. Unlike Saddam, we have serious reason to fear the ayatollahs passing weapons of mass destruction to their terrorist proxies. International diplomacy has been useless in the face of Iran’s intransigence. The mullahs understand that there is no will in the international community to stop them. And once they have the bomb, they can do what they like; the West will not risk losing Athens, Rome, Paris, or London to prevent the oppressed Saudi Shi'a from rising up with Iran’s backing to take over the Saudi oilfields in their province.

Are we prepared to live with the world’s first revolutionary Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons? Can we afford to do that? What if war is the only way to stop them? Can we afford that? And: what if the only way to be certain that we’ve destroyed their weapons-making capacity is to use tactical nuclear weapons?

What do you do when there are no good options, only horrible ones?

Greetings From Dallas

What, ho!

Hello all. I’m the guy who wrote the book “Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).” But you can just call it “Crunchy Cons.”

I’m a cultural/social/religious conservative who votes Republican by default. After five years in New York working for the New York Post and then National Review, I moved with my family to Dallas, the Crunchy Wife’s hometown, where I now work as the Sunday commentary editor of The Dallas Morning News

To get this conversation going, I’m about to have something to say about the massive immigration march we had here in Dallas yesterday (up to 500,000 marched), as well as today’s “Day Without a Mexican” protest (a local marcher held up a sign saying “God has no borders”–which is a difference between God and me), as well as talk that President Bush is thinking of dropping the big one on the ayatollahs, as well as Kevin Phillips’ newest tome, "American Theocracy," prophesying the ruin of the republic at the hands of theocons like me. Mercy!

But first, I’ve got to go into our morning editorial board meeting here at the News…

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