Saturday, April 25, 2015
“I appreciate people who are open-minded, who don’t judge others for their differences, who try to show openness and tolerance for other viewpoints. I don’t like dogmatic people, but see the world as woven of many different strands. We need to avoid dogmatism.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard these sentences, or sentences like them, from American liberals or self-described progressives. And the depressing thing is that the people who come out with such things actually take it as accurate self-description. They really seem to believe they are non-judgmental, or, as they repeat ad nauseum, “open-minded”.
Long ago, decades ago in fact, I learned what most such people were all about. I learned that anyone who describes him- or herself like this will usually, within the next few sentences, prove just the opposite. And how could it not be so? Anyone who utters such trite intellectual gibberish is typically only doing it as prelude to an angry rejection of some different position that is judged to be not open-minded enough.
In fact the “open-minded”, “non-judgmental” American liberal is one of the most close-minded, judgmental species of folk you’re likely to meet. Like the religious fundamentalist, but more dishonest, the typical liberal goes about the day seeking to erase or censure anything that doesn’t fit his or her own “open-minded” sense of right and wrong.
The "open-minded" liberal believes she has already decided all fundamental questions of right and wrong, all ethical conundrums the philosophers might struggle over, all deep cultural conflicts. And the answer to all these conundrums is: “Progress.” And how do we define progress? Like this: “Those who differ from me must finally come around to my way of seeing things.”
Does it get more self-serving or hypocritical than this? "Open-mindedness" is good, it leads to "progress", and progress means: Eventually you must agree with me.
Paradigms that don’t mesh with the hedonistic self-worship of the American liberal are labelled “dogmatic”, “close-minded”, “outdated”. And once any of these three latter adjectives gets stuck onto a view, the liberal can safely treat it as socially anathema. Those who hold to any of the rejected views must then be shunned by the group of “open-minded” people. They can no longer be accepted into polite society.
So much for respecting differences. The liberal way is: “We will respect your difference as long as, in all fundamentals, you are the same as us.”
I could type up a list of some of the current dogmas of this depressingly dogmatic American mindset. I won’t bother. Suffice to say that many of the truths these people take to be obvious and established wouldn’t be recognized as such in most world cultures. But what of that? After all, one of the central dogmas of these “globally-minded” liberals is that world cultures that don’t agree with them now must eventually come around--they’ll come around either through force or the persuasive power of pop culture and Hollywood.
In short, American liberals pay lip service to cultural diversity, but they’re the most avid cultural imperialists you can find on the planet today.
“I don’t like close-minded people” thus means, in American English, “Unless you see things the way I do, you have a closed mind.”
Oh, well, you might say, every group has its propaganda. Why be so disgruntled about this one, why expect American liberals to be any different? Why not just accept that they have their propaganda too?
Perhaps it’s because, unlike with doctrinaire Marxists, unlike with religious fundamentalists, unlike with dyed-in-the-wool misanthropes and cynics, the American liberal’s propaganda is so utterly dishonest, so shallow and self-serving. They've founded it on little more than the half-pint Zeitgeist of their own little echo chamber. They’ve forged it from a pure self-congratulatory lie--that we, the smiling, credit-card wielding First World liberals, have the answers to everything. Naturally. Because we’ve learned to be “open-minded”, see? We’ve gone to university and have read, gee, almost ten books. And look: our friends are the cool people, so, well, we’re in the know. You others--time to get with the program!
Sounds a lot like the way high school kids talk, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that.
Compared to these trite narcissists, the devout religious person makes for a bracing conversation partner. At least there’s a tradition, a content behind his or her belief that must be referred to. At least the religious person is not all about patting himself on the back. He or she acknowledges his difference from others; he recognizes that this difference implies debate, substantive debate, and struggle. It’s not a matter of saying simply, “Hi, guys. Wow, we're so open-minded, hey?”
Put me at a table of hardcore Marxists, Hindu fanatics or Jesus freaks any day. Just please, keep me away from these "open-minded" consumerist morons now dominating America. God protect me from the droning self-worship of the American liberal.
The assignment this time was to begin with the sentence “On the other side of the mirror is an inverse world.” Students at the Zephyr English Institute (ZEI) had about twenty minutes to write out a description of this “inverse” world. Claire, as usual, wrote brilliantly (this time I had to edit her more, as some of her sentences weren’t clear) and Ryan was up to his usual ryanism. The other students couldn’t finish in time, so took the essay home. I’ll add more as I get them.
Oh, and I wrote my own too, at the bottom.
Oh, and though I wrote it while the students were writing, I cheated a bit, working it into a final draft at home.
Oh, and I’m kind of a ryanist too, aren’t I?
The MirrorOn the other side of the mirror is an inverse world. In that world, people do not exist until you kill them. Living, continuing to survive, is what they most fear. Once they have been killed and enter that world, work is no longer necessary; they are dead. Finally they exist.
You are dead from the second you enter that world. It is upside down in relation to the world on this side. Once there, you float up towards the ground.
Killing and maiming are virtues there, but saving and healing are vices. Whenever one heals or saves, and the operation is a success, the saved one regains life and enters the world on this side of the mirror, where we stand now, the world of the earth.
Those who are unlucky enough to enter our world from that one are disgusted by the human race. They can’t accept that killing others is illegal, while saving people is seen as good. To live is seen as shameful on the other side of the mirror.
But if too many die and enter that inverse world, the number of corpses grows too large. Slowly, some of them begin to come loose from the ground and fall down into the sky, which has the special power to give them life. This falling causes a certain panic in the inverse world. The most decayed are the noblest, while the newly dead are of the lowest rank. Fighting to hold onto death, the newly dead work to heal or restore the more decayed bodies, or push them down toward the sky. They work day and night to resuscitate them, healing as many as they can until the inverse world gains balance again, and they can feel secure in their death.
The fight starts again every time a plague or disaster reaps lives on the earth. The dead crowd into the inverse world, they understand that death is to be cherished, and they fight for their death.
The MirrorOn the other side of the mirror is an inverse world. In that world, everything is backwards.
Clerks give customers money to take their products away.
People use fire extinguishers to start fires in malls and public buildings.
At schools the students stand during the class and watch the seated teacher.
When lunch comes, everyone throws up their lunch boxes.
At dinner time, cows use steak knives to cut people into “peoples”.
People eat food with their navels.
People use parachutes to jump up into planes when they want to travel.
They use elevators as subways.
People are punched to death by punching bags.
The MirrorOn the other side of the mirror is an inverse world, where disasters bring joy and celebrations end with leaders promising “Never again.”
In that world the nations compete to see who can ruin their economy faster.
The superstitious wear amulets to attract bad luck, and the beautiful are shunned.
Population shrinks yearly, abandoned land filling in with forests and fields, polluted lakes clearing one by one, new species appearing out of nowhere.
Even the lives there are backward: everyone starting out crippled and old and regressing to childhood.
Youth is thought of as a sad inevitability.
Which is why women spend untold sums keeping their skin wrinkly, adding sags under their eyes; and self-conscious men, once they see their hair start to fill in, take to wearing wigs with artificial bald spots.
But in general the people do what they can to avoid being noticed.
They have their own version of Facebook. When you sign up, you start out with hundreds of friends, most of whom you hardly know; the number slowly whittles itself down to your real friends, who then disappear one by one, leaving you finally with only your profile picture, which you delete.
Their Facebook won’t last long, however, because every year exciting new technologies are forgotten. Dumps and vacant lots are stacked with equipment the people have forgotten how to use, devices they no longer comprehend.
Idealists can dream of the day writing will be uninvented, then agriculture.
At the edge of the park the bushes mark their territory on every passing dog.
Tombstone inscriptions are tattooed on your mother’s belly after you’ve entered the womb. Her pregnancy recedes, until you are forgotten; until there’s only lovemaking, then dates, then glances across a room.
I know this because for a time I was in that world myself. I even won the lottery. They came and took everything.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
I’m an American heterosexual man and fervent Catholic. Nonetheless, I have for some time wondered if there may not be room in Christian culture, even Catholic culture, for acceptance of same-sex marriage. Last year I began systematic study of related theological issues in hopes of discerning possibilities. Though I've no solid conclusions yet, I continue to research and think through the Church's teachings. Theology, however, is not the topic of this post. I only intend to point out, here at the outset, that I see this subject as an important one.
In any case, I have no animus against LGBT people. For most of my adult life, which began in the 1980s, I’ve supported them in their struggles. My support, however, is starting to take a beating.
The thing is: I do have a strong animus against LGBT activists’ recent efforts to use the power of the state to effectively force people to agree with them on marriage. Such force is clearly not the way to go. But gay activists and their supporters evidently disagree, because they’re moving that way like a freight train.
If a restaurant refused to serve food to a gay or lesbian couple simply because of their sexual orientation, I’d recognize that couple’s right to sue the restaurant for discrimination. Eating in a restaurant, or staying in a hotel, or shopping--all these are neutral activities, and as a business owner one does not have the right to refuse customers because of who they are.
But the people of faith in America whose livelihoods are now threatened by lawsuits did not in fact “refuse to serve” gays or lesbians--as liberals claim. Study the cases. Nowhere did a baker refuse to make a birthday cake or a graduation cake. Nowhere did a florist refuse to arrange get-well flowers for a friend. Nowhere was there a general refusal of service.
No, the recent cases over gay weddings are something else entirely. They are about people of faith declining to contribute creative work toward weddings their religion teaches against. And here the more compelling right is on the side of the religious business person. Our constitution requires protection of religious liberty, a crucial part of which is protecting people from being compelled to engage in activities that contradict their faith.
Consider the sad case of 70-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman. Did gay marriage supporters really want their movement to lead to this kind of state persecution? Because state persecution is precisely what it is. Go read the link if you’re not familiar with the case. It is sobering, and just one of a growing number of similar cases.
The State of Washington on its own initiative decided to raise suit against Stutzman. Understandably, the state has an interest in protecting LGBT people from discrimination. But there are ways to balance LGBT couples’ rights not to be discriminated against and the rights of people of faith to hold to their faith as they see fit. We might tailor laws to meet the needs of both sides in a reasonable compromise. It’s not impossible.
Louisiana is exploring a religious freedom statute at present that would protect religious people from suits raised specifically in relation to marriage. Such laws are needed. The problem is that whenever they are are proposed, the now ascendant liberal fundamentalism screams out: “Bigotry!”
Sorry, but bigotry is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. I would argue that in cases like Stutzman’s it’s the religious person who is the more obvious victim of bigotry. She is one of a growing number of victims of an ascendant anti-Christian bigotry.
And talk about animus. Going to a Facebook page in support of Barronelle Stutzman as I prepared this article, here were the two visitor comments that appeared first:
This is what bigotry looks like. And such attitudes and this kind of language have grown ever more widespread among professedly "liberal" Americans. Remember: These are posts aimed at a 70-year-old grandmother who’d never said anything hateful against gays and whose only crime was politely refusing to make flowers for a gay wedding.
Because Stutzman sincerely believes such a wedding offends against her faith, she should not be forced to offer her services toward celebration of said wedding. It’s simple as that. Given that the meaning of marriage is clearly substantive in her religion, whether she’s willing to offer work toward this or that wedding is a matter of her own religious liberty.
I strongly believe every American has the right to live their life the way they choose. The success of the gay marriage movement in legalizing their marriages vis-a-vis the state does not however give them the right to force other Americans, who have their own traditional ideas of marriage, to participate in their weddings.
Many Americans who like myself have long felt solidarity with gays and lesbians in their struggles are now starting to recoil at what the LGBT movement has turned into. There’s a growing disgust at the arrogance, the cultural narrowness, the assumption that the public arena now belongs entirely to them. To hear them say it, in their own words, dissenters against their agenda should just shut up or expect to lose their jobs.
Most Americans support a kind of classical liberalism, strongly pluralistic, which envisions a public sphere where groups with widely divergent goals and ideals can coexist and in which the rights of different groups are protected in a balanced way. Writing in relation to the marriage debate last year, Damon Linker sagely summed up his own support for such a vision, while underlining how the gay marriage movement had started to betray this vision. Sadly, things have only gotten worse since then. (See also Linker’s follow-up piece.)
One of my literary heroes, the satirist George Saunders, describes a healthy America as follows: “America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.”
Sadly, our current liberal elites are precisely what Saunders warns against: droning and glamorous and, in their own narrow minds, reasonable.
Liberal fundamentalism, now most strongly in the same-sex marriage movement, is becoming a threat to American pluralism.
I call them “lib-fundies”. Perhaps a definition is in order.
Lib-fundie (liberal fundamentalist): A person who believes that American separation of church and state means that individuals cannot express or live by religious convictions in public. The lib-fundie thus thinks a student expressing thanks to God in a graduation address is out of line, or that a street corner preacher, standing on a public sidewalk, should be shut up by police.
Lib-fundies favor ever-increasing legal encroachments on expression of religious beliefs. They assume that truth and belief in God are mutually contradictory notions, and that right law is a matter of ensuring their own views become obligatory on all citizens.
Lib-fundies pay lip service to religious freedom to the extent that they will say: “If you want to teach your children Bible stories at home, that’s your right” or “You can go to your church or temple and worship any way you want.” It has been widely noted that in public pronouncements Barack Obama regularly replaces "freedom of religion" with "freedom of worship". The purpose of the shift is clear. According to Obama's phraseology, expression of religious beliefs is not proper to the public arena.
By their very language lib-fundies reveal their intention: To prevent religious Americans from speaking openly about their faith anywhere outside private homes or churches.
“Please close your windows and doors tightly before you talk about God. And please talk in hushed voices. Because in the public arena, only We know what’s best.”
That is the voice of the liberal consensus, and even a cursory study of our history will show that it is not in line with our Founders' original idea of "separation", which only entailed that no particular denomination should gain dominance over the state. It was never assumed that religious language was improper for a politician or that theologically-grounded thinking was improper in a political debate. It was most certainly never assumed that religious people should keep quiet in public about their beliefs.
Lib-fundies lamely identify progress with eradicating religion from Western culture. Contrary to the clear evidence of 20th century history, they believe the eradication of religion will usher in a Golden Age of peace and human flourishing. They conveniently forget the golden ages brought us by Stalin, Mao and Co.
As a Catholic, I will fight these people. That I share many of the goals of the American left in terms of the environment, workers’ rights, the struggle against corporate power--it makes my fight more conflicted. But fight them I will.
Americans who allow their support for the LGBT movement to push them toward throwing our traditions of religious liberty out the window are making a grave mistake.
My new book Idiocy, Ltd. is now in print.