To Be A Christian In Modern America

Aug 20 2014 @ 12:18pm
by Matthew Sitman


For awhile now I’ve been intrigued by Rod Dreher’s advocacy of the “Benedict Option” for contemporary Christians, which looks to St. Benedict, founder of a monastic order in the wake of Rome’s collapse, as inspiration for how Christians should respond to the current cultural situation. Here’s a good summary of the Benedict Option from Rod’s essay about it late last year:

Why are medieval monks relevant to our time? Because, says the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, they show that it is possible to construct “new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained” in a Dark Age—including, perhaps, an age like our own.

For MacIntyre, we too are living through a Fall of Rome-like catastrophe, one that is concealed by our liberty and prosperity. In his influential 1981 book After Virtue, MacIntyre argued that the Enlightenment’s failure to replace an expiring Christianity caused Western civilization to lose its moral coherence. Like the early medievals, we too have been cut off from our roots, and a shadow of cultural amnesia is falling across the land.

Rod goes onto describe various communities – in places like Eagle Creek, Alaska and Clear Creek Abbey, Oklahoma – living out their faith in traditional ways, largely set apart from modern American culture. In the midst of our cultural catastrophe, the Benedict Option is a way for Christians to live virtuous lives uncorrupted by what’s around them, resisting any kind of assimilation into mainstream society.

Last week Samuel Goldman argued for an alternative, the “Jeremiah Option,” drawing on the experience of the Jews exiled in Babylon, and pitched as a corrective to Dreher’s ideas:

Without being rigorously separatist, these [Benedict Option] communities do aim to be separate. Some merely avoid morally subversive cultural influences, while others seek physical distance from mainstream society in rural isolation.

But a neo-Benedictine way of life involves risks. Communal withdrawal can construct a barrier against the worst facets of modern life—the intertwined commodification of personal relationships, loss of meaningful work to bureaucratic management, and pornographic popular culture—yet it can also lead to isolation from the stimulating opposition that all traditions need to avoid stagnation.

I think those hesitations are largely right, and as a Christian, I’d add that I have to wonder what these kinds of communities do to reach out to the poor, the sick, and the lonely in the world around them. I’m not sure hunkering down is what Jesus called us to, and when, for example, a member of the Alaska community I mentioned says that “If you isolate yourself, you will become weird,” I wonder how living in a remote Alaska village is not isolation. Christians are given the Great Commission, not the Great Retreat. I’m not trying to demean the people Rod profiled, but rather express that I can’t quite understand Christianity in the same way. Jesus always seemed to wandering around, telling strange stories, mingling with the kind of people Benedict Option types might prefer to avoid.

Given the above, you won’t be surprised that I nod along when Goldman elaborates on what distinguishes the Jeremiah Option from the Benedict Option:

Read On

ISIS Murders James Foley

Aug 20 2014 @ 11:54am
by Dish Staff

ISIS released a video yesterday purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley and threatening to do the same to his colleague Steven Sotloff if the US does not immediately cease its air campaign against the militant group:

A propaganda video circulated on Tuesday showed a masked Isis fighter beheading a kneeling man dressed in an orange jumpsuit who is purported to be James Wright Foley, a photojournalist who went missing in Syria in 2012. The masked executioner spoke in English, with what sounded like a British accent, and said the slaying came in response to the air strikes ordered by President Barack Obama against Isis 12 days ago.

Isis, whose chief spokesman came under US state department sanctions on Monday, warned of further revenge – including on another man purported to be a captured US journalist, Steven Sotloff – and in the video the victim was made to read a statement blaming the US for his own murder. Foley has been missing in Syria since November 2012, where he went to report on the bloody struggle to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad. He was initially thought to have been captured by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

So how did he end up in the hands of ISIS? Christopher Dickey wonders:

Read On

by Dish Staff

A reader with more than two decades of experience in law enforcement offers his perspective on police militarization:

For the record, I’m a supervisor with a medium-sized police department in Midwest who has also worked in a small town. I’ve been a patrol officer, a detective, and now a supervisor. At heart, I’m an old fashioned beat cop who enjoys walking down a main street and talking to people. I’ve never served in my department’s tactical team, nor am I a veteran.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in my career so far. One of the biggest is the nature of the threat that we face on the street. When I was in the police academy, we prepared for criminals who had cheap handguns and little training. The types of weapons that we face have changed dramatically; the police have simply evolved to meet those threats. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

Read On

Palestinians Live What Israelis Fear

Aug 20 2014 @ 10:54am
by Freddie deBoer

Funeral of eight Palestinians from the al-Louh family in Gaza

The emails filling my box about Israel function as a remarkable document. They are a record of seemingly reasonable people who have completely lost track of basic moral reasoning. And that represents itself nowhere more consistently or powerfully than here: treating what could possibly happen to Israelis as more important than what already is happening to Palestinians. It’s such a profoundly bizarre way to think, that only this maddening issue could bring it about.

“Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist!”

Indeed– and Israel not only denies Palestine’s right to exist, it has achieved the denial of a Palestinian state in fact. What kind of broken moral calculus could cause someone to think that being told your existing state should not exist is the same as not having a state of your own?

“Israelis will become second class citizens!”

Arab Israelis already are second class citizens, and Palestinians in the territories no citizens at all. They are denied freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly. They are systematically discriminated against for jobs, especially in government. They lack adequate representation in government. Their leaders are kicked out of Knesset meetings for questioning the IDF. Racist, ultra-nationalist mobs marched through their streets, chanting “death to Arabs!” Their weddings to Jews are the subject of vicious protests. They live side-by-side with racist teenagers who unashamedly trumpet ethnic warfare. They must live in a society where men like Avigdor Lieberman, an explicit racist and literal fascist, serves in a position of power and prominence. Where Meir Kahane is memorialized by groups receiving state funds, where the JDL’s thugs march, where Lehava preaches against miscegenation. A society where the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset openly calls for ethnic cleansing. Palestinians live in a society where a tiny fraction of government funding is spent on their communities or their people. Where human rights organizations like B’Tselem are oppressed by the state. Where they have to endure Kafkaesque application processes to prevent their homes from being bulldozed, if they are given that opportunity at all. Where they live under fear of reactionary, fundamentalist Orthodox settlers who call for death to the Palestinian race.

“Israel is diplomatically isolated unfairly!”

Palestine is diplomatically isolated in a way Israel cannot imagine. The United States uses its veto power to unilaterally deny even the possibility of full membership status for Palestine in the United Nations. The US has used its foreign aid programs and incredible diplomatic leverage to marginalize Palestine and protect Israel. Israel enjoys the protection of the most diplomatically powerful country on earth; Palestine cannot even claw out formal recognition of its borders.

Read On

“Friends” And Neighbors

Aug 20 2014 @ 10:34am
by Dish Staff


Olga Khazan highlights new Facebook-based research on users’ personalities:

For the studies, [computer scientist Andrew] Schwartz and his co-authors asked people to download a Facebook app called “My Personality.” The app asks users to take a personality test and indicate their age and gender, and then it tracks their Facebook updates. So far, 75,000 people have participated in the experiment. Then, through a process called differential language analysis, they isolate the words that are most strongly correlated with a certain gender, age, trait, or place. The resulting word clouds reveal which words are most distinguishing of, say, a woman. Or a neurotic person. In the six studies they’ve published so far, they’ve found that, for example, introverts make heavy use of emoticons and words related to anime, but extroverts say “party,” “baby,” and “ya.”

Above is the word cloud for extroverts. Facebook introverts may want to consider Nextdoor, a neighborhood-centric social network that promises more offline interaction. Ben Popper explains:

Read On

Give ‘em Enough Rope

Aug 20 2014 @ 10:04am
by Freddie deBoer

There’s a movement afoot among writers whose work has appeared at Thought Catalog, the tween slambook of the grown-up internet. These writers are trying to have their work pulled from Thought Catalog not because the site is a disgrace but rather because ape-faced racist Gavin McInness wrote a piece justifying transphobia there.

Now, I have no problem with people trying to get their work removed from Thought Catalog. Lord knows, if there was anything on that website under my byline, I’d be working like to hell to get it pulled, transphobia or no. You don’t want to associate with McInness, I get that. But I think that we should all consider: this is the perfect example of why we shouldn’t censor and don’t need to. Go ahead and Google around or plop the link to his piece into Twitter. The large majority of the reactions he’s gotten have been some combination of anger or ridicule. His argument hasn’t gotten any traction. On the contrary: it’s gotten a lot of people talking about transphobia and how mainstream it can still be. His piece has been undone by the reaction to it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. If we were to forbid him from expressing his opinions, we wouldn’t know how dopey he and they are.

Now Thought Catalog has pulled a pretty phony move, plastering a big disclaimer on front of their article. (After counting those sweet troll bait clicks, natch.) You can supposedly click through but I’m not able to load the actual piece that way, and had to consult a cached version. That strikes me as a weenie move; you published it, you got the attention, now leave it up for people to laugh at. And again, it’s unnecessary. I mean, this Tweet demolishes McIness in a way that’s far more effective and far more cutting than deleting his piece ever could:


Ferguson Isn’t A Black Issue

Aug 20 2014 @ 9:29am
by Dish Staff

Amy Zimmerman addresses the outcry over hip-hop stars not weighing in enough:

When a celebrity speaks out about an important issue, it increases visibility—this is a good thing. Nevertheless, the expectation that every African-American star or hip-hop hero must weigh in on Ferguson is a problematic one. Demanding that every beloved black celebrity respond to this issue would be like asking every white celebrity to take to social media whenever a white person, be they a criminal or a victim, makes the nightly news. The next time a mentally unstable white man opens fire on the public, you can be sure that the judgment of the world will fall firmly on that individual, not on Lena Dunham for failing to release a cogent and heartfelt press release.

Expecting every black celebrity with a hit single or an extensive Twitter following to address Ferguson implies that Michael Brown’s murder is a minority issue instead of a human rights one. Furthermore, demanding that any one person who is not directly implicated in the atrocity weigh in on it anyway distracts from the brave protestors, articulate journalists, and passionate public figures who are voluntarily taking on the responsibility of ensuring that Michael Brown’s prematurely silenced voice is heard.

Starving For Help

Aug 20 2014 @ 9:05am
by Dish Staff


Ty McCormick warns of an impending famine in South Sudan, where over 1 million people are already in dire need of food aid:

The origins of the food-security crisis are layered. War disrupted the planting season, not just where there was active fighting, but across the northern half of the country as farmers fled their fields in anticipation of violence. But systematic underinvestment by the South Sudanese government, which has battled numerous corruption scandals since it became independent in 2011, is also part of the equation: Roughly 90 percent of South Sudanese territory is suitable for agriculture, but only about four percent of it was being cultivated, even before the current crisis. This combination of greed, violence, and lack of capacity has proven deadly. …

Experts have yet to formally declare a famine — a step that requires rigorous analysis of food supply, malnutrition, and mortality rates and can take months to complete — but the United Nations has classified South Sudan a “level-3 emergency,” a designation it shares with only three other countries: Syria, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. But aid agencies, like UNICEF, caution against relying too heavily on formal declarations or quantitative analysis. Waiting for a famine declaration before taking action, they warn, could be catastrophic. “By the time the famine was declared in Somalia in 2011,” said Veitch, “Half of the people that would die in the famine were already dead.”

Unfortunately, Rick Noack indicates, the fact that we can see it coming doesn’t necessarily mean that donor countries will step up to prevent it:

Read On

by Freddie deBoer

Lots of reader objections on this one:

On Snowden’s motives and capabilities:

“I do know that he’s in Russia because he’s been trapped there by our government, and that if he’s a spy, he’s gotta be the world’s worst.”

Well, you’re half right. Snowden is in Russia because that’s where he chose to go, one day after his passport was revoked. I respect the whistle-blower argument, but Snowden did much more than leak evidence of crimes and overreach by the NSA. He took those documents and fled. Unlike Chelsea Manning, who seems to have far more personal integrity than Snowden, he did not remain here to face the consequences of his actions. If he truly believed he was doing a service for the country, or the world, and was not in flagrant violation of oaths he took, he should have stood his ground here in the US, or at the very least on neutral soil, NOT left to be succored by avowed international enemies of the US.

And his actions have shown that at the very least, he is extremely naive about international relations.

Read On

Email O’Clock

Aug 20 2014 @ 8:02am
by Dish Staff


Derek Thompson stayed up late to write an article about working late:

“It really is a global economy,” says David Mars, a New York venture capitalist. But if the pressures of globalization and a flimsy economy have endangered the set-hour workweek, mobile technology has obliterated it. In an unpublished Harvard Business School survey that I reviewed last year, American managers and workers reported that they were “on”—either working or “monitoring” work while being accessible—almost 90 hours a week. With this new denominator, email isn’t 28 percent of a 45-hour workweek. It’s 14 percent of a workweek that begins when our heads lift off the pillow and ends when we fall, face-first and exhausted, back into it. Wake-up-to-power-down is the new 9-to-5.