Archives For: Keepers

The Power Of Francis’ Glasnost

Oct 8 2014 @ 1:00pm

Synod On the Themes of Family Is Held At Vatican

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood the power of open dialogue, which is why they did all they could to shut it down within the Catholic church. The sensus fidelium, the insight that ordinary Catholics may have into the Christian life, was all but banished in favor of top-down control and increasingly fastidious theological certitudes. And perhaps the most striking thing so far about the Synod now going on in Rome is simply that: a venting of reality in that airless context, that, while not in opposition to church teaching, is nonetheless frank about its challenges in the modern world.

And language matters. Ed Morrissey notes:

The most intriguing part of that discussion, at least as noted in the briefing, was a call to change the language associated with those teachings [on marriage and sexuality] and find more inclusive and welcoming language instead. The specific terms that some bishops wish to stop using are “living in sin,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “contraceptive mentality.”

Each of these terms is designed to define human beings in ways that can only wound and alienate. A couple co-habiting before marriage cannot be reduced to “sin” without obliterating everything else that may be wonderful about their relationship – and that may well lead to a successful marriage that is perfectly orthodox. Suggesting that all couples who use contraception can be reduced to endorsing a “culture of death” is equally likely to push flawed human beings away from Jesus rather than toward him. And, as for “intrinsically disordered”, Ratzinger’s prissy prose was impossible for a gay Catholic to read without feeling punched in the gut. The key to a renewal of Christianity in our age will be a shift in language, a reintroduction of the core truths of the faith with words that are not designed to wound, hurt or alienate, and that can convey truth in a positive manner for a new generation.

Then there is the remarkable testimony of an Australian married couple – about the central role that sex plays in supporting their marriage vows:

The couple explained that “gradually we came to see that the only feature that distinguishes our sacramental relationship from that of any other good Christ-centred relationship is sexual intimacy and that marriage is a sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.” “We believe,” they added, “that until married couples come to reverence sexual union as an essential part of their spirituality it is extremely hard to appreciate the beauty of teachings such as those of Humanae Vitae. We need new ways and relatable language to touch peoples’ hearts.”

Well: good for them. And wouldn’t Catholic marriages be better if more were able to tell their sexual story in ways currently repressed? There is, after all, an obvious and almost painful limitation on the clerisy’s ability to understand sexual intimacy, because they have all taken vows of celibacy. (Another gigantic obstacle, of course, is that of the nearly 200 voting participants in the Synod, only one is a woman. Of the 253 total participants, only 25 are women.) But the Australians had another point to make on the question of homosexuality:

Read On

In Defense Of Gordon College

Oct 8 2014 @ 11:55am

Here’s a possibly troubling story out of Massachusetts:

The regional body that accredits colleges and universities has given Gordon College a year to report back about a campus policy on homosexuality, one that may be in violation of accreditation standards. The higher education commission of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges met last week and “considered whether Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of ‘homosexual practice’ as a forbidden activity” runs afoul of the commission’s standards for accreditation, according to a joint statement from NEASC and Gordon College.

Here is that college’s public statement about its policy on homosexuality:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.58.37 AM

They key issue here, it seems to me, is whether the college’s orthodox views about sex are being fairly implemented. If the prohibition against non-marital sex is enforced only on gay students, we have a problem. But there is no evidence that it is. And the college – which implemented its own review of this policy – seems attuned (see the last sentence) to the problems for gay students in such a setting.

In a liberal society, a college should not be denied accreditation because of its religious teachings, as long as they do not endorse double standards for different individuals who are enrolled.

Read On

Seeing The Mountaintop

Oct 6 2014 @ 8:45pm


[Re-posted and updated from earlier today]

I’ve just been absorbing the news out of the Supreme Court this morning. Unless the composition of the court changes, it now seems close to certain that every American citizen will soon have a right to marry the person they love. An idea that once seemed preposterous now appears close to banal. The legal strategy that Evan Wolfson crafted from the early 1990s onward – a critical mass of states with marriage equality before a definitive Supreme Court ruling – has been vindicated and then some. The political and cultural strategy we pioneered at the same time – shifting public opinion slowly from the ground up, tapping into the deepest longings of gay people to become fully part of their own families and their own country for the first time, talking to so many heterosexual men and women about ourselves for the first time – also succeeded.

There have been many moments when individuals have tried to take credit for all this. No one should. The reason we persuaded so many in sully-wedding-aisle-thumbso short a time is that so many unknown private individuals – from Thanksgiving tables to church meetings to office cubicles to locker rooms – simply told the truth about who we really are. It took immense personal courage at times – and each moment someone came out, more light, more reality, seeped into the debate. The reason so many attempted the apparently impossible was because we had seen at close hand what no marriage rights meant: as spouses were kept from spouses even at the hour of death during the AIDS crisis and as our children were at risk of being taken away from us, as we grew our families.

These were elemental issues of human dignity – not abstract arguments about federal benefits or “natural law”. And this was a moral movement about the inherent dignity and equality of all of us – tapping into some of the profoundest truths from the founding of this country, and the deeper truths of our religious traditions, still sadly incapable, in many cases, of expanding, rather than constricting, the boundaries of human love. What we have right now in America is the moral majority for the dignity of every person’s capacity to love and be loved. What we have right now is the defeat of fear and fundamentalism – the two most dangerous sirens of our time.

What I also love about this conservative but extraordinary decision from SCOTUS is that it affirms the power of federalism against the alternatives. Marriage equality will not have been prematurely foisted on the country by one single decision; it will have emerged and taken root because it slowly gained democratic legitimacy, from state to state, because the legal and constitutional arguments slowly won in the court of public opinion, and because an experiment in one state, Massachusetts, and then others, helped persuade the sincere skeptics that the consequences were, in fact, the strengthening of families, not their weakening.

Those who wished to circumvent this process, to grab the credit, to condemn all those in dissent as ipso facto bigots, have mercifully been sidelined by the court. And now in thirty states (maybe thirty-five), the reality of this social reform will be seen: the quotidian responsibilities of spouses and parents, the moments of joy and agony that are part of all marriages, the healing of wounds of separation and ostracism. It won’t happen at once, but it will slowly emerge, through a greater collective empathy and inclusion. Every time a father holds back tears as his daughter marries her beloved, every time a child feels secure with her two dads or two moms, every time a young gay kid asks himself if he is really worthy because he is gay and now knows he can one day have a relationship like his mom and dad and feels less tormented and less alone: these are the ways we humans can grow and become what we fully can be. This is an expansion not just of human freedom, but of human love.

It is so easy today to see horror all around, anger surging, hysteria rising, fear spreading. But we see also in this remarkable, unlikely transformation the possibility of something much different: that human beings can put aside fear and embrace empathy, can abandon prejudice in favor of reality, can also see in themselves something they never saw before: an enlargement of the circle of human dignity.

I think of all those who never saw this day, the countless people who lived lives of terror and self-loathing for so, so long, crippled by the deep psychic wound of being told that the very source of your happiness – the love for someone else – was somehow evil, or criminal, or unmentionable. I think of the fathomless oceans of pain we swam through, with no sight of dry land, for so long. I think of the courage of so many who, in far, far darker times than these, summoned up the courage to live with integrity, even at the risk of their lives. And I cherish America, a place where this debate properly began, a place where the opposition was relentless and impassioned, a country which allowed a truly democratic debate over decades to change minds and hearts, where the Supreme Court guided, but never pre-empted, the kind of change that is all the more durable for having taken its time.

Know hope.

(Photo: Supporters of same-sex marriage gather in front of the US Supreme Court on March 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. Same-sex marriage takes center stage at the US Supreme Court on Tuesday as the justices begin hearing oral arguments on the emotionally-charged issue that has split the nation. By Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.)

The Vanishing Idols

Oct 6 2014 @ 2:37pm


The Synod convened by this remarkable Pope is now in session – and there are some reactionary voices being heard – as there should be. The head of the Polish church just described cohabitation as “the self-mutilation of [a couple's] love”. He also noted with dismay that “some parents like to teach boys that they should clean up after themselves, and not wait until girls do it for them.” Ed Morrissey just reported that the opening statement by Cardinal Peter Erdo was also uncompromising: “Erdo emphasized that recognition of divorce and remarriage without a church finding of nullity in the first marriage ‘is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.'”

And this is how it should be. Along with arguments about the need for pastoral change and adjustment – the Pope himself, after all, just married a previously divorced couple in the Vatican! – the arguments for no change at all need to be heard. What’s truly new about this papacy is its endorsement of this very debate – the very thing that John Paul II and Benedict XVI made anathema. Can you imagine this tweet appearing at any time since 1979 until now?

James Alison has taken up that offer. Last Friday he addressed a meeting in Rome for “The Ways of Love,” an international conference on Catholic pastoral care for gay and trans people. It’s not part of the Synod of Bishops on the Family. It’s an off-off-Broadway production, as it were. But it should not be dismissed for those reasons. Some of the most important discussions during the Second Vatican Council occurred informally off-site, and aired issues that emerged eventually as central to the Church’s opening to the modern world. The question of same-sex love and homosexual dignity is not likely to be part of the formal Synod. But it hovers around it – even as the Church in America has intensified its cruelty and unjust discrimination against homosexuals seeking to follow Jesus.

So you may be surprised to find in James’ latest talk in Rome an element of joy and magnanimity. He sees the emergence of gay and trans people’s own self-understanding of our equal worth in the eyes of God as quite simply irreversible, unstoppable – not a breakdown of the church’s teachings but an eruption within it of Catholicity itself:

Read On


Oct 3 2014 @ 1:39pm

Well, I thought the frankness of that might provoke a response. I was asked whether I was an isolationist (no) and what I actually proposed we do with respect to the latest Sunni insurgency in Iraq – an insurgency I think will continue until the Sunnis regain what they believe is their rightful place running the whole “country”. A reader notes:

George Kennan was asked the same question. His reply (from his diaries) was this: “…there are two kinds of isolationist: those who hold the outside world too unimportant or wholly wicked and therefore not worth bothering about, and those who distrust the ability of the United States Government, so constituted and inspired as it is, to involve itself to any useful effect in most foreign situations. I… belong to the latter school.”

I won’t add to your very large dissent pile on Syria, etc., just to recall the State Dept conventional wisdom back in the day: if you want someone to diagnose a difficult problem, ask Kennan; if you want someone to manage or solve it, never ask Kennan.

Except, of course, it was Kennan’s careful and conservative case for containment that ultimately won the Cold War without the near-Armageddon that the predecessors of today’s chronic interventionists (Kennedy especially) nearly brought us to. So the State Department was wrong.

I favor US military action and leadership in cases where we carefully assess what we can do,iraq2 have a clear strategy, a clear definition of victory and an exit plan. I favored the bombing in the Balkans to end genocide; I favored the Gulf War to get Saddam out of Kuwait; I favored getting the Falklands back. I opposed the intervention in Lebanon under Reagan; I opposed the Somalia intervention under the first Bush; I opposed the Libya intervention under Obama. And then, of course, in the wake of 9/11, I supported the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. And I have to say that living through all those events has only helped me better understand the wisdom of Kennan.

Of the two kinds of “isolationists”, I guess I’m around 30 percent who thinks the world is far too fucked up or irrelevant to try to intervene and 70 percent fully aware that the US simply does not have the ability to do anything but make so much so much worse. Almost every intervention in the Middle East – save the Gulf War – has made things worse. And the Gulf War, of course, gave us al Qaeda, in response to bases in Saudi Arabia. Just as the intervention against the Soviets in Afghanistan empowered Islamist terror in the long run as well. As for the CIA deposing Mossadegh, well … look what nightmares came from that. My contention is that the CIA has done more damage to the interests of the United States over the years than any other institution.

Another reader counters my perhaps too melodramatic dismay at Obama’s latest folly:

1. To the extent ISIS etc. hurts Dems in the polls, it will be because Obama is perceived to have let ISIS metastasize, not because he’s striking the group now.

2. No American president could have afforded to sit back and let ISIS overrun Kurdistan or assault Baghdad. And the first strikes in Iraq seem to have been effective. To the extent that minimalists have a beef with Obama, it’s about extending the strikes to Syria and purporting to build up Syrian “moderates.”

3. Just because the threat to the US from ISIS isn’t imminent doesn’t mean it’s not real. If that monstrous quasi-state continues to grow, or even gets equilibrium, it’s a bigger/stronger haven for worse nuts than al Qaeeda ever had in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

4. To “hope both sides will lose” is cruel and nihilist.

5. Both Obama’s rhetoric and his likely course of action are far more restrained than you give him credit for.

6. “Betrayal” is an hysterical term.

Let me respond to each point in turn.

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Oct 2 2014 @ 9:15pm

At a speech the other night, I was asked a direct question: “Are you an isolationist?” I’ve never been asked that question before and I found myself wanting to say yes, just to stir shit up. But in a moment of restraint, I did say yes in the current case, but not always. I’m against isolationism if there is something we can do that actually works. But no amount of moral outrage at outright evil makes any sense if there’s nothing we can really do to stop it. Or indeed if our intervention will actually make things worse. As it has in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Readers have asked me what I would do if I were president in this case. My answer is nothing. I would tell the country that this is a consequence of the Iraq War, and that if we could not really quell a Sunni insurgency with a hundred thousands troops on the ground for nearly a decade, then air-strikes are not going to do a thing now. I’d insist that the neighboring Sunni states will have to deal with this themselves – or allow Iran to handle it. If a regional Sunni-Shi’a war is the result, we can always hope that both sides will lose. Invading Iraq was not Obama’s responsibility; his responsibility was to get us out and to stay out. Once Syria’s WMDs had been taken out of the country, it would be a regional conflagration – like the Syrian civil war that has already cost 200,000 lives, or the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

Yes, we should tighten our defenses; yes, we should deal firmly with any Americans who are going to fight there; yes, we should perhaps intervene from a distance if one side seemed to be gaining the upper hand too much. (Our real interest is in bolstering the one stable power in the region, which is Iran.) But basically: leave these insane, foul, sectarian conflagrations to those who fight them. Above all, do not make this a war between Islam and the West. Let it be what it is: a war of Islam against itself.

The alternative was outlined by George W Bush today. His view is that we should be patient and baby-sit “Iraqi” “democracy” for an indefinite period of time with residual troops. We are now doing that in Afghanistan. The alternative, in other words, is an endless pseudo-empire in failed states to achieve “democracy” where such a thing makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s a form of welfare with no cut-off, creating hatred for the US and thereby anti-Western terror for the foreseeable future and beyond.

We elected Obama precisely to be calm and sane enough to be able to resist what he has now done. He betrayed us. His policy, such as it is, is utterly incoherent and as free from any sane fiscal footing as his predecessor’s. He has launched a war against an entity that even the CIA says poses no threat to the US. And his party will be eviscerated in the coming November elections as a result. If you voted twice for Obama to end these unwinnable, bankrupting, open-ended wars, why on earth would you vote Democrat to enable another one? Yes, the polls show support for the new war right now. But just watch. The easy part is over. The civilian casualties will mount, ISIS and al Qaeda are uniting again, the narrative of Islam against the West is back in the foreground, the completely farcical idea of arming “moderate Syrians” will go nowhere, and the terror risk at home will escalate. There will be no victories. Except for the Republicans.

Today, I took note of how Fox News is seizing on the politics of fear that Obama has now legitimized; we reviewed Marilynne Robinson’s latest installment in her stunning Gilead trilogy; we noted how Hobby Lobby is beginning to prove Ruth Bader Ginsburg right; and noted how our only real allies in Syria now hate us. Plus: more on spanking. And a cat that loves being vacuumed.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. Another reader quotes me regarding what’s quickly becoming our email of the month – a first-person account of child abuse:

“What has long struck me about this almost unique aspect of the Dish is not just the fact that readers feel safe to write us, knowing that their identities will be absolutely confidential, but that the quality of the writing is so high.” I have no doubt that your readership is smarter than the average publication’s (and we’re all damned good-looking, too). But my hunch is that your decision not to have an open comments section also drives up the quality of the emails you get. Every smart email you publish sets the bar that much higher for the rest of us. We know there’s no point in emailing you something half-assed, so we write, rewrite, edit, and re-edit our emails.

And then we throw in a line praising (or trashing) the Pet Shop Boys before we hit send.

What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

If you appreciate the kind of reader-based journalism we do at the Dish, consider subscribing here to get access to all the rich email content – not to mention all the ReadOns and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here if you want to share the Dish with someone or simply want to further fund our endeavor as an existing subscriber. And please drop us an email if you end up doing so; we always love hearing from new and existing subscribers.

See you in the morning.

The Fear News Network

Oct 2 2014 @ 1:27pm

Hotel rooms can occasionally make you watch Fox. It happens. And I know I should be better than this, but it’s still, yes, shocking in its relentless, cynical propaganda. I was watching a foul, smug gabfest headed by Greg Gutfeld late last night and they introduced a segment on the first Ebola case in the US. Immediately, they cut to a graphic of a gloomy looking Obama with the words “Only in Obama’s America.” Seriously. He’s now responsible for Ebola, it seems. And, of course, the subtle insinuation that Ebola is a black disease and Obama is therefore somehow part of this dark menace coming to our shores was the subliminal message.

Then last Friday night, alone in my DC apartment – Aaron and the hounds are still in Provincetown – I also watched the Megyn Kelly show. You should never watch Fox alone. It was, of course, about the horrifying incident in Oklahoma that day where an obviously unstable and deranged worker had been fired and gone on a rampage, yelling Islamic slogans, and actually beheading one of his victims. It was obviously a deeply disturbing incident and certainly deserved coverage. But the coverage was designed not to lay out the facts, but to foment the most widespread fear imaginable. They played the full 911 tape – to accentuate the horror. They spoke of his possible ties to international terror groups. They had photos of him at a local mosque. They implied – in full McCarthy mode – that the authorities were covering up this Muslim in our midst out of political correctness or, in Obama’s America, government support for Islamist terror. Kelly intoned that this was “the first beheading on American soil,” implying that this was the beginning of a campaign to behead Americans all over the country. It was way into the segment before one of the guests, when asked why on earth the authorities weren’t describing this as an act of Islamist terror in the heartland, muttered that, well, in fact, the dude had just been fired at the place he worked, after a heated argument, and maybe that had something to do with it. Kelly immediately pounced and dismissed any such motive – and the segment moved directly from the local police who had called this workplace violence to an assertion that the Obama administration was behind this p.c. move.

The incident happened that day. I understand that breaking news may not have all the facts available to make full sense of it. But to assert he was arguably part of an international Jihadist group, already planning more attacks, to describe what prompted this horrifying act as solely terrorism, to watch Kelly’s widened incredulous, scandalized eyes asking over and over again why the police were still calling this as a preliminary measure an act of workplace violence … well, it was pure fear-mongering.

Read On

A reader shares a harrowing series of stories and insights on corporal punishment, which at times borders on torture:

This email is too long, Andrew. But I don’t know another way to do it. Those last sentences in your post on “The Racial Divide On Spanking Kids” are packed with the stuff I’ve been struggling with all week. I’m sending this because I took so much time to write it. I’ve been close to tears often this week, and I suppose it’s a way of defending that tenderness.

“Discipline”: It was a belt or a switch in my house, except for the handful of times I was slapped. I hail from a poor, white, fundamentalist family in Texas. Sometimes we managed to get a hold of the bottom rung instead – lower-middle class, or is it upper-lower class? – but it wasn’t ever a very firm grip. I think that matters, our economic and social status – how it operated on my parents, their sense of self, their sense of control and agency, their standing, that fuzzy line between “poor” and “trash,” the dependable hierarchy at home of respect and obedience. But I can’t unpack all of that, and I don’t know what it would mean for anyone else if I did.

Whenever I got caught swearing – or if someone told my mother I’d been swearing – I had my mouth washed out with soap. In practice, even this is a stupid and violent thing to do. Really, the logistics of the sink and the soap and the faucet, the mouth and the hands, the gagging and spitting and crying – it’s jammed with aggression. I was six the first time.

Read On

Readers may understandably be concerned by my continued dissent on the new war counter-terrorism operation in Iraq and Syria – which has no chance to roll back a Sunni insurgency that will endure as long as Iraq is still kept as a unitary “state”, huge chances that blowback will bring terror to the US again, and has only token Sunni support in a region where the Shi’a-Sunni war may well continue for years or decades. But I have long argued that we should look at Obama’s long game in assessing results. And with two years to go, the long game can begin to be assessed.

The results in foreign policy? A new open-ended years’ long war in Iraq and an indefinite continuation of thousands of troops in Afghanistan. These were not wars, it turns out. They were operations in which the United States became permanently responsible as a neo-imperial power for two more failed states. More to the point, as ISIS has managed to become the new al Qaeda, Americans have returned to their 2002 mindset, with a new Congress looking as if it will be dominated by Republicans, who are all-too-eager for ever more wars against ever more non-threats to the United States. The last two years of Bush were more hopeful for some kind of unwinding of this war machine. But now a liberal Democrat has given them bipartisan legitimacy – and fueled the fires for a Cheneyite comeback.

Gitmo, of course, remains open. More to the point, even as war criminals have been given total immunity, the Senate Intelligence Committee report remains bottled up, as the CIA is allowed to doctor, redact and openly challenge it, while the president sits back and lets Denis McDonough protect the war criminals we once had some aspiration to at least expose. James Clapper has been revealed as a liar to the Congress and suffers no consequences; he admits he failed to anticipate ISIS’s breakout, and the president retains full confidence in him. John Brennan runs an agency which actually spied on its Congressional over-seers, lies about it in public – and retains the president’s full confidence. And now we discover that a real current issue of mistreatment of detainees in Gitmo is being covered up:

The Obama administration has asked a federal judge to hold a highly anticipated court hearing on its painful force-feedings of Guantánamo Bay detainees almost entirely in secret, prompting suspicions of a cover-up.

Justice Department attorneys argued to district judge Gladys Kessler that allowing the hearings to be open to the public would jeopardize national security through the disclosure of classified information. Should Kessler agree, the first major legal battle over forced feeding in a federal court would be less transparent than the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay.

That’s precisely what we supported Obama for, isn’t it? That allegations of abuse of detainees in Guantanamo Bay be kept completely secret – and that no one will ever be held accountable for it. The actual videotapes of the force-feeding – critical evidence to allow anyone to judge whether these methods are indeed a form of torture – are barred from any public viewing.

Read On

Well, we all see mirages, I guess. But it says something about the hysteria about the latest incarnation of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq that we’re suddenly comparing them to Nazis and to non-humans. Even as Cohen himself acknowledges that “the Nazi death machine was unique. Facile invocation of it is too frequent, belittling the phenomenon and its victims.”

So why break Godwin’s Law so egregiously? Cohen wants us to believe, channeling Martin Amis and Primo Levi, that there was no “why” in the unconscionable unique act of the Holocaust. And yet, mountains of evidence explain exactly why: it was a function of a vile racism that regarded the Jewish people as vermin that needed to be exterminated in order to allow the master race to flourish. It was not some random act of mass murder; it had a grotesque but clear and constantly trumpeted rationale. Then Cohen seems to endorse the idea that the Nazis were somehow unhumans or “counter-humans”, in Levi’s words. But that too, it seems to me, lets them off the hook. The Holocaust was a deeply human act – a function of humankind’s capacity, revealed throughout history, of extraordinary levels of hatred and violence, brought to new and unfathomable evil in the age of the industrialized state.

And equally, it is absurd to argue that “there is no why to the barbarism of ISIS.”

Read On