I Thought John Fea Is Evangelical

John linked to a report from Baylor on the outlook of Trump voters. Among those voters are these characteristics:

• are members of white Evangelical Protestant churches

• consider themselves “very religious”

• think of the United States as a Christian nation

• believe that God is actively engaged in world affairs

• fear Muslims and refugees from the Middle East

• believe that women are not suited for politics

• oppose LGBTQ rights

Here’s what’s odd about this finding. I’m betting John and I are on the same side of these bullet points.

He and I consider ourselves very religious.

He and I think the United States is not a Christian nation.

He and I believe likely that God is actively engaged in world affairs since we tend not to be deists.

He and I do not fear necessarily Muslims or refugees from the Middle East, though I bet if those Muslims or refugees had fought for ISIS John might be a little afraid as I would be.

He and I do not think that women are unsuited for politics, though John was far more congenial to Hillary Clinton than I was.

He and I likely overlap on rights for LBGTQ folks, though I also suspect that the extent of those rights might be qualified.

In which case, neither John nor I fit the profile of evangelicals who voted for Trump. And yet, John still self-identifies as evangelical. I do not and have not for at least 25 years.

In which another case, why does John object to Trump as strongly as he does? Is it because he identifies as evangelical even while the majority of evangelicals voted for Trump? That disconnect could make you wonder about the group to which you belong. I imagine if Bruce Springsteen came out in favor of Trump, John would have as much psychic discomfort as I would if Ethan Coen trashed J. Gresham Machen.

In which a third case, isn’t what matters here not someone’s religious w-w but his or her politics? I can belong to a communion that includes (or used to) Kevin Swanson and that’s okay because the OPC does not require fidelity on political or cultural matters. But if you are part of a religious group that includes a wide swath of Protestants and think that faith should inform a lot of what you do — not to mention that the group has been identified with a certain political trajectory for FORTY years, evangelical support for Trump might give you pause. In other words, if you think religion and politics need to be consistent, then you might assume that a self-identified Calvinist is also a political conservative (which Donald Trump is not). But doesn’t that also mean that if you are an evangelical, your politics should align in some way with the rest of the evangelical world? Being evangelical surely doesn’t make you a liberal (though evangelical professors seem to think otherwise). And oh by the way, some of the biggest opponents of Donald Trump like Russell Moore also oppose policies like gay marriage. In other words, you don’t need to oppose Trump and go over to the editorial page of The New Republic.

Even so, nothing on that list of Trump voters’ attributes is inherently Christian.

Regarding those qualities now as sub-Christian is going to take a little more work than simply finding Trump repugnant. Ever since Ronald Reagan, most Christians in either the Democrat and Republican parties would have agreed with those convictions.

In which a fourth case, Donald Trump justifies rewriting the rules governing yucky evangelicalism.

They Can’t Help Themselves

No, I refer not to evangelicals who are going to praise and worship in worship or to Neo-Calvinists who are going to turn every square inch into an outpouring of grace. Instead, I have in mind the media elites who cannot quite get over how smart they are and who continue to notice that Donald Trump did not graduate from the Kennedy School of Government (nor did his supporters graduate from Harvaleton — HarvardYalePrinceton). The issue of that New Republic bemoaned the election’s results began by retreading a column that former editor, Franklin Foer, had written about the George W. Bush administration. (The Franklin Foer, by the way, who left the magazine when he thought it had lost its way.) Here is how the current editors introduced Foer’s 2001 editorial:

FOLLOWING BARACK OBAMA’S election in 2008, a diverse cadre of intellectuals flocked to Washington to serve in the new administration. Eight years later, those same liberal elites are reeling from the election of Donald Trump. He campaigned in direct opposition to the smarty-pants Ivy Leaguers who trod the halls of the White House during the Obama years.

This is part of what Foer himself in 2001 wrote:

Eight years ago, the Clinton administration ushered in what seemed like a social revolution. The Clintonites didn’t just bring an ideology to Washington; they brought a caste. Gone were Poppy’s crusty boardingschool WASPs. In their place was a new kind of elite: multicultural, aggressively brainy, confident they owed their success not to birth or blood but to talent alone. “Perhaps more than any in our history,” wrote The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, “Clinton’s is a government of smart people.” Or at least credentialed people. The White House staff alone boasted six Rhodes scholars. One-third of Clinton’s 518 earliest appointments had attended Harvard or Yale—or both. The president called his staff “the top ranks of a new generation.”

The Clintonites set out to solve America’s problems by thinking smarter thoughts than anyone before them. Almost immediately, the project went awry. They produced a health care plan that was thoroughly rational; it was also mind-numbingly complex, hopelessly bureaucratic, and the product of an undemocratic process. And it almost ruined Clinton’s first term. . . .

Not surprisingly, then, Bush has crafted an administration largely devoid of intellectuals. His staff contains no Rhodes scholars. Of his 14 Cabinet members, only two went to Ivy League colleges, and only one holds a Ph.D., Secretary of Education Rod Paige— and his doctorate is in physical education. The Protestant establishment that shaped W’s father is dead—there is not a single powerful American institution that remains exclusively in WASP hands.

Almost all the wonks who traveled to Austin to instruct Bush in policy have either been ignored in the transition or handed second-tier positions. As Newsweek reported, frustrated onservatives have created an acronym for the administration: NINA, for “No Intellectuals Need Apply.”

Well, aren’t you smart. But if you were really smart and had studied political theory just a smidgeon you might be aware that philosopher kings are not so great an idea, and that democracies don’t always select the smartest governors. A smart person might concede that running things combines a lot of different skill sets, not to mention dependence on providence (or good fortune for the less spiritual).

Heck, only a couple months before the election, New Republic ran a review of a book that argued in effect that only the educated should vote or run for office:

For Jason Brennan, a professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at Georgetown, the answer lies in sorting Americans by their level of education. His book, Against Democracy, argues for the establishment of an epistocracy, or rule by the wise. Under his scheme, your race is irrelevant, as well as your gender, social class, ethnicity, or even party. If you are informed about politics, you get to vote. If you are not, too bad. “Epistocracy,” in his words, “means the rule of the knowledgeable. More precisely, a political regime is epistocratic to the extent that political power is formally distributed according to competence, skill, and the good faith to act.” . . .

Any suffrage-restricting regime will have to address the question of how we determine who gets to vote, and Brennan has an answer: Just as we test for who can drive, we ought to rely on exams to determine who can have the franchise. To this there is an obvious objection. Tests rarely conform perfectly to the quality they presume to measure. I can fail at geography but nonetheless have good political judgment, just as a political whiz kid who knows the names of every member of Congress could also lack social graces. Any scheme for limiting democracy contains biases. One of the advantages of extending suffrage as widely as possible is that you limit the biases to as few as necessary. . . .

Despite—or perhaps because of—his disdain for politics, Brennan is ignorant of how politics actually work. “In the United States,” he writes, “the Democratic Party has an incentive to make the exam easy, while the Republicans have an incentive to make the exam moderately hard, but not too hard.” He has clearly not been paying attention. In Donald Trump’s America, low-information voters cling to the Republicans, while Democrats are becoming the party of the informed. If you are a liberal, you might consider applauding a scheme to allow 02138 (Cambridge, Massachusetts) more power than 38944 (Leflore County, Mississippi). For Brennan, this is not a problem: His faith in an epistocracy is firm, and let the chips fall where they may, even if the wise turn out to be the most liberal. But it does seem problematic that a libertarian proposes a voting scheme that would give power to the least libertarian sections of the country. Follow Brennan’s advice, and the whole country will eventually become the People’s Republic of Cambridge—and that, I can tell you from personal experience, is no libertarian paradise. (Just try not sorting your garbage here.)

There’s a reason that absent-minded so often goes with professor.

The Virtue of Being Vindictive

Morning reading left me stunned with this observation about the way Americans understand recent terrorist acts:

When Muslim Americans commit acts of terrorism, we hold ISIS and Hezbollah and “radical Islam” accountable for their actions, even if they are mentally unstable, and even if there is no direct connection between them and the groups that inspired them. We call these terrorists “self-radicalized.” It is how we see Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013; and Omar Mateen, who went on a murderous rampage at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando last June; and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who killed 86 people and injured 434 at a celebration in Nice on Bastille Day. They did not go to a terrorist training camp, or join an organized cell, or attend an anti-Western madrassa. They learned to hate from a network of web sites and magazines and videotapes. Their madrassa was the media….

[Robert] Dear became radicalized in precisely the same way. But because the media he listened to advocated war in the name of a Christian god, and argued for an ideology considered “conservative,” he is portrayed as no one’s responsibility. In fact, as I learned from hours of speaking with Dear, the narratives he learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies. The right-wing media didn’t just tell him what he wanted to hear. They brought authority and detail to a world he was convinced was tormenting him. They were his shelter and his inspiration, his only real community.

The point of Amanda Robb’s piece, coincidental that it comes in New Republic’s issue on President Obama’s legacy, seems to be that right-wing media is evil (just like the party they support). The Planned Parenthood shooter received lots of ideas from radio preachers even more obscure than Jen Hatmaker:

In those days, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, major broadcast outlets were forbidden from running partisan content without providing equal time to opposing views. But on shortwave channels, right-wing broadcasts were proliferating. Dear tuned in as often as possible. “That’s what turned me on to the conspiracies and the Bible prophecies,” he recalled. His favorites included Brother Stair, a Pentecostal minister who has predicted the end of the world; William Cooper, who preached that aids was a man-made disease; Pete Peters, whom the Anti-Defamation League has called a “leading anti-Jewish, anti-minority, and anti-gay propagandist”; and Texe Marrs, leader of the Power of Prophecy Ministries, who claimed that the federal government committed the Oklahoma City bombing and framed Timothy McVeigh.

Dear also became fixated on small magazines devoted to right-wing conspiracies. He spent hours at Barnes & Noble poring over magazines like The Prophecy Club, The Spotlight, and Paranoia, obsessing over their brand of crackpot theorizing: how the Robert Bork confirmation battle was connected to the JFK assassination, how the World Trade Organization ran a secret “Codex Alimentarius,” how the government operated a series of Deep Underground Military Bases, how it was planning an “American Hiroshima.”

But you know, the Fairness Doctrine paved the way for Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly’s John the Bapist:

Those in the right-wing media who traffic in hate and conspiracy theories are quick to deny that they should be held responsible for the consequences of their words. After Waco, Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to predict that “the second violent American revolution” was imminent. Yet two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, he published an op-ed in Newsweek entitled “Why I’m Not to Blame.” After running 29 shows attacking George Tiller as “Tiller the Baby Killer” and saying there was “a special place in hell” for him, Bill O’Reilly dismissed any accountability for inciting the doctor’s murder: “I reported extensively on Tiller and after he was assassinated by a man named Scott Roeder, some far-left loons blamed me.”

So, if we blame ISIS for random acts of mass murder, why not the right-wing media? Possibly because POTUS and the Department of Justice and mainstream media have warned us from jumping to conclusions about Islam or Islamic organizations.

Here’s how the New York Times handled the Boston bombers’ religion:

While Dzhokhar’s adjustment seemed to be going smoothly as he reached his teens, Tamerlan’s disillusionment with their adopted country grew as he got older, as did his influence on his younger brother.

Baudy Mazaev, a Chechen friend of the Tsarnaevs, said that Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, “had a deep religious epiphany” involving Islam a few years before the bombing.

Initially, according to friends, Tamerlan’s new religious devotion seemed to only irritate Dzhokhar: Mr. Mazaev said that on one of his visits to the Tsarnaev house during that period, Tamerlan ordered him and Dzhokhar to read a book about the fundamentals of Islam and prayer. After that, Mr. Mazaev said, they began avoiding the apartment.

But the family’s relationship to Islam, and one another, evolved. In February 2011, roughly when the boys’ mother embraced Islam, she separated from her husband, Anzor, a tough man trained in the law in Russia who in Cambridge was reduced to fixing cars in a parking lot. The two divorced that September, and Anzor returned to Russia; his ex-wife followed later.

Tamerlan filled the void as head of the family’s American branch. On Twitter, Dzhokhar wrote that he missed his father. Days before his citizenship ceremony — on Sept. 11, 2012 — he expressed wonder at why more people did not realize that the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center “was an inside job.”

Not exactly a slam dunk link to ISIS or Hezbollah.

What about this treatment of Omar Mateen?

Other hints of a disturbed mind continued to emerge. In 2013, G4S removed Mr. Mateen from his security post at the St. Lucie County Courthouse after he had made “inflammatory comments” about being involved somehow in terrorism. Though far-fetched and even contradictory — he claimed connections to Al Qaeda, the Sunni extremist group, and ties to its near opposite, the Shiite Hezbollah — his comments were troubling enough for the county sheriff’s office to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The bureau’s subsequent inquiry was inconclusive.

The next year, Mr. Mateen again attracted federal scrutiny, after an acquaintance from his mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, carried out a suicide bombing in Syria. According to F.B.I. Director James B. Comey, federal investigators concluded that Mr. Mateen knew the bomber only casually.

The mosque’s imam, Syed Shafeeq Rahman, insisted that Mr. Mateen had never heard teachings at the mosque that would have radicalized him. “There is nothing that he is hearing from me to do killing, to do bloodshed, to do anything, because we never talk like that,” the imam said.

But if you can link an attack on Planned Parenthood to the media that opposed President Obama, well, why not?

And this was an issue of New Republic that celebrated the President’s decency, centrism, and dignity. According to Andrew Sullivan:

People will see the sheer caliber of this man [President Obama]. The grace and poise with which he conducted himself in unbelievably difficult circumstances; the way he withstood abuse and disrespect with extraordinary calm and goodwill. He will in his post-presidency become a symbol, maybe somebody we need more than when he was president, to remind us of what it is to be dignified in public life. Especially if this hideous monster who’s succeeding him continues to despoil the public culture.

So why exactly did the editors include a piece so out of sync with the President’s virtues? Maybe because they only want the other side to be virtuous?

What Am(mmmeeeEEEE) I Missing?

A few more observations about religious journalism after the news that Books & Culture is ending its run next month. A couple of evangelical academics have taken this news about the way that I felt when I heard that Chris Hughes had bought the New Republic and its editorial staff resigned.

According to Alan Jacobs:

For twenty-one years, Books and Culture has been one of the most consistently interesting magazines in the English-speaking world. I have often been surprised at the number and range of people who agree with me about that. Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.

Chris Gehrz seconds Jacobs:

… in any event, it’s certainly a good moment to celebrate what John Wilson has been able to accomplish over twenty years of editing B&C — and how much I appreciate that he has gone out of his way to encourage young authors and scholars. Thanks, John, and all those who have made Books & Culture possible these last twenty-one years.

Both authors mention personal ties to John Wilson and my own relations to the magazine no doubt inform my reaction to the news which is a measure of sadness, especially for people who are losing the jobs. But I can’t say I’ll miss B&C because I haven’t subscribed to it for years.

One reason was precisely those young writers that Gehrz believes John Wilson cultivated. For me that was a fault of John Wilson’s powers as gate keeper for what could have been the jewel in intellectual evangelicalism’s crown. If you want to point to the rich treasures of the evangelical mind, why not turn to its intellectual statesmen and make your publication evangelicalism’s go to place for your movement’s most insightful writers? But evangelicalism suffers from an implicit egalitarianism that elevates the ideas and opinions of the novice and untested to the same worth as the tried and true.

This was exactly what Leon Wieseltier refused to do with the New Republic. In the “back of the book” he turned to some of the academy’s best minds (including Mark Noll) and gave them lots of room to explore a range of ideas that — sorry — B&C never approximated.

Maybe it is apples and oranges, but I doubt Jean Bethke Elshtain could have evaluated Hillary Clinton for John Wilson the way she did for Wieseltier:

I am no a family-above-all person. Some families are rotten and the children in those families should be spirited to safety as quickly as possible. But truly rotten families are, thank God, few and far between. More commonly we have good enough families or almost good enough ones. How high do we place the threshhold in assessing good and bad parenting? Whose business is it anyway? Here Clinton makes one of the more lamentable moves in her book. She is dead-on about the importance of being attuned to the needs of infants, feeding them, cuddling them, holding them, but in a discussion of the fact that there is not “substitute for regular, undivided attention from parents” we learn that the “biggest difference” that emerged from a study she cites and endorses, was “in the sheer amount of talking that occurred” in various households. It is no surprise that Clinton favors the chattering classes, but she proceeds to malign poor and working-class parents because they interact less with their children….

Like Clinton, I recoil when I hear a parent shout at a child. I, too, cringe when a parent is curt, abrupt and dismissive. But I recognize that this is not the same thing as neglect, not the same thing as abuse. Perhaps, as the late Christopher Lasch insisted, the working-class or lower-middle-class style aims to instill in children a tough, early recognition that life is not a bowl of cherries, not a world in which everyone is telling you how great you are; that their lives will be carried out in a world in which they tasks they are suited for, the jobs they do, the lives they live, and even the way they talk (or do not talk) will be scrutinized and found wanting by their “betters.” I know that Clinton would argue, in response, that she means no invidious comparison. But the comparison is there and it is invidious. According to her book, the higher the income and education, the better the parenting, all other things being equal….Don’t get me wrong. As a general rule, children shouldn’t have to…[suffer]. And no group of children should be stuck in such a situation as a permanent condition. But life is hard, and its necessities bear down on people. In the light of such recognitions, it is best at times to restrain ourselves and not rush to intervene and fix everything and tell people struggling against enormous odds that they are doing a crummy job. Sometimes Clinton understands this, sometimes she doesn’t.

Boys Will Be Boys

Can’t say I’m all that pleased with the new New Republic. When the current subscription runs out, that will bring to an end thirty years of worthwhile magazine reading.

Here’s part of what’s wrong. The new New Republic is so gay-friendly that its editors don’t seem to notice certain inconsistencies.

For instance, in the July/August issue, Naomi Fry reviewed Entourage the movie and gave a thumbs down to the sort of male culture that animates the film (and the show):

It was an era of vulgar, cheerfully exaggerated gender roles, in which the perennially thong-flashing Britney Spears and her backup dancer Kevin Federline’s ill-fated nuptials (celebrated in September 2004, just two months after Entourage’s debut) featured bridesmaids and groomsmen wearing Juicy Couture tracksuits whose backs were emblazoned, respectively, with “maids” and “pimps.” Spears’s mental breakdown was a still-unimaginable three years off, the financial market’s collapse four. Yes, there were a couple of wars, but they were far away. Life was good. . . .

As the years passed, however, Entourage became harder to stomach, and its inclusiveness less convincing. This was partly the fault of context. Post 2008, life turned more difficult for a lot of people, and the happy-go-lucky, Teflon quality of the show’s protagonists, with their effortlessly achieved Maseratis and mansions, began to grate. The “bros before hos” ethos fell out of general vogue, as did the notion that a group of horny white men fucking their way through Hollywood could count as an arrangement in which we’d all end up the victors, no matter our gender, race, or sexual orientation.

This is a lesson that some of the most successful recent navigators of popular culture, too, have grasped. Nowadays, our male celebrities can still have a bro squad in tow, but the carousing has to come with a twist, which is why Drake, for example—the half black, half Jewish rap superstar from Toronto, whose famously hangdog quality complicates an otherwise swaggery persona—is a genius worthy of his moment. Entourage, however, continued virtually unchanged. Years into its run, we could find the boys still metaphorically strutting around The Grove mall in Los Angeles, a somewhat worse-for-wear Horatio Alger with a Yankees cap, Ed Hardy shirt, and Seven for All Mankind jeans. By its 2011 finale, however, everyone seemed to understand that it was time to pack it up and move on.

I’m not sure if this was the reason I never sat through more than four episodes, but Fry’s point is worth making. Hetero boys being boys can be downright vulgar.

But the same issue has an article about gay culture in Louisville and its author, Michael Lindenberger, nostalgically makes the point that even after the legalization of same-sex marriage, readers of the magazine should not let go what was good about gay life in the 1960s and 1970s. Here’s a description of one night out on the town:

Walking south on Fourth Street, toward the Ohio River and Main Street, they spotted a sign up ahead, a block south on Chestnut: THE DOWNTOWNER. COCKTAILS. “We saw this pack of people going straight into the door and we just squeezed right on through,” Stinson said. “There was this small cabaret room in the back, just packed in with people. This beautiful blond-headed lady on a small stage was playing the piano and singing. People were just having the greatest time.” A booth opened up, and the boys crammed into it, three on a side. “So here comes this waitress,” Stinson said. “My cousin George right away was giving me the nudge: ‘Get up, and let her sit down.’”

“‘Wellll,’ she says,” Stinson said, laying on an exaggerated Southern drawl. “‘Is it you boys first time here?’”

“‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’”

“‘Let’s just get this playing field straight. You think I am a boy or a girl?’” The waitress pulled up her sweater, exposing a chest covered in hair.

The boys had unwittingly wandered into what was for many years the only gay bar in Louisville. The Downtowner opened in 1953, after the Beaux Arts, a bar in the hotel of the Henry Clay Hotel at Third and Chestnut, which opened in the 1940s, became what’s widely considered the city’s first gay establishment. But the Beaux Arts and a similar place within the nearby Seelbach Hotel called the Beau Brummel, had been a place where men could meet discreetly and in relative safety. The Downtowner, with its waitstaff in drag and performers onstage, was something else altogether. Louisville also had gay pickup spots, including Cherokee Park in the east end, the oval in front of the Louisville Free Public Library, and Central Park, a half-dozen or so blocks to the south on Fourth Street. “It was either the bars or [the park],” David Williams, one of the editors of the gay newspaper The Letter, told me. “We had little groups—or families. I was the matriarch of one of the families. We’d go to the park and play volleyball and go home and have a potluck dinner. We took care of each other.”

Here boys are being boys but this time the entourage is acceptable even though as testosterone-driven as the characters in Entourage. Why? Because homosexual sex is better than heterosexual sex? Because gay men are more restrained in satisfying their sexual desires than straight men? Because gays hang out with prettier women than straight men? Because gays are less clannish than heteros?

Turns out, the gay culture of the 1960s is more worthy of preservation than the hetero feng shui of 2000s Hollywood because participants in the former were victims of injustice and those part of the latter were simply an aspect of the majority society. This is in fact the great crisis for any minority group who achieves some correction to a former imbalance. If your identity is based on being the minority, then once you enter the mainstream and become part of the majority you lose your identity.

So which is it, do gays want to be normal (Andrew Sullivan’s word) or queer? And in sexy America where promiscuity is normal, can gays really retain a separate identify from straight men?

What if We Thought about Marriage the Way We Think about Driving?

The fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 continues to pile up. But even before the justices tallied their votes and wrote contrary opinions, some could see that the debate over gay marriage had lost its way and that marriage in the United States was in bad shape. For instance, in the same issue of The New Republic came two pieces that indicate why the current debates over marriage are missing the civil (as opposed to religious) point.

Michael Kinsley, who edited the magazine when Andrew Sullivan first tried the idea of gay marriage (1989), believes that Ben Carson’s remarks about homosexuality (on Hannity and Andrea Mitchell) revealed an orthodoxy on the left every bit as powerful (probably more) than most Christian communions:

There are those who would have you think that gays and liberals are conducting some sort of jihad against organized Christianity and that gay marriage is one of the battlefields. That is a tremendous exaggeration. But it’s not a complete fantasy. And for every mouth that opens, a dozen stay clamped shut. In the state of Washington, a florist refused to do the wedding of a long-time customer “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” Note that “long-time customer.” This woman had been happily selling flowers to the groom. She just didn’t want to be associated with the wedding. Now she is being sued by the state attorney general. DC Comics dropped writer Orson Scott Card’s planned Superman book when thousands signed a petition demanding it because of his many homophobic remarks.

Thought experiment: If you were up for tenure at a top university, or up for a starring role in a big movie, or running for office in large swaths of the country, would it hurt your chances more to announce that you are gay or to announce that you’ve become head of an anti-gay organization? The answer seems obvious. So the good guys have won. Why do they now want to become the bad guys?

In other words, gay marriage advocates are no more tolerant than their opponents who don’t tolerate gay marriage.

But what would the debate look like if we lowered the stakes from “I’m right, you’re a cretin,” to what is actually good for the righteous and cretins who have to live together and increasingly support each other through government programs, insurance, and other forms of imposed solidarity? In the same issue of TNR, for instance, came a story about the consequences of loneliness and an implicit brief for more and stronger marriages:

If we now know that loneliness, a social emotion, can reach into our bodies and rearrange our cells and genes, what should we do about it? We should change the way we think about health. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize–winning economist at the University of Chicago who tabulates the costs of early childhood deprivation, speaks bitterly of “silos” in health policy, meaning that we see crime and low educational achievement as distinct from medical problems like obesity or heart disease. As far as he’s concerned, these are, in too many cases, symptoms of the same social disorder: the failure to help families raise their children. . . . As nearly half of all marriages continue to end in divorce, as marriage itself floats further out of reach for the undereducated and financially strapped, childhood has become a more solitary and chaotic experience. Single mothers don’t have a lot of time to spend with their children, nor, in most cases, money for emotionally enriching social activities.

“As inequality has increased, childhood inequality has increased,” Heckman said, “So has inequality of parenting.” For the first time in 30 years, mental health disabilities such as ADHD outrank physical ones among American children. Heckman doesn’t think that’s only because parents seek out attention-deficit diagnoses when their children don’t come home with A’s. He thinks it’s also because emotional impoverishment embeds itself in the body. “Mothers matter,” he says, “and mothering is in short supply.”

Heckman has been analyzing data from two famous early-childhood intervention programs, the Abecedarian Project of the ’70s and the Perry Preschool project of the ’60s. Both have furnished ample evidence that, if you enroll very young children from poor families in programs that give both them and their parents an extra boost, then they grow up to be wealthier and healthier than their counterparts—less fat, less sick, better educated, and, for men, more likely to hold down a job. In the case of the Perry Preschool, Heckman estimated that each dollar invested yielded $7 to $12 in savings over the span of decades. One of the most effective economic and social policies, he told me, would be “supplementing the parenting environment of disadvantaged young children.”

I suspect that the author, Judith Shulevitz, TNR’s science editor, is in favor of gay marriage, given her status at TNR. But aside from the politics of homosexuality, folks who live in the United States actually care about the health of marriages and families. And I suppose that if people like Ms. Shulevitz understood that anti-gay marriage folks also care about the health of marriages and families and the well-being of their society, they might have a profitable conversation about what kind of policies states and the feds should have to bolster the family.

I understand that marriage is more basic or primal than car driving, but I do wonder if the Christian approach to gay marriage debates should have been more akin to the kind of reaction that would greet a proposal to allow drivers to use both the left and right side of the road. We could marshal statistics about the dangers of auto-driving that exist now when everyone already drives on the right side of the road. That might be enough to say, “you know, we have enough accidents already without throwing another wrinkle into navigating big pieces of machinery on wheels around our fair land.” We could also project what kind of fatalities and injuries might result from allowing driving on both sides of the road. This would likely close the debate. No reason to get huffy about the sin of driving on the left side (since the Brits already do). Just think about the temporal realities of driving and how to make it as safe as possible. Why not do the same with marriage as a civil (not religious) institution?

Reformation Day This and That

First for anyone feeling too happy or nostalgic about the Reformation an excerpt from the very clever and poignant review by Mark Lilla of Brad Gregory’s new book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society:

GREGORY CHOOSES not to weave one grand narrative that tells this sorry tale. Instead he teases out six historical strands that get separate treatment: theology, philosophy, politics, morality, economics, and education. This strategy entails much redundancy, since the moral he draws in each chapter is the same. But it also reveals that he has two unconnected stories to tell about how everything went to hell.

The first story is about the historical Reformation, which is his academic specialty. Gregory does not provide even a brief history of the Catholic Middle Ages that preceded the Reformation, only a single, static, rose-tinted image of The World We Have Lost. (He also avoids the term “Catholic,” preferring instead “medieval Christianity,” which sounds more inclusive.) If not an entirely happy world, it was at least a relatively harmonious one, despite what everyone thinks. Yes, there were theological disagreements and conflicts over authority, pitting popes against monastic orders against church councils against emperors against princes. Yes, the church split into east and west, and for a time there were rival popes. And yes, mistakes were made. Heretics were roughly handled, pointless Crusades launched, Jews and Muslims expelled or worse. Still, through it all, the Catholic complexio oppositorum was held together by a unified institutionalized view of the human good. “Over the course of more than a millennium the church had gradually and unsystematically institutionalized throughout Latin Europe a comprehensive sacramental worldview based on truth claims about God’s actions in history, centered on the incarnation, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” And this translated into a “shared, social life of faith, hope, love, humility, patience, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, service, and generosity [that] simply was Christianity.” Hieronymus Bosch must have been high.

Then it happened. The Church itself was largely to blame for creating the conditions that the early Reformers complained of, and for not policing itself. The charges leveled by Luther and Calvin had merit, and theirs was originally a conservative rebellion aimed at returning the Church to its right mind. But then things got out of hand, as the intoxicating spirit of rebellion spread to the spiritual Jacobins of the radical Reformation. They are our real founding fathers, who bequeathed to us not a coherent set of moral and theological doctrines, but the corrosive pluralism that characterizes our age. The radicals denied the need for sacraments or relics, which ordinary believers believed in, handing them Bibles they were unequipped to understand. Sola scriptura, plus the idea that anyone could be filled with the Holy Spirit, inspired every radical reformer to become his own Saint Paul—and then demand that his neighbors put down their nets and follow him. Disagreements erupted, leading to war, which led to the creation of confessional states, which led to more wars. Modern liberalism was born to cope with these conflicts, which it did. But the price was high: it required the institutionalization of toleration as the highest moral virtue. The nineteenth-century Catholic Church rejected this whole package and withdrew within its walls, where intellectual life declined and dogma ossified. It thus left the rest of us to sink ever deeper into the confusing, unsatisfying, hyper-pluralistic, consumer-driven, dogmatically relativistic world of today.

. . . So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with the task of examining these orthodoxies in their own terms and judging for ourselves their presuppositions, aspirations, and effects—which is what theology and philosophy have traditionally done. But this is precisely what today’s religious romantics, like Gregory, shy away from, preferring instead to construct mytho-histories that insinuate rather than argue, and appeal to readers’ prejudices rather than their rational faculties. They become what Friedrich von Schlegel once said all historians are at heart: prophets in reverse.

Why does anyone think it worthwhile to consult such prophets? For the same reason people have always done so. We want the comfort, however cold, of thinking that we understand the present, while at the same time escaping full responsibility for the future. There is a book to be done on Western mytho-histories in relation to the times in which they were written, and the social-psychological work they accomplished in different epochs. Such a book would eventually trace how, beginning in the early nineteenth century, archaic theological narratives about the past were modernized and substituted for argument in intellectual proxy wars over the present. In the chapter on our time, it would note how techno-libertarian progressives and liberal hawks rediscovered Goodbye to All That bedtime stories that induced dreams of a radiant global democracy, while conservatives read ghost stories, then sang themselves to sleep with ancient songs about The World We Have Lost.

One wonders why Brad Gregory felt compelled to add to our stock of historical fables. He is obviously dissatisfied with the way we live now and despairs that things will only get worse. I share his dissatisfaction and, in my worst moments, his despair. But it enlightens me not at all to think that “medieval Christendom failed, the Reformation failed, confessionalized Europe failed, and Western modernity is failing,” as if each of these were self-conscious “projects” the annual reports of which are available for consultation. Life does not work that way; history does not work that way. Nor does it help me to imagine that the peak of Western civilization was reached in the decades just before the Reformation, or to imagine that we might rejoin The Road Not Taken by taking the next exit off the autobahn, which is the vague hope this book wants to plant in readers’ minds.

Then a little Halloween humor from Russell Moore (thanks to John Fea):

An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.

A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”

A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as Zwingli and Bucer for “Reformation Day.”

A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons and angels for the church’s Judgment House community evangelism outreach.

An Emerging Church evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.

I’d make one change.

A confessional evangelical is one who dresses like Zwingli and Bucer but once he sees a baptismal font takes off his clothes to expose a Charles Spurgeon costume (minus the cigar).