Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rod Dreher, Journalist for Jesus.

It's really arrogant to claim guidance from above, unless you really have heard God's calling. To wit:
You know, whenever someone says, "God called me to do..." or "God told me to do...," my b.s. detector automatically comes on. It's not that I disbelieve that God calls individuals to do this or that. In my life, I got a very clear and even startling call back to journalism at a time I was considering leaving it, and spent months in prayer and reflection about the path I should take. I honestly believe the hand of the Divine was in that. But I can't imagine declaring so confidently, "God told me to run for Congress" (or write a book, mow the grass, adopt an African orphan, whatever). Isn't that dangerously presumptious? Don't we risk confusing the promptings of God with our own desires? What if God "told" Bachmann's opponent to run for office against her? What's wrong with saying simply, "I believe part of my Christian vocation is to public service as a U.S. Congressman?" Why bring God into it like this? [emphasis mine]

To think, I've been spending so much time criticizing one of God's own reporters. As a faithful Christian, I suppose I should apologize for impeding Rod's work to do the Lord's will.

I'm not quite doing that, but I do have more to say, in the comments.


Blogger Bubba said...

In a recent comment on his blog, Rod Dreher suggested that I, undoubtedly one of his most consistent and most vocal critics, ask myself why I have "this weird obsession" with his ideas.

"I can't for the life of me understand why you keep hanging around a blog dedicated to exploring ideas that you find foolish and hypocritical," he wrote, though I do not doubt that he wouldn't mind an average Joe spending so much time praising those ideas.

Part of the reason is that, truthfully, political discussions on the Internet provide perhaps too alluring a temptation from my responsibilities in the real world, but that hardly begins to explain why Rod Dreher in particular irks me so.

The irritation can be explained by a few things. There's the fact that I think Rod's actually onto something when he describes the cultural chaos in which we find ourselves. The irritation comes in that he not only overstates his case, he is grossly wrong about the solution, offering a "sensibility" that replaces one form of consumerism with another and that risks a reversion to a pre-Christian emphasis on superficial regulations on the food we eat and the clothes we wear. He's like a doctor who correctly diagnoses a brain tumor but then suggests we amputate the head.

There's the often utter lack of Christian courtesy and journalistic professionalism in defending this thesis. I obviously admire the writing of Jonah Goldberg, and in his lengthy criticism of Crunchy Cons, he wrote that Rod was at times "insightful, endearing, and even quite persuasive." I very, very rarely see that side of Rod Dreher; I hate that NR/NRO seem to have made such a huge mistake in giving him the opportunity to speak from its platform, and it furthermore seems to me that he doesn't take his own writing seriously but that he wants the credibility of the serious writer: the respect of being a pundit without the responsibility of undertaking the hard rhetorical work of punditry. I mock him, in part, because such behavior deserves to be mocked.

And, there's the internecine nature of Rod's criticism: I can deal pretty well with leftists calling conservatives greedy materialists, but it's infuriating to hear that from someone who claims to be one of our own, more so when the guy who claims to be a conservative nevertheless puts quite a bit of stock in the word of the New York Times and Bob Woodword to justify his left-ish if not outright leftist criticisms. Idealogically, "Benedict" Dreher reminds me of Benedict Arnold, and there is something inherently loathesome about a traitor.

But there's also the issue of pride. I realize that there are two types of humility: humility before God, and humility among one's fellow man. The former requires one to admit that he fell far short of God's standards, the latter requires him to admit that he's probably fallen at least as far as the next guy.

Vertical humility and horizontal humility, the two need not coexist. The flower can lament how far he is from the sun while still wanting to believe that he's the tallest in the meadow.

While I do still believe that Rod's shown a great deal of vertical humility in not hiding his sins and in not hiding his deviations from his own crunchy standards (ridiculous and inconsistent as I believe those standards are), he rarely shows horizontal humilty. In the comment before his reply, I encouraged Rod to consider exhibiting humility about the supposed compromises of others, given that his iPod with its French music and his laptop with its Gray's Anatomy DVDs are such deviations from his sensibility. He is truthfully in no position to accuse mainstream conservatives of being godless materialists because "that's how they [really] live," or to accuse rank-and-file Republicans of homophobia for agreeing with him on redefining marriage, or to accuse Catholics who haven't left of being scared to defend their faith.

Posted just today was a brilliant example of this lack of horizontal humility, of literally diabolical pride in comparing himself to others; I highlighted this in this blog entry: right before bringing up his "b.s. detector" and after talking about a dangerous presumptuousness, Rod Dreher tells us that God told him to remain a journalist.

What is there to say in response to that? How could Rod not see the hypocrisy in this, and given that deliberate blindness, how could one make him see?

It's been noted here that perhaps this blog's become too personal in its focus on Rod Dreher. Perhaps it has, and it might be good for me at least to ignore him for the most part and have faith that conservative punditry will ultimately hold him accountable for his writing and, if it continues to be found wanting, will drum him out of the professional ranks.

(An religious ex-conservative who obviously delights in maligning his former idealogical compatriots: who knows if he could a find a place in liberal circles?)

It's most certainly the case that trying to engage Rod Dreher on any issue, at any level, is a fool's errand.

I ain't leaving this blog, but I might try to make it a much lower priority.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...


You said:

1) I've yet to see an argument that the ideals of neo-traditionalism are, in fact, valid.

Can you please give me an idea of what are these “ideals”? I could make up just about anything here and say this is an ideal of neo-traditionalism. Are you referring to Kirk here or Dreher?

2) If the ideals themselves are internally inconsistent -- such as when the crunchy ideals weirdly support both community and the isolation of home-schooling and dietary self-sufficiency -- then the ideals might just be invalid.

The word community is often abused. What type of “community” do you mean? One could argue that an individual’s responsibility to the greater “community” is to be as self-sufficient as possible so as not to be a burden to its members. Regardless of the type of community this would hold true. An individual’s attitude should not be arrogant self-sufficiency, but these efforts in general should be an act of self-donation. I’d like to explore these ideas more, so if you can clarify 1 and 2 I would appreciate.

When I got into this debate, I came with notion that these were conservative 101 ideas. I was quite shocked that there were conservatives who held antithetical views to Mr. Dreher. I was also shocked by the lack of engagement at the CC blog. I have a friend, he has a PhD in the hard sciences. He’s a researcher right now. You argue like him. Rod should have appreciated having such a methodical interlocutor. It really helps to cut through the BS and focus on the core issues. None of that really happened.

It has become too shrill over there for my tastes, also words have meaning and if you say something you have to stick with your decision despite the post decision temptation to keep arguing. There is a pattern there of destructive criticism. There is a way to be highly critical of your team without attacking them. If you are democrat you say things like, the democrats need to develop a more socially conservative agenda in order to retain Reagan republicans. If you are really on the democratic team you don’t call your team members a bunch of debauched socialist baby killers. They might rightly construe you as the enemy.

There is a pattern over there. Bash the leadership, leave the institution, say things you don‘t mean. Leaving might not happen soon, but that seems to be the pattern. I suspect that there will be a Democrats and Me post before 2008. Truly, I have considered that his writing might not reflect his intentional state. But what is written and actions written about, give the impression of something other than what the man claims is his reality. We are all blinded by our pride, and cannot see or hear about our own faults.

Finally, you all should do your own proactive thing. You all have the talent to pull it off.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Is he trying to draw a distinction in the level of presumption between saying, "God told me to do this," and, "God called me to do this"?

Does he think speaking of a "Christian vocation" doesn't bring God into it?

3:59 AM  
Blogger pikkumatti said...

Great post and comments. I, too, have been wondering why I still read (and comment on) the Crunchy blog, while being so put off by the posts.

Actually, Tom's short comment about wraps up what is wrong over there. Rod sees a difference in style and extrapolates that into a difference in substance, or even a lack of substance or authenticity in the one with the less-preferred style. So "God told me to do something" is b.s. while "God called me to do something" is a good and noble thing.

This elevation of style into substance is in every post on the Crunchy Con. In his last Bush-bash, Rod states agreement with the objective of establishing a democracy in the Middle East. But because he sees mistakes in how Bush carried this out, then he flushes Bush down the toilet and wishes failure for the GOP (while maintaining that they are on the right side of issues). If you like Roberto Beningni, you are one of "those" people. WalMart is a gross big box retailer, so anything they do is evil (even $4 prescriptions). Our Lady of Pizza Hut was an ugly building and they sang '70s songs, so Rod walks out of mass! (And now Scarlett Johansson is not Crunchy!)

And, of course, the conversion.

Rod simply does not trust individuals to make their own decisions. Because he Means Well, and is a professional, others should think and act the Crunchy way so that they can join the club too. And all will then be well because all will be thinking the Right Way.

This might be Crunchy. But there is nothing conservative about it whatsoever.

7:37 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

It really is a waste of time to read Benedict. there is the "car crash in slow motion" or "watching an ant colony devour itself" factor, but even that gets old. After a while you're just left irritated and incredulous that someone could be that .... absurd.

i think the guy must feel a need to write about what he is thinking all the time because it momentarily quiets the utter cacophony in his own head.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Rod clarified his distinction: It is between how weird he would feel saying, "I *think* God directed me," and how weird saying, "God told me."

So his "b.s. detector" in this case seems to be more of a "weird feeling detector." Feelings defining truth? Imagine that.

On so many topics, you can't really reason with him, since he himself isn't really reasoning. You can, in some cases, emote with him, as his schism with the Church demonstrates.

Now, engaging Rod Dreher is not a uniquely virtuous act. I'm not sure it even has much of a return on investment; how many people, to date, have actually signed his manifesto?

But there may be some lessons to extract from all this in engaging other emoters we might have more direct and significant relationships with.

8:27 AM  
Blogger SiliconValleySteve said...

I'm with cube. It would be great to have a free-for-all about what it means to be a traditionalist conservative. Some humility about how we all make compromises and recognizing the multitude of valid approaches would be helpful.

There is a loyalty thing however that Dreher just rejects completely. As cube says, you have to give your friends the benefit of the doubt. You assume a certain good faith on their part and then provide criticism to try to move them along. You also take any criticism to heart and try to respond as best you can. That is constructive dialog.

Instead, Rod just ignores constructive criticism of his views and bashes those he disagrees with as liars, incompentents, fools, and cheats.

At a gut level it makes me doubt that he has any character. This is a guy who owes his comfortable position to the support of conservatives and Catholics and he shows no remorse in bashing them to pieces. It's gross and a shame really. I think everyone here is here because the idea of discussing conservatism and traditionalism along unconventional lines was very attractive. We were already there. When Rod put up a flag we were ready to join the fray and contribute. Instead, Rod has so fouled the nest that we end up here laughing at him or there bashing him. His blog ends up with more extreme lefties than anything else. Yesterday there was a guy on promoting the Peter Singer view of "personhood." He'll no doubt become a regular.

It is sad but true the Rod has done more harm to the ideals that he supposedly holds than any promotion that he might have done. And, I'm sad for that.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

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7:50 AM  

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