By Charlie Johnston
Something downright weird is going on at the Vatican. In the warm-up to the release of the Environmental Encyclical, almost all top Vatican officials who speak about it are notably petty, arrogant, spiteful, malicious and defamatory. They are also notably determined to avoid any discussion of facts and evidence. I have noted before that Pope Francis seems a little soft on some of the technical temporal matters he deals with. But one thing he is NOT is mean-spirited. I would truly be shocked if what he came out with was as short on logical argument as his staff is and as shrilly hysterical. It makes me wonder if the officials who are taking this shrieking approach are, like the progressives who wanted to abandon Church doctrine at last year’s session of the Synod, less informed about what the Pope intends and more involved in trying to push their own agenda. They, too, claimed to be speaking for the Pope, only to be smartly rebuked when he actually spoke. The Pope may well share their position on the environment, but I don’t believe for a moment that he shares their sneering contempt for all who question them. Whatever, I expect Cardinals, Nuncios and other high Vatican officials to behave with a little more dignity and grace than a shrieking MSNBC panel. Their snotty attitude has been scandalously shocking.
Austin Ruse of Crisis Magazine writes compellingly about the bizarre behavior of Vatican officials here.
Some people tell me they don’t read much of any article I write that touches on the politics of the time, but only when I talk directly about Jesus and the saints. Perfectly reasonable – particularly in normal times. But these are not normal times…and the progressive statists have made everything a political issue – including your right to practice your faith with fidelity. If the old ethos of leaving the politics largely out of religion – and most other cultural and social institutions still held, that would be a prudent course. But I tell you that right now, if you completely ignore the political and social and only pay attention to those pieces where Christ is the direct focus, you are going to miss some important signs of the times. I chuckled today as I thought about it: I could hear some telling Jesus, “Hey, I don’t want to hear any of your stories about kings and princes. If it isn’t about Jewish Law, don’t bother me.” Any who said – and meant it – would have missed a lot.
Anyway, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece today that compellingly explains why you better pay attention to the politics of those who want to run your life and destroy your freedom to practice your faith, for they are paying intimate attention to you. I reprint part of Goldberg’s marvelous piece below:
“Dear You Guys (I apologize for this break in protocol. Normally I would begin with the traditional salutation of “Dear Reader.” But now that “you guys” is under assault, I felt this was, quite literally, the least I could do),
If I’ve made one point over the last 20 years, it’s that you can never put too much cheese on anything involving meat. Coming in a close second is that the reason I’m a conservative is that I believe conservatism and libertarianism are only partial philosophies of life. Obviously, this is even more the case for libertarianism than it is for conservatism, but both schools of thought set relatively clear boundaries for what politics should touch. Not so for what we call liberalism.
The progressive vision sees all of mankind as clay to be molded, sheep to be herded, a third-grade diorama to be diorama’d. There are no safe harbors from politics because the personal is political.
The problem with saying “the personal is political” is twofold: You politicize what is personal (“Everyone must celebrate my lifestyle!”) and you personalize the political (“Your opposition to the minimum wage hurts my feelings!”).
This is how you un-think yourself out of a civilization; When politics becomes a fashion choice and fashion becomes political. If you wear your politics on your sleeve, it usually means you don’t keep them in your brain where they belong.
This is at least partly why so much of what passes for politics these days is really lifestyle branding. I loved David Brooks’s BoBos In Paradise, but its biggest flaw was in underestimating how much of the so-called bohemian-bourgeois lifestyle came pre-loaded with very political features. In 1997 Brooks wrote in The Weekly Standard that “one of the striking things about Burlington [Vermont] is that it is relatively apolitical.” I really don’t think that was true. More likely: Burlington was — and is — so uniformly liberal that even an astute observer might confuse stultifying political conformity for apoliticalness (not a word, I know, but like they said in Fast and Furious 3, you get my drift).
It’s telling that when Phil Griffin predicted MSNBC would overtake Fox News by 2014 (Stop laughing!). He said he wanted to do it by turning MSNBC into a “lifestyle” network. “It’s a mistake for us to limit ourselves to news,” he told The New Republic. Instead, he wanted to build up something he dubbed, “the MSNBC lifestyle.” This is the sort of thinking you fall into when you can’t see where politics ends and “lifestyle” — i.e., life — begins.
I’m not a big fan of generational stereotyping, but it’s fair to say that a large number of Millennials constitute the first big cohort of kids to be fully raised within this lifestyle-ized politics.
What’s been the effect? Well, funny enough, I have a theory about that.
There’s a lot of evidence that being too sanitary, i.e. too clean, causes allergies. If you’re not exposed to dog hair, dirt, bugs, nuts, CHUDs early in life, your immune system doesn’t know how to recognize these allergens later on and deal with them in a healthy way. It turns out if you give babies peanut butter, they are much, much less likely to get peanut allergies when they get older. Unfortunately for my kid’s generation, this news came too late. And while she doesn’t have peanut allergies herself, enough kids do at her school that all you have to do is whisper “peanut butter” and the place becomes like that scene in Monsters Inc. when the creature has a human sock stuck to his back (“23-19! We’ve got a 23-19!”).
As I’ve been arguing for quite a while, I think America is going through a kind of autoimmune crisis. We’re increasingly allergic to our own civilization and as a result we’re attacking once-healthy organs of the body politic.
Frankly, I have trouble seeing all this “trigger warning” shinola (no, wait, the other stuff I always confuse for shinola) in any other context.
“America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” are among a long list of alleged microaggressions faculty leaders of the University of California system have been instructed not to say.
These so-called microaggressions — considered examples of subconscious racism — were presented at faculty leader training sessions held throughout the 2014-15 school year at nine of the 10 UC campuses. The sessions, an initiative of UC President Janet Napolitano, aim to teach how to avoid offending students and peers, as well as how to hire a more diverse faculty.
Now, if you suffer heart palpitations, feel light-headed, or in some other way manifest symptoms of panic because you hear that “America is the land of opportunity” or “there is only one race, the human race” you have an allergy to America and its ideals.
The danger is that if we cater to these allergies, they become worse. “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure,” Orwell observed, “and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” We fail our kids by giving them these allergies and then fail them all the more completely by catering to them.
Miss Piggy America
Anyway, as I was saying, progressivism sees no safe harbor from politics because it doesn’t see politics as distinct from lifestyle. There is no limiting principle for what passes for liberalism, because liberalism has simply become defined as whatever liberals believe in today. Hence the once-gold standard of liberal thought — “there is no race but the human race” — is now offensive and should be avoided lest it set off some kid’s allergies (a point of view I could better understand if there were a lot of skinheads in the classroom).
One upshot of this that drives me batty is the injection of politics into areas that should remain politics-free. To pick examples near my heart, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica were corrupted by politics. A few years ago, the Children’s Television Workshop started mucking around with Cookie Monster. Suddenly Cookie Monster was talking about how “cookies are only a sometimes food.” This is true — for humans. But for it to be true of Cookie Monster is to erase his identity. As I wrote at the time:
Since my copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is in storage, let me explain by paraphrasing Hannibal Lecter’s famous dialogue with Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Imagine Lecter isn’t a superhuman cannibalistic serial killer and that, instead of being a doe-eyed feminist naif in the FBI, Ms. Starling is a doe-eyed feminist naif at the Children’s Television Workshop.
Lecter: “First principles, Clarice. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this creature you seek?
Starling: He entertains children . . .
Lecter: “No! That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What need does he serve by entertaining children?
Starling: Social acceptance? Personal frustration?
Lecter: No: He craves. That’s his nature. And what does he crave? Make an effort to answer.
Lecter: No! He is not a “food monster!” He is a cookie monster!
But not according to the well-meaning social engineers of PBS. After three decades, they’ve announced he’s not a Cookie Monster at all. In the interests of teaching kids not to be gluttons, CTW has transformed Cookie Monster into just another monster who happens to like cookies. His trademark song, “C is for Cookie” has been changed to “A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food.” And this is a complete and total reversal of Cookie Monster’s ontology, his telos, his raison d’être, his essential Cookie-Monster-ness.
If the Cookie Monster is no longer a cookie monster, what is he? Why didn’t they just name him “Phil: The Monster Who Sometimes Likes to Eat a Cookie”?
(I should note that it is my understanding they didn’t ultimately change Cookie Monster’s song.)
A bit further from my heart is the more recent case of Miss Piggy. Someone thought it would be clever to give her a feminist-icon award. The stupidity of this is not infuriating in of itself. People are free to make fools of themselves and such antics will not hinder the arrival of the Sweet Meteor of Death so much as make it that much more welcome.
But what is infuriating is the way MSNBC handled its interview with Miss Piggy. Anchor Irin Carmon, sitting next to Gloria Steinem, asked a man’s hand wrapped in cloth that resembles a pig whether “she” was pro-choice. Miss Piggy responded, “I am pro — I am pro-everything.”
Now, I have some sympathy for the felt pig (Not to be confused with the poignant children’s book about bestiality, Sympathy for the Felt Pig.). Once asked the question, it would have been difficult to answer in a way that wouldn’t throw her into the abortion debate (though hardly impossible). But only someone who lives in the lifestyle bubble of MSNBC liberalism would ask a character for children whether she was pro-choice or not. Still, I would respect Carmon so much more if she had the courage of her gauzy convictions and followed up with, “Are you for any restrictions on abortion, or do you believe it is your right to have your piglets vacuumed from your belly right up until the day before they’re born?”
But no. Being pro-choice is such a sunny and uplifting thing it’s of a piece with being “pro-everything.”
I would be just as disgusted if a Fox News anchor asked Miss Piggy, “Are you pro-life?” For that matter, I’d be enraged if over at CNN Jake Tapper asked Spongebob Squarepants what he thought of Caitlyn Jenner or if Chuck Todd grilled Fozzy Bear about Dennis Hastert. Tonight on Special Report: Bret Baier sits down with Barney the Dinosaur and asks him whether Barack Obama is losing the War on Terror.
People decry a polarized, politicized country and then they go and politicize things that don’t need to be politicized. Football is great, until some yatch starts telling you that such violent ground-acquisition games are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war. Few things make me want to downgrade an actress more than hearing them explain that their moving portrayal of a limbless ballerina demonstrates why we need to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Act.
The whole point of a free society is to reduce the number of things that are political, particularly at the national level. When everything is considered political, the totality of life is politicized. And that’s just a clunky way of describing totalitarianism.”