Tag Archives: Rod Dreher

Some Television Coverage Of Their Own?

Eddie North-Hager at the University of Southern California:

Even the ESPN Ticker gives women short shrift – 96.4 percent of the information scrolling along the bottom of the screen was dedicated to men’s sports.

The finding is part of a 20-year study of sports coverage released by USC sociologist Mike Messner and Purdue University sociologist Cheryl Cooky. Though it was not surprising to discover that men’s sports gets more coverage, it was eye-opening when researchers found that women’s sports accounted for less than 2 percent of network news and ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“There’s a message that sports is still for, by and about men,” Messner said. “When will the news catch up?”

Just as surprising is that as more women than ever participate in all levels of sports, coverage of their gender is drastically declining. In 2004, network affiliates dedicated 6.3 percent to women’s sports. Last year it dropped to 1.6 percent.

“News programs are supposed to be a window to the world and there is a journalistic responsibility to reflect that,” said Messner, an expert in the sociology of sports.

In 1971, 294,000 high school girls played interscholastic sports. Today 3.1 million play, much closer to the 4.4 million boys who play high school sports.

Yet network affiliates ran 60 stories on NCAA men’s basketball in March 2009. There were no stories about women.

It’s not that ample coverage of men’s sports leaves no time for women. The researchers found that newscasts routinely air light sports features, such as a story about a hamburger with 5,000 calories and 300 grams of fat sold at a minor league baseball park in Michigan.

The discrepancy is important, Messner said, as it reinforces the stereotype that sports proves men are superior to women, that the women’s product isn’t the same quality or would not have the same mass appeal. Messner points out those arguments have been used before, such as when African Americans weren’t considered good enough to compete in Major League Baseball.

Fred Bowen at The Washington Post:

So if you love women’s sports, what can you do? First, support women’s teams and go to the games. Ask your parents and friends to go to the games. Get tickets for the Washington Mystics or the Freedom soccer team. And don’t forget all the wonderful local women’s college teams.

Second, watch women’s sports on television whenever you can. Women’s teams need all the fans they can get. Television news shows and newspapers are businesses that cover the most popular sports. In Washington, TV stations, radio shows and even KidsPost talk about the Redskins because so many people watch the games and are interested in the team.

Finally, don’t give up. Recently, I read the book “When the Game Was Ours,” about basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Author Jackie MacMullan mentions that Game 6 of the 1980 NBA championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers was not on live TV. It was on tape delay late at night.

Thirty years ago, even the men’s NBA was not a big-time sport. It took years for the NBA to become so popular. Maybe with a little help, the same can happen with women’s sports.

Christina Hoff Summers at The American Enterprise Institute:

But the heavy focus of news and highlights shows on men’s sports is not only fathomable but obvious—that is where the fans are. And that is where advertisers expect to find customers for “male” products such as beer, razors, and cars. Men’s professional sports are a fascination (obsession is more like it) to many millions of men, because they offer extreme competition, performance, and heroics. Women’s professional sports, however skilled and admirable, cannot compare in Promethean drama.

Even women prefer watching male teams. Few women follow the sports pages and ESPN, but many enjoy attending live games—featuring male athletes. According to Sports Business Daily, 31 percent of the NFL’s “avid fans” are women.

Nyad and the USC study authors demand that television cover women’s sports “fairly and equitably,” but the study never once mentions the word “attendance.” Shouldn’t fan interest in the games drive the media stories? Economist Mark Perry, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, looked at the numbers. For the 2009 season, the NBA got 92.3 percent of the total attendance for pro basketball (NBA plus WNBA), while the WNBA got only 7.7 percent of the total attendance (see chart below). But according to the USC study, the WNBA received 22.2 percent of the coverage. Perry’s conclusion: “So women’s pro basketball got a hugely disproportionate share of media coverage. Total attendance at NBA games was 12 times greater than attendance at the WNBA games, but media coverage was only 3.5 times greater for men than for women.”

Rod Dreher:

I’m not a sports fan, but it seems pretty clear to me that almost nobody wants to watch professional women’s sports. The question is why. I suppose the feminists would say that the market actually is there, if only the people who run TV sports would notice. Really? You think that people who really only want to make money, and don’t care how they do it, are turning their nose up at an opportunity to exploit an untapped market? Highly doubtful. The more interesting question is why, in a sports-crazy nation, people — even many women — only really care about male sports.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

Sports journalism has changed a lot since 1989, and contrary to what the USC study implies, anyone who wants to follow women’s sports is actually a lot better off now due to niche media that both offers coverage of practically any team one would want to follow, and helps explain why mass market programs like Sports Center and network news sports shows cover teams or athletes with niche audiences less — if you’re interested in the WNBA, you can buy a package through your cable company to get all the games, follow the season on ESPN.com, join a fantasy league, etc.

As a high school athlete, and a recreational athlete still, I’m totally behind the move to give girls an equal opportunity to benefit from college athletics, and if I have daughters one day, I’ll encourage them to play sports by installing a basketball hoop on the driveway and buying them surfboards. Upon going to college, I’ll want them to have an equal opportunity at getting an athletic scholarship. But there isn’t any reason why network news and ESPN should give equal time, or anything approaching it, to women’s sports — they should follow market demand (and when they depart from it, they should televise less golf, a sport with a tiny audience of very rich consumers).

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Filed under Feminism, Sports, TV

“The Celebration Of Lifelong Heterosexual Monogamy As A Unique And Indispensable Estate”

Ross Douthat at NYT:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Again, this is not how many cultures approach marriage. It’s a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish and Christian beliefs about the order of creation, and supplemented by later ideas about romantic love, the rights of children, and the equality of the sexes.

Or at least, it was the Western understanding. Lately, it has come to co-exist with a less idealistic, more accommodating approach, defined by no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy.

In this landscape, gay-marriage critics who fret about a slippery slope to polygamy miss the point. Americans already have a kind of postmodern polygamy available to them. It’s just spread over the course of a lifetime, rather than concentrated in a “Big Love”-style menage.

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

Rod Dreher:

I don’t think most people realize how epochal the social shift we’re living through now, with regard to the big tangled ball involving sex, sexuality,marriage, civilization and Christianity. I take it for granted now that we are going to have same-sex marriage in this country, because the elites are all for it, young adults are all for it, and their support of it makes sense for the reasons of “postmodern polygamy” Ross identifies. But few people seem to have thought through the deeper ramifications of this civilizational shift. Most people seem to think this is merely a matter of moving the lines a bit more to the side, to bring gay couples into a stable social framework. In fact, it’s revolutionary to the core.

Andrew Sullivan:

Look at how diverse current civil marriages are in the US. The range and diversity runs from Amish families with dozens of kids to yuppie bi-coastal childless couples on career paths; there are open marriages and arranged marriages; there is Rick Santorum and Britney Spears – between all of whom the civil law makes no distinction. The experience of gay couples therefore falls easily within the actual living definition of civil marriage as it is today, and as it has been now for decades. To exclude gays and gays alone is therefore not the upholding of an ideal (Britney Spears and Larry King are fine – but a lesbian couple who have lived together for decades are verboten) so much as making a lone exception to inclusion on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is in effect to assert not the ideal of Catholic Matrimony, but the ideal of heterosexual superiority. It creates one class of people, regardless of their actions, and renders them superior to another.

Ross’s view is increasingly, therefore, one faction of one religion’s specific definition of Matrimony out of countless arrangements that are available for cohabitation in civil society and world history. It’s a view freely breached within his own church itself. And it has already been abandoned as a civil matter in some of the most Catholic countries on earth, including Spain and Argentina. And heterosexuals-only marriage is only a microcosm of civilization if you exclude all other relationships from civilization – friendship, citizenship, family in the extended sense, families with adopted, non-biological children, etc.

And – this is my main point – Ross’ argument simply ignores the existence and dignity and lives and testimony of gay people. This is strange because the only reason this question has arisen at all is because the visibility of gay family members has become now so unmissable that it cannot be ignored. Yes, marriage equality was an idea some of us innovated. But it was not an idea plucked out of the sky. It was an attempt to adapt to an already big social change: the end of the homosexual stigma, the emergence of gay communities of great size and influence and diversity, and collapse of the closet. It came from a pressing need as a society to do something about this, rather than consign gay people to oblivion or marginalization or invisibility. More to the point, it emerged after we saw what can happen when human beings are provided no structure, no ideal, and no support for responsibility and fidelity and love.

If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life – however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people – helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic’s indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil.

What, in other words, would Ross have gay people do? What incentives would he, a social conservative, put in place to encourage gay couples and support them in their commitments and parenting and love? Notice the massive silence. He is not a homophobe as I can personally attest. But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a “microcosm of civilization”, then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand. It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma – not a contribution to the actual political and social debate we are now having.

Glenn Greenwald:

First, the mere fact that the State does not use the mandates of law to enforce Principle X does not preclude Principle X from being advocated or even prevailing.  Conversely, the fact that the State recognizes the right of an individual to choose to engage in Act Y does not mean Act Y will be accepted as equal.  There are all sorts of things secular law permits which society nonetheless condemns.  Engaging in racist speech is a fundamental right but widely scorned.  The State is constitutionally required to maintain full neutrality with regard to the relative merits of the various religious sects (and with regard to the question of religion v. non-religion), but certain religions are nonetheless widely respected while others — along with atheism — are stigmatized and marginalized.  Numerous behaviors which secular law permits — excessive drinking, adultery, cigarette smoking, inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, homosexual sex — are viewed negatively by large portions of the population.

The State’s official neutrality on the question of marriage does not even theoretically restrict Douthat’s freedom — or that of his ideological and religious comrades — to convince others of the superiority of heterosexual monogamy.  They’re every bit as free today as they were last week to herald all the “unique fruit” which such relationships can alone generate, in order to persuade others to follow that course.  They just can’t have the State take their side by officially embracing that view or using the force of law to compel it.

But if the arguments for the objective superiority of heterosexual monogamy are as apparent and compelling as Douthat seems to think, they ought not need the secular thumb pressing on the scale in favor of their view.  Individuals on their own will come to see the rightness of Douthat’s views on such matters — or will be persuaded by the religious institutions and societal mores which teach the same thing — and, attracted by its “distinctive and remarkable” virtues, will opt for a life of heterosexual monogamy.  Why does Douthat need the State — secular law — to help him in this cause?

Second, Douthat is quite confused about what Judge Walker actually ruled.  He did not decree that there are no legitimate moral, theological or spiritual grounds for viewing heterosexual marriage as superior.  That’s not what courts do.  Courts don’t rule on moral, theological or spiritual questions.  Such matters are the exclusive province of religious institutions, philosophers, communities, parents and individuals’ consciences, but not of the State.  That’s the crux of this judicial decision.

Thus, one can emphatically embrace every syllable of Judge Walker’s ruling while simultaneously insisting on the moral or spiritual superiority of heterosexual marriage.  There would be nothing inconsistent about that.  That’s because Judge Walker’s ruling is exclusively about the principles of secular law — the Constitution — and the legitimate role of the State.  That legitimate role ends where the exclusively moral and religious sphere begins.  That’s why we call it “secular law.”  Judge Walker’s ruling concerns exclusively secular questions and does not even purport to comment upon, let alone resolve, the moral and theological questions which Douthat frets can no longer be “entertained” in a society that affords legal equality to marriage.

The court ruled opposite-sex-marriage-only laws unconstitutional not because it concluded that heterosexual and homosexual marriages are morally equal, but rather, because it’s not the place of the State (or of courts) to make such moral determinations.  Moral and theological debates are to be resolved in the private square — through the kinds of discussions Douthat claims he wants to have — not by recruiting the State to officially sanction one moral view or the other by using law to restrict moral choices.  Judge Walker, citing decades of clear precedent on that question, made as clear as can be that the issue Douthat seems to think was resolved by his ruling — namely, whether heterosexual marriages are morally or spiritually superior — is the exact issue he refused to adjudicate, precisely because those are the issues that courts have no business addressing and the State has no business legislating

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Now, I gather that Greenwald is a pretty radical civil libertarian (of the hard leftist variety, of course), but we aren’t talking about his preferences. When he writes that racist speech is a fundamental right that is (and should be) widely scorned, I’m with him. But is it really treated as a fundamental right? What about speech codes? Hate-crimes laws? Similarly, secular law does permit cigarette smoking, but lots of states regulate it and essentially ban it in all public areas. Try smoking in public in California. Try getting a job at some hospitals if you smoke.  Meanwhile, tax dollars are routinely used to stigmatize smoking and excessive drinking. And then there are the countless exhortations in public schools and elsewhere against racist speech and attitudes as well. Whatever the merits of these policies, I don’t see anything like the state neutrality Greenwald is alluding to and he would certainly be livid if the state of California (or the federal government) countenanced public-service advertisements against gay marriage or homosexual behavior (I wouldn’t like it either, for the record) or if government treated gay couples the way it treats smokers (“Do that in the privacy of your own home, but not on the job or near children!”).

Douthat responds to Greenwald:

Well, first of all, I don’t believe that having the truth on your side is any kind of guarantee of success in public debate. (Nor, I’m sure, does Greenwald, or else he would have abandoned his views on torture and executive power long ago.) This is particularly the case when the truth in question asks men and women to engage in sacrificial and frankly counter-biological behavior, in pursuit of an ideal that few societies in history have even attempted to achieve. I will return to this point again and again throughout my responses, but let me be clear: The marriage ideal that I’m defending would be in equally serious difficulties in contemporary America if homosexuality did not exist, because what it asks of straight people is in deep tension with what straight people want to do, and with the way that the incentives of modern life often line up. This is why I’ve spent much more time writing about divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates (and pornography, for that matter) than gay marriage over the years — and I wouldn’t be writing about gay marriage today if Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision wasn’t poised to throw the issue before the Supreme Court, where it might be settled legally once and for all.

Second, I think that most of Greenwald’s examples of cultural norms that aren’t legally enforced actually tend to back up my belief that law and culture are inextricably bound up, rather than his case that they needn’t be. A stigma on racism, for instance, would hopefully exist even in a libertarian paradise, but it draws a great deal of its potency from the fact the American government has spent the last 40 years actively campaigning against racist conduct and racist thought, using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright. The state forbids people from discriminating based on race in their private business dealings. It forbids them from instituting policies that have a “disparate impact” on racial minorities. It allows and encourage reverse discrimination in various settings, the better to remedy racism’s earlier effects. It promulgates public school curricula that paint racism as the original sin of the United States. It has even created a special legal category that punishes crimes committed with racist intentions more severely than identical crimes committed with non-racial motivations. In these and other arenas, there isn’t a bright line between the legal campaign against racism and the cultural stigma attached to racist beliefs; indeed, there isn’t a line at all.

Or take alcohol and cigarettes. Why are Marlboros more stigmatized than Budweisers in contemporary America? Well, in part, it’s because there’s been a government-sponsored war on tobacco for the last few decades, carried out through lawsuits and public health campaigns and smoking bans and so forth, that’s far eclipsed the more halting efforts to stigmatize alcohol consumption. Here again, public policy, rather than some deep empirical or philosophical truth about the relative harm of nicotine versus alcohol, has been a crucial factor in shaping cultural norms.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at The American Scene:

In his column, Ross puts forward the most eloquent defense I’ve seen of “lifelong heterosexual monogamy” as an institution that should be afforded special status by a society’s laws.

Unfortunately, responses to Ross’s column have been predictably dire. Supporters of gay marriage are increasingly candid about their belief that there can be no legitimate, non-bigoted argument against gay marriage, a view which I believe to be false and says more about a certain kind of narrow-mindedness than about anything else. (At this point I should probably produce my non-troglodyte Ausweis and state that I am in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.) Most responses make a spectacle of the author’s incapacity to consider viewpoints that do not fit neatly into her own biases.

Two interesting responses to Ross that stand out from this sorry lot have been from Hanna Rosin and Andrew Sullivan, two writers whose work I admire.

I’ll start with Andrew Sullivan. Reading Mr Sullivan is often frustrating to me because of what I take to be a reflexive tendency to cast anathema upon ideological opponents with inflamatory language (I don’t find it correct or useful, for example, to describe the Catholic Church’s stance on women in the priesthood as “un-Christian”).

Yet Mr Sullivan put forward what I think is the best response to the column, largely even-handed, generous, and very touching. His post is very much worth reading. If Ross puts forward the best argument on one side, clearly Mr Sullivan puts forward the best response. Even though at times Mr Sullivan comes close to reaching for the flamethrower (I don’t believe, as he seems at one point to imply, that Ross is “indifferen[t]” to gay victims of the AIDS epidemic; and I don’t know what it means to say that the Church is in a “High Ratzinger phase”), he is very generous and lucid.

He (and one would not think it should be noted, but given the other responses it must) actually understands Ross’s argument and gives what I think are the two best responses. That while the ideal Ross extols might be wonderful as a religious or even a moral ideal, it does not necessarily follow that the law should promote it at the exclusion of everything else. And that even if that were true, the fact of countless homosexual unions exists, unions that are worth something, and that denying them the legal protections of marriage is a very heavy, to the point of being inhumane, price to pay for a theoretical protection of another kind of ideal.

But really I don’t do it justice. I basically agree with Mr Sullivan, and felt more attention should be given to a great piece of writing.

“Hanna Rosin’s take”!http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/marriage-was-awesomein-17th-century is also worth reading, considerate and rooted in the teachings of history as it is, although she fails to actually grapple with Ross’s argument in certain key respects.

Where Ms Rosin fails is that, after acknowledging that Ross’s argument is substantially different from the regular litany of gay marriage opponents, she still takes it as a nostalgia argument. Ross wants to “go back” to an era where marriage was defined a certain way. She asserts that the kind of marriage that Ross defends never actually existed, or only existed at the cost of “love or choice.” I actually think that’s highly debatable, but I also think it’s beside the point. Her assertions that “[t]here is no barbaric Orientalist marriage which contrasts with a pure, Western one” and that “[m]arriage in the Bible was almost always polygamous” are correct but also irrelevant, because Ross never claimed any of that.

Just as Ross is a very effective critic of the sexual revolution because he recognizes that it has had many positive repercussions, his critique of gay marriage is worth taking seriously precisely because it doesn’t harken back to some mythical era which he starts out by acknowledging never existed.

If Ross wants to “go back” to anything, it’s not so much an era as ideas — ideas that have been with us for a very long time, even if they were all too rarely practiced.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

I can’t speak to the Catholic view of marriage, but I will say this: My parents met in the 1950s when they were teenagers in a small town in upstate New York. They married in their early 20s, and went on to raise two kids. In many ways they are the embodiment of Douthat’s religiously inspired ideal of heterosexual marriage. Except that for about the first five years or so of their relationship, it would have been illegal in many parts of this country for them to get married, because my father is white and my mother is black. My parents’ relationship was startlingly apolitical given the era — they told me they weren’t even aware of Loving v. Virginia at the time despite being married only two years later.

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay and not be able to marry one’s partner, but knowing that my parents, who are more in love with each other than any two people I’ve ever known, could have been legally prevented from getting married within their lifetime because they are not the same race has always framed the issue of marriage equality for me. It’s heartbreaking for me to think of my parents not being able to be married for no other reason than because of entrenched cultural taboos against miscegenation, because their kind of love is so rare that denying it implicates the state in an indefensible act of cruelty. Reducing marriage to a matter of procreation seems ridiculous to me because I don’t consider myself or my brother the most meaningful product of my parents’ marriage; it’s the fact that more than 40 years into it, my mother and father are still each other’s best friend. I’m not in awe of me, I’m in awe of that.

I can’t help but reflect on my own parents when I think about how many people are denied that experience simply because they happen to share the same gender. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could see that as any kind of justice.

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

These are the words of a defeated man. And they may reflect what’s currently going on in the conservative elite. If you’re a part of that elite, by now you’ve probably had plenty of exposure to gay people — at college, in the course of your work, and in the place where you live. So you probably find the kind of naked bigotry still expressed by some in the religious right to be repellent. The rhetorical shift of recent years — in which conservatives take pains to stress that they aren’t denying gay people’s humanity or rights, just trying to defend tradition — is something you genuinely believe. But that leaves you with the sentiment reflected in Douthat’s column, which is this: Yes, gay unions are meaningful and worthy of respect. But straight unions are really, really awesome. The problem is that marriage-equality opponents can’t define what gets taken away from the straight couple when the gay couple gets married, so they have nowhere to fall back to except vague encomiums to marriage between a man and a woman. Which is all very heartwarming, but it still doesn’t tell you why same-sex marriage should be illegal. And I’m pretty sure Douthat and other people making this argument know it.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The reason I always make fun of low-level Times semi-conservo-wonk Ross Douthat being unwilling to publicly explain his opposition to gay marriage is that he said it was too personal, essentially. (I know: quite unlike being singled out by society your entire life for being gay—though I guess some people take that personally too? Anyway, that’s why they call it privilege, Ross! Privilege literally means you don’t have to deal with such things.) So good news! He has laid it out, and I really encourage everyone to sit down and read it slowly. I found it an amazing experience. I won’t spoil the actually stunning conclusion—I was actually stunned! I had to sit down for a few minutes to gather myself!—but, in short, he apparently believes that gay marriage is some seven-week-old fetus that needs to be thrown out along with the bathwater of the society that straight people have so thoroughly fouled. After that, you can read the incredibly well-reasoned comments that were allowed on the Times site before they were shut down (hmm!) and then Glenn Greenwald picking apart a few points nicely—but in an incredible way, Douthat is literally unaddressable. Douthat really does want people to be happy, I think. But this all reads like he’s never met a person before, so how would he know?

UPDATE: Noah Millman at The American Scene

More Douthat

And even more Douthat

Ezra Klein

UPDATE #2: Douthat responds to Sullivan

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place responds

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Filed under Families, Gay Marriage, Mainstream, New Media

All Things Must Pass

Atul Gawande at the New Yorker:

For all but our most recent history, dying was typically a brief process. Whether the cause was childhood infection, difficult childbirth, heart attack, or pneumonia, the interval between recognizing that you had a life-threatening ailment and death was often just a matter of days or weeks. Consider how our Presidents died before the modern era. George Washington developed a throat infection at home on December 13, 1799, that killed him by the next evening. John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and Andrew Johnson all succumbed to strokes, and died within two days. Rutherford Hayes had a heart attack and died three days later. Some deadly illnesses took a longer course: James Monroe and Andrew Jackson died from the months-long consumptive process of what appears to have been tuberculosis; Ulysses Grant’s oral cancer took a year to kill him; and James Madison was bedridden for two years before dying of “old age.” But, as the end-of-life researcher Joanne Lynn has observed, people usually experienced life-threatening illness the way they experienced bad weather—as something that struck with little warning—and you either got through it or you didn’t.

Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs. Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe. Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours. Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.

These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost. As for last words, they hardly seem to exist anymore. Technology sustains our organs until we are well past the point of awareness and coherence. Besides, how do you attend to the thoughts and concerns of the dying when medicine has made it almost impossible to be sure who the dying even are? Is someone with terminal cancer, dementia, incurable congestive heart failure dying, exactly?

I once cared for a woman in her sixties who had severe chest and abdominal pain from a bowel obstruction that had ruptured her colon, caused her to have a heart attack, and put her into septic shock and renal failure. I performed an emergency operation to remove the damaged length of colon and give her a colostomy. A cardiologist stented her coronary arteries. We put her on dialysis, a ventilator, and intravenous feeding, and stabilized her. After a couple of weeks, though, it was clear that she was not going to get much better. The septic shock had left her with heart and respiratory failure as well as dry gangrene of her foot, which would have to be amputated. She had a large, open abdominal wound with leaking bowel contents, which would require twice-a-day cleaning and dressing for weeks in order to heal. She would not be able to eat. She would need a tracheotomy. Her kidneys were gone, and she would have to spend three days a week on a dialysis machine for the rest of her life.

She was unmarried and without children. So I sat with her sisters in the I.C.U. family room to talk about whether we should proceed with the amputation and the tracheotomy. “Is she dying?” one of the sisters asked me. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I wasn’t even sure what the word “dying” meant anymore. In the past few decades, medical science has rendered obsolete centuries of experience, tradition, and language about our mortality, and created a new difficulty for mankind: how to die.

[…]

The difference between standard medical care and hospice is not the difference between treating and doing nothing, she explained. The difference was in your priorities. In ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life. We’ll sacrifice the quality of your existence now—by performing surgery, providing chemotherapy, putting you in intensive care—for the chance of gaining time later. Hospice deploys nurses, doctors, and social workers to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible lives right now. That means focussing on objectives like freedom from pain and discomfort, or maintaining mental awareness for as long as possible, or getting out with family once in a while. Hospice and palliative-care specialists aren’t much concerned about whether that makes people’s lives longer or shorter.

Like many people, I had believed that hospice care hastens death, because patients forgo hospital treatments and are allowed high-dose narcotics to combat pain. But studies suggest otherwise. In one, researchers followed 4,493 Medicare patients with either terminal cancer or congestive heart failure. They found no difference in survival time between hospice and non-hospice patients with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Curiously, hospice care seemed to extend survival for some patients; those with pancreatic cancer gained an average of three weeks, those with lung cancer gained six weeks, and those with congestive heart failure gained three months. The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer. When Cox was transferred to hospice care, her doctors thought that she wouldn’t live much longer than a few weeks. With the supportive hospice therapy she received, she had already lived for a year.

Creed enters people’s lives at a strange moment—when they have understood that they have a fatal illness but have not necessarily acknowledged that they are dying. “I’d say only about a quarter have accepted their fate when they come into hospice,” she said. When she first encounters her patients, many feel that they have simply been abandoned by their doctors. “Ninety-nine per cent understand they’re dying, but one hundred per cent hope they’re not,” she says. “They still want to beat their disease.” The initial visit is always tricky, but she has found ways to smooth things over. “A nurse has five seconds to make a patient like you and trust you. It’s in the whole way you present yourself. I do not come in saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Instead, it’s: ‘I’m the hospice nurse, and here’s what I have to offer you to make your life better. And I know we don’t have a lot of time to waste.’ ”

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly at dot Commonweal:

The article looks at how hospice care is “helping to negotiate an ars moriendi for our age. But doing so represents a struggle—not only against suffering but also against the seemingly unstoppable momentum of medical treatment.” Gawande points to a study that showed that doctors are actually far more likely to overestimate a terminally ill patient’s survival time than to underestimate — and that’s when they’re willing to make a guess at all, which they are understandably reluctant to do. No one wants to talk about death, and patients are liable to feel betrayed by a doctor who tries to get them focused on quality over quantity with the time they have left. Gawande knows this from experience as well as from statistics.

The article is long and often grim, but very much worth reading and pondering. I was struck by Gawande’s reference to Stephen Jay Gould, who argued in his 1985 essay “The Median Isn’t the Message” that “it has become, in my view, a bit too trendy to regard the acceptance of death as something tantamount to intrinsic dignity.” Gould preferred to rage against the dying of the light, and that worked for him — he survived a grim cancer diagnosis. But, Gawande says, “The trouble is that we’ve built our medical system and culture around the long tail” — that is, around the thin possibility of survival. “Hope is not a plan,” Gawande writes, “but hope is our plan.”

Ross Douthat

Clive Crook:

The money wasted on ill-advised end-of-life-care — colossal though the sums may be — ought not to be the main focus of discussion. It will have to be talked about, of course, but that framing of the issue is disturbing and divisive. Before we get to that, we should be talking about the patients’ interests, as those interests would be judged by patients themselves, given all the facts.This is not about death panels. It is about patients’ rights.

Megan McArdle:

I’m probably going to have a lot of thoughts about this Atul Gawande piece on hospice care, but here’s a slightly off the wall question:  how much better off are patients now that doctors don’t lie to them?  My understanding is that in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, and possibly right up through the fifties and sixties, doctors routinely lied to terminal patients.  That’s changed, partly due to changing cultural views about this sort of paternalism, and partly, I suspect, because we can somewhat extend peoples’ lives by doing many unpleasant things to them.  Since no one would put up with this unless they knew they were dying, we have to tell them they’re dying.

Gawande’s piece, however, makes a pretty credible argument that a lot of the things we do are next to useless, prolonging neither quality nor quantity of life.  If that’s the case, couldn’t one possibly argue that we’d be better off if more doctors lied, made us comfortable, and let us enjoy our final days without constantly entertaining thoughts of impending death?

I don’t like public paternalism, and I’m not much fonder of the private version.  But I’m genuinely curious as to what sorts of benefits people think we gain by knowing for certain that death is coming.  We romanticize the good death, but from what I understand, death has almost always been nasty and brutish, whether long or short.  How is it improved by knowing it’s coming?  I haven’t had a lot of relatives die, so I’m sure I’m missing quite a lot.  I’m hoping my readers can fill me in.

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

Ezra Klein:

I want to talk about death panels here, and the difficulty we had in even assuring that doctors are paid for having a conversation with patients about end-of-life options, but I don’t want to recast this as a political argument. The problem is, as with many things in medicine, a question that is terrifying intimate also has enormous public policy implications, as the last year of life is incredibly expensive, and it’s paid for by Medicare, which means it’s paid for by taxpayers. This is a difficult enough conversation to have without tossing politics and economics into the mix, but they’re present whether we want them there or not. And so we’ve responded by ignoring the question, shouting it down when it comes up, and paying whatever’s necessary to avoid a discussion we don’t know how to have. That’s not just a bad solution for taxpayers, of course. As Gawande says, it’s a bad solution for patients, their families and their doctors.

Update: I think it’d be useful to offer people a refresher on what the ‘death panels’ actually were.

Kevin Drum:

Toward the end of his piece he mentions a study Aetna did with hospice care. In one study, Aetna allowed people to sign up for home hospice services without giving up any of their other treatments. Result: lots of people signed up for hospice care and ended up consuming less traditional care. In the second study, more traditional rules applied: if you signed up for home hospice care you had to give up on traditional curative treatments. Result: pretty much the same.

What was going on here? The program’s leaders had the impression that they had simply given patients someone experienced and knowledgeable to talk to about their daily needs. And somehow that was enough — just talking.

The explanation strains credibility, but evidence for it has grown in recent years.

I guess maybe I’m just weird, but this explanation doesn’t seem to strain credibility in the least. It’s exactly what I’d expect. Obviously there are lots of different people in the world and they have lots of different dispositions, but I’d guess that there’s a huge chunk of them who are basically just scared when the end comes and mostly want to understand what’s happening. Having someone take the time to explain — to really explain, so that they really understand — probably goes a hell of a long way toward making them feel better. And once they understand that what they’re feeling is, under the circumstances, fairly normal, a trip to the ICU doesn’t really look so inviting anymore. What’s so hard to believe about that?

Rod Dreher:

I should say that the thing that struck me at once about the Gawande essay was how close the case he writes about in the beginning is to the situation my sister Ruthie faces. It’s almost eerie: Gawande’s patient was a young woman who never smoked, who had the same kind of lung cancer my sister does. One big difference, at least at this point: Ruthie’s cancer is responding well to chemotherapy.

Yet the moral questions Gawande’s essay raises are very much part of what my sister and the rest of us in our family are facing. As I’ve written before, Ruthie made a decision at the outset not to know what her chances of survival were, or too many details about her illness. She said she couldn’t do anything about it anyway, and all that would do was sap her will to resist. She put herself into the hands of her doctors, and said, “Just tell me what to do.”

But absent a cure, that strategy can only work for so long, and anyway, it puts enormous pressure on the doctor. My worry all along in this is that Ruthie will be so focused on beating this cancer (as the woman in the story was) that she will fail to make preparations for what should happen in the event that the tide of the battle turns. I cannot imagine what I would do in a similar situation. I know what I’d hope to do, but I really don’t know what I would do. When do you decide enough is enough, and it’s time to turn to hospice? (And let me be clear: my sister is not at that point; she’s doing pretty well, thank God). How do patients and their families muster the courage to say, “That’s it, there’s no point in this. Let me enjoy the time I have left”? The tricky thing is, we all hope and pray that this decision won’t be put to Ruthie, that she will beat the odds; we all have an emotional investment in her fighting

UPDATE: Avik Roy here and here at National Review

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In The Name Of The Father, The Son, And The Holy Ghost… She Quits

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

Anne Rice is famous for writing crazy books about vampires, living in a spooky house, and , strangely, being a big Christian. UPDATE: Anne Rice is no longer a Christian.

Anne announced her religious renunciation on Facebook yesterday, because why not? First, this:

Anne Rice Quits Christianity 'In the Name of Christ'

Followed by this:

Anne Rice Quits Christianity 'In the Name of Christ'

There you have it. The vampire lady is no longer a Jesus lady.

David Goldman at First Things:

According to what we’ve heard, Rice’s post was heavily edited by her public relations team. The original reportedly went like this:

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-vampire. I refuse to be anti-werewolf. I refuse to be anti-zombie. I refuse to be anti-ghoul. I refuse to be anti-porphyria. I refuse to belong to a religion whose cruciform symbol is used to terrorize creatures of the night. I refuse to belong to a religion that drives stakes through the hearts of beings with whom I consanguinate. I refuse to be anti-undead. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Rod Dreher:

I’m sorry, but this is weak, and makes me wonder what really happened. Surely a woman of her age and experience cannot possibly believe that the entirety of Christianity, current and past, can be reduced to the cultural politics of the United States of America in the 21st century. Does she really know no liberal Christians? Has she never picked up a copy of Commonweal? Does she really think that if she asked a Christian on the streets of Nairobi or Tegucigalpa what they, as Christians, thought of Nancy Pelosi, they would have the slightest idea what she was talking about? And Christianity, anti-science? Good grief. Has she not noticed that Catholic Church, to which she did belong until yesterday, has affirmed evolution, and embraces science? How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

Andrew Sullivan on Dreher:

I tend to agree, but it does reveal the impact of Christianism in this culture to swamp and delegitimize actual Christianity. Dreher, of course, remains appalled by the neologism, regarding it as somehow anti-Christian. In fact, it’s precisely an attempt to save the message of the Gospels from the menace of Republican cultural politics.

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

As a relatively new member of the Catholic church, one of the things I’m learning, thanks in large part to my Parish Priest, is that an important pillar of anyone’s faith is the ongoing moral debate you have with yourself over what is wrong and what is right. Though I have many political differences with my church and even more with my Priest (one of the finest men I know), the church recognizes that a sincere inner-struggle regarding political and social issues, a struggle to come to a truly Christian decision, is something that should last a lifetime.

Rice, on the other hand, appears to have ended that inner-debate and come to all the conclusions. Among them, that same-sex marriage and voting for Democrats is what Christ would want. If she’s made a sincere effort to work her conscience through to that conclusion, that’s fine.

What’s not Christian, however, is her lashing out at those who disagree, and judging them from a moral authority she doesn’t possess as betrayers of what she obviously has decided is a kind of true Christianity.  There’s another word for this: Intolerance.

From where I sit, it looks at though Rice has “elevated” herself from a Christian to a narcissist.

The Anchoress:

Rice’s angry frustration with what she (and, let’s face it, many others) perceive to be a sort of Institution of No is interesting. She refuses to be “anti-gay,” but the church teaches that indeed we must not be anti-gay, that homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves, but that all are called to chastity, whether gay or straight.

So, what she is refusing is not so much church teaching, which she incorrectly represents, but the worldly distortion of church teaching both as it is misunderstood and too-often practiced. I do not know how anyone could read the USCCB’s pastoral letter, Always Our Children and then make a credible argument that the church is “anti-gay.”

But then, I do not know how anyone can read Humanae Vitae and credibly call the church anti-feminist or anti-humanist.

I do not know how anyone can read Pope John Paul II’s exhaustive teachings on the Theology of the Body and credibly declare the church to be reactionary on issues of sexuality or womanhood.

I do not know how anyone can read Gaudium et Spes and credibly argue that the church is out of touch with the Human Person or Society.

I do not know how anyone can read Fides et ratio and credibly argue that the church does not hold human reason in esteem.

I do not know how anyone can look at the Vatican supporting and funding Stem Cell Research, or the even the briefest list of religiously-inclined scientists and researchers and credibly argue that Christianity is “anti-science.”

Anne Rice wants to do the Life-in-Christ on her own, while saying “Yes” to the worldly world and its values. She seems not to realize that far from being an Institution of No, the church is a giant and eternal urging toward “Yes,”, that being a “yes” toward God–whose ways are not our ways, and who draws all to Himself, in the fullness of time–rather than a “yes” to ourselves.

E.D. Kain at The League:

This just seems horribly superficial to me. I suppose it’s possible that Rice never really understood her faith to begin with. I suppose when politics and the culture ware become everything – including how we’re received in our various social scenes – then God really does become little more than a piece of clothing, worn for a bit until it goes out of fashion, then easily discarded.

Certainly Christians can be terrible Christians. Certainly I disagree with much of what is said and done in the name of Christianity. Certainly I get a knot in my stomach every time the Catholic hierarchy bungles yet another sexual abuse crisis, and the more revelations of how un-Christian so many priests and pastors and others have been while peddling the words of Christianity the more angry and saddened I become over the whole state of affairs. But then I go to mass and everything is different. There are no politics. There is no divisive language, no hell and brimstone, none of this. There is the message of love and redemption and community and charity that drew me back to Christianity in the first place.

It seems to me Rice isn’t doing this in the name of Christ at all. It seems she’s given up on Him altogether. And if that’s the case, then why dress it up in the language of politics? Why kick sand in the eyes of all those Christians who are pro-science, pro-gay rights, pro-feminism, pro birth-control?

Everyone has moments, has their own crisis of faith. It’s always sad to me when that crisis is too great, the struggle too much, for someone to overcome.

The Anchoress has some worthwhile thoughts on all of this.

Update.

In response to some of the comments here…

Obviously being Christian doesn’t make you any better or more moral or any of that garbage. Being Christian means you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. And then hopefully you take that ball and run with it and do good works and all that jazz. But it isn’t really about what you’re for or against. Being non-Christian won’t make you more pro-gay or more pro-science, either. That’s a historical accident. If you were Christian or non-Christian two hundred years ago, it wouldn’t matter: you’d be anti-gay marriage. Likewise, some of the fiercest advocates of the abolition of slavery were religious zealots. In fifty or a hundred years we may not even be talking about gay rights any more (I hope gays will have 100% equal rights with straights and I hope it happens sooner than that!), but the questions of faith – the question of whether or not one believes, in this instance, in the divinity of Christ – will be questions that remains. The rest is transitory, the day’s politics, the day’s culture wars. Conflating one with the other seems to miss the deeper questions altogether.

Also, thanks to Anne Rice for stopping by!

John Cole:

I guess I found this odd because I never really thought of it as an organization you had to actively turn in a letter saying you were quitting. Most of us just sort of drift away and say to hell with it all.

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Introduction To Catholicism And Modern Catholic Thought Not Being Offered For Fall Semester

Associated Press:

The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.

Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.

“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

An unidentified student sent an e-mail to religion department head Robert McKim on May 13, calling Howell’s e-mail “hate speech.” The student claimed to be a friend of the offended student. The writer said in the e-mail that his friend wanted to remain anonymous.

“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing,” the student wrote. “Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another.”

Howell said he was teaching his students about the Catholic understanding of natural moral law.

“My responsibility on teaching a class on Catholicism is to teach what the Catholic Church teaches,” Howell said in an interview with The News-Gazette in Champaign. “I have always made it very, very clear to my students they are never required to believe what I’m teaching and they’ll never be judged on that.”

Don Suber:

He taught “Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought.”

Teaching Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought to students in an “Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought” class is against the law in Illinois.

David Freddoso at The Examiner:

The e-mail in question discussed the differences between consequentialist moral thought (the idea that an act’s morality can be determined by its consequences) and morality based in natural law, which depends only on the acts themselves. It’s pretty hard to discuss morality without having this discussion.

The email offered homosexuality and other sexual behaviors that are against church teaching (everything from the use of contraception in marriage to sex with children) as examples of things that a consequentialist might approve of under the right circumstances, whereas a Catholic cannot approve under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, this conversation about the class’s subject matter is verboten. Someone who apparently doesn’t even take the class or understand the subject matter decided to report this academic conversation to the campus gestapo. This is what we call the Dictatorship of Moral Relativism. We live in America, where only Islam receives such deference.

Emily Zanotti at Chicago Now:

First off, let me say that I am Catholic – hardcore – and that I’ve had a significant amount of instruction on the subject of Catholic Social Teaching, which is why when this story came out, I went to find the emails, which, of course, had been conveniently posted for me on the Interwebs.

I have to say, I’m not buying the kid’s side of the story for a couple of reasons.

One, the Catholic Church does actually believe that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man, and Dr. Ken does a pretty fantastic job of laying out about ten years worth of education on the matter. Like it or not (and I’m guessing, in the general population, you’ll find more people siding with the latter), the Church has some strong feelings about two men or two women doing it, and those strong feelings are not open to interpretation, though I’m sure there are some modern scholars who like to pretend that Catholicism has a liberal American brand that is a fully competing dogma rather than the slips of paper in a Vatican suggestion box they happen to be. Fr. Pfleger comes to mind. At any rate, the Catholic Church is pretty damned clear on this stuff, no pun intended, and Dr. Ken was stating, pretty comprehensively, the party line. Better than a lot of people, I might add. In other words, Dr. Ken wasn’t just making sh*t up for the purposes of pissing off an entire demographic. And, for what it’s worth, the discussion never went into a judgment on the people having Teh Gay Sex, just the nature of the act itself, which is frankly unusual when people discuss this stuff. And admirable, because it’s pretty clear he’s trying to discuss this matter in a way that doesn’t disrespect the reader.

Two, I find it hard to believe that, when one signs up for a class on Catholicism, even at a major university, that one won’t expect to be taught the tenets of Catholicism. Call me crazy, but generally, a course on Catholic teaching would probably involve teaching what the Catholic Church believes. I would suspect students might also be required to regurgitate this on a test. I suspect that some students may disagree with the subject matter. But I also suspect that by age 20, you’re more inclined to take sources into consideration and approach the subject from an academic, professional standpoint. Put more concisely, if you take a class on a religion knowing you disagree with the tenets of that religion, perhaps you shouldn’t get your panties in a bunch when the professor outlines those tenets. Professors should not be required to preface every culturally “controversial” statement they make on any subject with “If you cannot handle a viewpoint that differs from yours, please stand in the hallway until I can safely call you and your fragile viewpoint back into the conversation.”

This sounds like a disagreement between this kid and the Catholic Church with Dr. Ken caught in the middle, punished for just being a member. The disagreement is understandable. I mean, I get it. Try rectifying a libertarian viewpoint with a strong Catholic faith, and yeah, I get it. The firing over the disagreement, however, is not. If you don’t like the Catholic faith, take it out on the Catholic faith, not the people teaching about it. You’re not going to like the result of that little game; if it’s true that speaking the realities of a faith are enough to disqualify a professor from academia, then honesty about sex is going to disqualify pretty much every professor of any dogma at any academic institution anywhere in the United States.

Like it or not, the world is not full of people who subscribe to the happy-clappy, Sesame Street, “everyone in the world is friends and nothing you do can ever be judged as objectively wrong” progressive liberal understanding of the universe. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with it, and you’re going to need to be prepared. The whole point of a university is, shockingly, to give people an education: to teach students to think critically about reality and their beliefs, and, more importantly, communicate in the real world where there are, occasionally, ideas and actions that make us uncomfortable. At least, that was the whole point. If you use “people being uncomfortable hearing something they disagree with” as the golden standard for firing professors out of a university, you’ve got a big problem on your hands. The standards of academia and the exchange of ideas that drives them will be pretty much all but lost to a four-year indoctrination program on how to become overly sensitive, easily outraged and how to petition any semblance of authority for the redress of even the most basic of grievances. Not to mention, all sense of critical thinking and rational argument will be erased. That’s cool if you’re, say, in Cuba, but notsomuch in the Western world.

So here’s the gist of it: maybe Catholicism is wrong about homosexual sex (we can hash that puppy out another time), but that doesn’t mean that someone should be fired for teaching an authentic viewpoint. When someone tries to beat an academic institution over the head with idealism, forcing professors to scrub out all the parts that their precious little angles’ ears can’t bear to hear, things get f**ked up. Look at Texas and imagine if this situation were reversed and a “liberal” professor’s head was on the chopping block for teaching the realities of evolution to a student who didn’t like how a fossil record conflicted with his carefully sheltered world view. The effect, and the result, is exactly the same.

PZ Myers at Science Blogs:

I hate to say it, but I think the student was wrong. I read the professor’s email, and I don’t think it is hate speech at all.

It’s stupid speech.

A letter that condemned students, that threatened students if they didn’t agree with his views, that discriminated against a segment of society, or that denied people full participation in the culture for their views or background or private practices…that would be hate speech. This letter, though, is a pedantic and polite explanation of the views of the professor and of the Catholic church and of his interpretation of utilitarianism, and in fact is careful to say that he isn’t condemning any individuals. We can’t endorse using this kind of discussion as an excuse to expel people from academia — we want professors and students to be able to communicate freely with one another, without fear of retaliation. I see no sign that the professor was discussing the matter in a way that disrespects any of his students.

And the student complaining was doing so poorly. The professor’s ideas made him uncomfortable. He disliked what he said. He thought the professor was insensitive.

Those are not good reasons. If a student is never made uncomfortable, that student is not getting an education.

Bad reasons are given, but I still think UI made the right decision in not renewing this guy’s contract. Kenneth Howell is in ignorant fool who mistakes his religious dogma and his personal prejudices for knowledge.

Here’s an example. Keep in mind that this fellow is a professor, supposedly teaching college students something about philosophy. Here he’s trying to explain why homosexuality is wrong.

But the more significant problem has to do with the fact that the consent criterion is not related in any way to the NATURE of the act itself. This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed.

One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the “woman” while the other acts as the “man.” In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don’t want to be too graphic so I won’t go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.

REALITY, huh?

Here’s reality. A penis fits nicely in the hand, and a hand is usually better at stimulating the clitoris than a penis in the vagina, and our anatomy is such that our arms are of the right length to comfortably reach our genitals. Therefore, masturbation is a moral sexual act. We can extend this to point out that a man’s hand can stimulate a clitoris and a woman’s hand can stimulate a penis, and therefore, mutual masturbation, as is being practiced by tens of thousands of teenagers on this Friday night, is also a rightful act. There is no practical difference in anatomy or physiology between mutual masturbation between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple, so these acts are also entirely natural.

This reasoning can be extended to a great many sexual acts: oral and anal sex, frottage of various kinds, fantasy play, sadomasochism, etc. There are more aspects of male and female anatomy in which they are alike than in which they differ, and in fact the only act which can be uniquely performed by a male and female couple is penile-vaginal intercourse. So this one act out of many is all that this professor can point to in order to justify heterosexuality as the only proper interaction, but this requires ignoring the majority of human sexual behaviors. I have to wonder if all Catholic teaching permits in the bedroom is genital-genital contact. How sad for them.

Rod Dreher:

Read the professor’s own account of his dismissal. I hope we hear the university’s side. Before people take their usual culture-war positions, understand that if the facts are as the professor relates them, this is not essentially a question of whether or not one approves of homosexuality. This is about academic and religious freedom. The professor was teaching a course on Catholicism and Catholic morality. The Catholic Church unambiguously teaches that homosexual expression is immoral. You are perfectly free to disagree with that in a university, but that’s what the Church teaches, and the professor is obligated to present that teaching in a course on Catholicism. According to the professor, students in the past have argued against that position in class, always respectfully. This was the first time an aggrieved student went to pieces over it, and demanded that the university take action against the professor — which it did.

Again, we await the university’s side of the story. But if the facts are substantially the same, then we have a case in which a professor cannot even teach his subject in a straightforward, accurate manner, without putting his job at risk. Is this really the kind of scholarly atmosphere we want? Is it conducive to a free exchange of ideas, and actual learning? As Beckwith writes in his blog commentary, imagine the reverse, and that a Catholic student complained to the university that he felt “excluded” by a gay professor’s arguments in favor of the licitness of homosexuality in a class on LGBT Studies. In what conceivable world would the university fire the professor? What kind of university lets a whinypants student dictate the content of a professor’s course?

I well remember sitting in a history course at LSU in which the professor, an avowed secularist, was making fun of the medieval church. One student stood up, yelled at him for “anti-Christian bigotry,” and stomped out. I felt that the professor really had been laying it on thick re: the Church, but he was an excellent professor, and I could put up with his prejudices because I learned so much from him. Besides, we could dispute him in the classroom with no problem. This isn’t exactly the same thing as the University of Illinois case here, because this history prof could have taught his subject matter that day without snarky editorial commentary about medieval Christianity; it’s hard to see how a professor teaches a class on Catholicism while ignoring the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Still, that people are so willing to be grievously offended by thoughts that conflict with their own beliefs, and universities and other institutions are willing to kowtow to the most delicate student sensibilities — provided they are expressed by members of politically approved demographic groups — is dreadful for robust, honest discourse, to say nothing of actual scholarship.

Stories like this make one see the university as an increasingly Orwellian place where “tolerance” means putting up with people who already agree with you. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, their tolerance for religious and academic freedom runs the gamut from A to B.

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All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Abstract from Rose McDermott, Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler:

Divorce is the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we utilize a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. We find that divorce can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers, and there are clusters of divorcees that extend two degrees of separation in the network. We also find that popular people are less likely to get divorced, divorcees have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcees. Interestingly, we do not find that the presence of children influences the likelihood of divorce, but we do find that each child reduces the susceptibility to being influenced by peers who get divorced. Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages serves to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly affected.

Vaughan at Mindhacks:

A completely fascinating study published on the Social Science Research Network looked at how likely a marriage was to survive depending on who else in the social network was getting divorced.

The study used data from the famous Framington Heart Study and found that while we tend to think of marriage as a ‘couple thing’ is turns out that even our most intimate bonds are deeply embedded into the social webs we weave.

Ross Douthat:

There’s a profound conservative insight here, I think, about the social consequences of what can seem like purely individual choices. No-fault divorce laws were ushered in, in part, on the understandable theory that they would make it easier to end the small minority of marriages that were miserable shams or abusive hells, without affecting happier, more stable couples. And that theory endures today: In her recent Times op-ed on New York’s decision to join the rest of America in allowing no-fault divorce, for instance, Stephanie Coontz attributes the 1970s surge in marital dissolutions primarily to “pent-up demand for divorces” finally being met by a more accommodating legal system.

Certainly this is part of the truth. (And of course to some extent the legal changes in 1970s America were chasing the cultural changes, rather than the other way around.) But it’s also true that no family is an island, and by facilitating the divorces of unhappy couples we almost certainly changed the way that happier couples — or couples who had considered themselves happy, at least — thought about their marriages, and the possibility of ending them. (It’s telling, in this regard, that the liberalization of divorce laws coincided with an appreciable decline in the percentage of men and women describing their unions as “very happy.”) There’s no escaping peer effects: If your friends or neighbors or relatives get divorced, you’re more likely to get divorced — even if it’s only on the margins — no matter what kind of shape your marriage is in. And inevitably, the ripples keep on spreading, to the next generation and beyond …

James Poulos:

No escaping? I have my own anecdotal evidence that ’80s divorces happened “because everyone was doing it.” But I just can’t be persuaded on the strength of one (intriguing) study that a significant percentage of husbands and wifes won’t react to the divorces of others with a greater resolve to stay married. Your read would make a person worry that everyone will succumb, as if to a plague of zombies. Possibly divorce is more like Ebola — very intimate contact with divorce might spike the likelihood of your own divorce, but less intimate contact might more likely scare that likelihood away.

Rod Dreher:

Hey, everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?

Ezra Klein:

Ross Douthat picks up on a study showing that an individual couple is likelier to get divorced if others in their peer group are getting divorced and comes away with a critique of no-fault divorce laws based off of a very strange conclusion. “If your friends or neighbors or relatives get divorced,” he writes, “you’re more likely to get divorced — even if it’s only on the margins — no matter what kind of shape your marriage is in.”

But that can’t be right: If you’re happy with your partner, if you wake up glad to see their face and go to bed glad to feel their warmth, the fact that someone in your social circle is getting divorced won’t lead you to file papers. I think Ross’s point might be that the availability of divorce changes your perceptions of your marriage because it gives you license to consider other options, but I think we really need to be careful about defining people as “happy” if the possibility of leaving their situation causes them to go through the emotionally and financially grueling process of fleeing. In that scenario, the prevalence of divorce doesn’t change the shape your marriage is in. It changes your willingness to face up to the shape your marriage is in.

crshalizi at Three-Toed Sloth:

Ezra Klein, responding to Douthat, suggests that the causal channel isn’t making people who are happy in their marriages divorce, but leading people to re-evaluate whether they are really happily married, by making it clear that there is an alternative to staying married. “The prevalence of divorce doesn’t change the shape your marriage is in. It changes your willingness to face up to the shape your marriage is in.” (In other words, Klein is suggesting that many people call their marriages “happy” only through the mechanism of adaptive preferences, a.k.a. sour grapes.) Klein has, deservedly, a reputation for being more clueful than his peers, and his response shows a modicum of critical thought, but he is still relying on Ross Douthat to do causal inference, which is a sobering thought.

Both of these gentlemen are assuming that this association between network neighbors’ divorces must be due to some kind of contagion — Douthat is going for some sort of imitation of divorce as such, Klein is looking to more of a social learning process about alternatives and their costs. Both of them ignore the possibility that there is no contagion here at all. Remember homophily: People tend to be friends with those who are like them. I can predict your divorce from your friends’ divorces, because seeing them divorce tells me what kind of people they are, which tells me about what kind of person you are. From the sort of observational data used in this study, it is definitely impossible to say how much of the association is due to homophily and how much to contagion. (The edge-reversal test they employ does not work.) It seems to be impossible to even say whether there is any contagion at all.*

To be clear, I am not castigating columnists for not reading my pre-prints; on balance I’m probably happier that they don’t. But the logical issue of running together influence from friends and inference from the kind of friends you have is clear and well known. (Our contribution was to show that you can’t escape the logic through technical trickery.) One would hope it would have occurred to people to ponder it before calling for over-turning family law, or saying, in effect, “You should stay together, for the sake of your neighbors’ kids”. I also have no problem with McDermott et al. investigating this. It’s a shame that their data is unable to answer the causal questions, but without their hard work in analyzing that data we wouldn’t know there was a phenomenon to be explained.

I hope it’s obvious that I don’t object to people pontificating about whatever they like; certainly I do enough of it. If people can get paying jobs doing it, more power to them. I can even make out a case why ideologically committed opinionators have a role to play in the social life of the mind, like so. It’s a big complicated world full of lots of things which might, conceivably, matter, and it’s hard to keep track of them all, and figure out how one’s principles apply** — it takes time and effort, and those are always in short supply. Communicating ideas takes more time and effort and skill. People who can supply the time, effort and skill to the rest of us, starting from more or less similar principles, thereby do us a service. But only if they are actually trustworthy — actually reasoning and writing in good faith — and know what they are talking about.

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BeFri 4 Never?

Hilary Stout at NYT:

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress:

Unreal. Read the article. The schools and “experts” are intrusive and unnatural. And sad.

This isn’t about what’s good for the children; it is about being better able to control adults by stripping from them any training in intimacy and interpersonal trust. Don’t let two people get together and separate themselves from the pack, or they might do something subversive, like…think differently.

This move against “best friends” is ultimately about preventing individuals from nurturing and expanding their individuality. It is about training our future adults to be unable to exist outside of the pack, the collective. The schools want you to think this is about potential bullying and the sadness of some children feeling “excluded.” But that is not what this is about.

As a kid I was the target of “the pack;” I know more than I care to about schoolyard bullies, and I can tell you that the best antidote to them was having a good friend. One good friend who shares your interests and ideas and sense of humor can erase the negative effects of the conform-or-die “pack” with which one cannot identify, “the pack” that cannot comprehend why one would not wish to join them and will not tolerate resistance.

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute:

The absurdity of this approach is beyond measure. For one thing, it is completely at odds with real life. When kids grow up, they’re not going to be “friends with everyone.” In the real world there are people who will like you, and people who will dislike you; people who are kind, and people who are cruel; people you can trust, and people you can’t trust; people who will be there for you in good times and bad, and people who will abandon you when the going gets tough.

Childhood is when kids learn to recognize those different types of people, experience joys and disappointments of different kinds of friendships, and learn the social skills they will need to develop mature relationships later in life. As one psychologist quoted in the article puts it, “No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend.”

Denying kids the opportunity to have such experiences stunts their development. It also teaches kids to develop superficial relationships with lots of people, without learning how to develop deep bonds of meaning and consequence with anyone. Think about it: Who among us would tell their deepest, darkest secrets to “everyone”? Denying kids a “best friend” makes it harder to get through childhood—and makes it harder to be a successful adult one day as well.

Obviously, schools want to discourage cliques, ensure that no children are ostracized or bullied, and help those along who have trouble bonding with their peers. But the solution to such problems is not to discourage kids who do bond with their peers from doing so—or consciously separate them when they do.

This is but the latest misguided effort to protect children from the realities of life that only harms them in the long run. First came the trend to stop keeping score in childhood sports and give everyone a “participation trophy”—discouraging excellence and achievement, and shielding kids from the reality of winning and losing. Now comes a new fad of separating best friends—denying kids the magic of those first special friendships.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

The stories are so familiar it makes no need to go into specifics. The experts of the helping professions want to tell you what to eat, what to drink, how to drive, how to talk, how to think. Sometimes they have a point, and as the father of a young child, I’m perfectly willing to concede that cliques and whatnot can be unhealthy or mean. But this really goes to 11.

Lisa Solod Warren at Huffington Post:

I was bulled in middle school and I have written a seminal article on school bullying for Brain, Child magazine a few years ago (well before the topic became so hot) and I say: Balderdash. Bullying is a problem; it can even be a tragedy. But the fact that a couple of kids bond as best friends is not the cause of bullying: stopping best friendships is not going to be the “cure.”

I have always counted myself fortunate to have a best friend as well as a couple of other women in my life with whom I am extremely close. I met my oldest best friend, Patti, when I was eight years old. Now, 46 years later, separated by hundreds of miles, we can still pick up the phone and start a conversation right in the middle. She knows my past and I know hers: all the dirty bits, the secrets, the moments we might not want to remember. She came to my father’s funeral a few months ago and I know that whatever I asked, whenever I asked it, she would be there. She knows the same of me.

She’s been there for me through a whole host of life changes. And those life changes began soon after we met in third grade. Had anyone discouraged me from clinging to her, or her to me, there would indeed have been hell to pay. And to what end? Is there any kind of scientific evidence that proves that being friends with an entire group of people without having one special person on whom one can absolutely rely is preferable? I wonder, actually, why on earth anyone would study this sort of thing in the first place. Bullying is about power. Power and insecurity. It’s something I found is often “taught” or handed down from generation to generation. Stopping kids from having one great friend whom they can trust to have their back is not going to prevent bullying. If anything, when a child doesn’t have someone he or she can trust -someone outside the family–bullying can seem even more onerous and scary than it already is. I never told my parents I was bullied. But Patti knew. And she defended me.

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The article is in The New York Times. It’s a paper which usually tries really hard to pretend toward objective distance, but I get the sense that even the author of the piece was a bit confused by the weirdness which had infected the educational establishment.

Rod Dreher:

What crackpots. The idea that the way to decrease bullying is to deny children the opportunity to make a special friend or friends is cruel and crazy. It’s like saying that the way to stop school gun violence is to prevent anything that even looks like a gun from being brought to school — like, say, little toy soldiers pinned to a hat. No teacher or school would object to that. Oh, wait…

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