"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Just when I thought we were accomplishing something...

Despite its hothouse atmosphere, which can give its denizens too great a sense of self-importance, the blogosphere has been a net-positive influence on discourse in America. The fact that a wider variety of intelligent people get to say a wider variety of intelligent things than ever before, and to wider audiences than ever before, provides much-needed checks on and competition for the MSM. Assuming we don't collapse in economic chaos, the very nature of publishing can and will continue changing for the benefit of authors and audiences. E.g., many intelligent, orthodox neoCaths—the "mere Catholics" who are neither trad nor prog nor otherwise customers of the cafeteria—have turned their blogs into a venue for Truth, as well as their personal lives; most of them who deserve an audience probably would never have found one otherwise. Indeed, and in one of the many ironies of Catholic life, many neoCath bloggers are taken more seriously online, by more influential people, than in our own parishes and dioceses. And that's not just because we're too nerdy or quarrelsome to be taken seriously in the flesh: I know several of these people, including myself, well enough to know we're anything but socially handicapped. So I was basking in the glow of such accomplishment early today when, alas, I came upon these two news items:

Well, it seems our influence is even more limited than the non-bloggers generally think.

Admittedly, Smith's death was tragic even as her life was mostly farce. Like her idol Marilyn Monroe, she had looks and money most people can only dream of yet was riddled with problems that led to her early demise. I'm sure she was devastated by her 20-year-old son's death, in her own hospital room no less, last year; more tragic still, she leaves behind a 6-month-old baby whose paternity is still uncertain, probably because it was even to her. Her problems, not least her struggles with her weight, almost made her a sympathetic figure despite the deep vulgarity of how she usually carried on. Even I find myself sympathetic: in spite of everything, I think of her as a child of God whose life and death are not to be dismissed with a snort of contempt. I've even said a prayer for her. But really: is the death of a minor celebrity anywhere near as important as so much of what has been going on in the world, even on this very day? So one would think from the headlines. To be sure, the savvier media types know better. But they are under pressure to draw eyes and ears to the advertisers who pay their salaries; and from that viewpoint, the relevant fact is that more Americans care more to hear about Anna Nicole Smith's death and life than about the majority of weightier matters. Let's face it: to judge from ratings and print sales, more Americans care more about how Jennifer Aniston feels about Brad Pitt than about the real nature of the so-called "war on terror." They should be reading instead about the doleful European front in the new war with radical Islam. In such a culture, serious bloggers have their work cut out for them, especially given how outnumbered they are by unserious bloggers.

Sad as it is, that's just a problem at the level of popular culture. Sadder still is the reaction of secular-liberal academia to the nomination of Bawer's much-needed book.

They call the book and its author "racist" even though he's a bona fide liberal, an openly gay American expatriate living in Europe, and even though militant Islam, which Europe allows in the name of "tolerance" and "multiculturalism" to threaten its liberties from within, is not limited to any one race or ethnic group. Some Islamists are Arabs; some are black Africans; some are Persians; some are from South Asia; as Western intelligence agencies are learning, one can find militant Islamists in every race and in every corner of the globe. So why is it "racist" to issue a clarion call to Europeans about what such people are doing in their very midst? For a long time, of course, the term 'racist' has served as just the handiest epithet to throw when one wants to win a debate by discrediting one's opponent; but why want to debate and discredit the Bawers, when all they're saying is the obvious?

This is where it gets even worse. As Bawer points out on his own blog:

One of the most disgraceful developments of our time is that many Western authors and intellectuals who pride themselves on being liberals have effectively aligned themselves with an outrageously illiberal movement that rejects equal rights for women, that believes gays and Jews should be executed, that supports the coldblooded murder of one's own children in the name of honor, etc., etc. These authors and intellectuals respond to every criticism of that chilling fundamentalist code – however cogent and correct the criticism may be – by hurling the "R" word.

And he concludes:

Some people think it's terrific for writers to expose the offenses and perils of religious fundamentalism – just as long as it's Christian fundamentalism.

And Rod Dreher, whose snobbery and Catholic-bashing can get tiresome, gets it just right with this commentary (I've added the emphasis):

This is how the left works: yell "bigotry" to silence critics who confront them with arguments they don't wish to have. In Holland, Pim Fortuyn -- an openly gay hedonistic libertarian with a wicked sense of humor -- ran for prime minister on a platform that in large part warned the Dutch that they were going to lose their liberal democracy if they didn't confront the growing forces of Islamic extremism within their country's immigrant population. The hysterical left -- which is to say, the media and academic establishments in Holland -- called him a fascist, and left it at that. Fortuyn was so far to the left he made Barney Frank look like the Queen Mother, but none of that mattered to the left-wing Dutch establishment.

I honestly don't get this. Shouldn't liberals be the most concerned about Islamic fundamentalism, given that the things they profess to value are the first things they would lose under Islamist pressure? It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this sort of liberal hates political conservatives and orthodox Christians more than he loves his own liberty. And he wishes to cling desperately to his own self-image as a defender of the poor, oppressed minorities, even when some of those poor, oppressed minorities would just as soon see him and his kind swinging from the gallows.

It isn't just hard to avoid said conclusion: in many particular cases, it's impossible. This is why I've never been able to be a real leftist, despite my occasional agreement with left-wing criticisms of this-or-that government policy or cultural prejudice. It seems the Left hates those who defend what it enjoys even more than those who would destroy it. It's suicidal. It's a death-wish from hell. Like all things from hell, it hates traditional Christianity the most.

But how many Catholic bloggers are saying that? I sometimes think we get too caught up in intramural issues of our own, such as the liturgy wars, then with what is really happening in the world. We need to be more concerned about spiritual combat: first in ourselves, and in the Church certainly, but not to the neglect of the forms it takes in the wider world. It's all of a piece. If we apply ourselves from that perspective, we'll deserve the attention we not-so-secretly desire.
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