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The New 'Friendlier Face' of Conservatism Is an Old-School Homophobe

You may not know the name Rod Dreher, but you will.

You may not know the name Rod Dreher, but you will. This April, Grand Central Publishing is releasing his The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life , for which he was paid a small fortune. I have not read the book, so let’s defer to the publisher for a synopsis:

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteacher. He was also struck by the grace and courage with which his sister dealt with the disease that eventually took her life. In Louisiana for Ruthie's funeral in the fall of 2011, Dreher began to wonder whether the ordinary life Ruthie led in their country town was in fact a path of hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher. In order to explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife decided to leave Philadelphia, move home to help with family responsibilities and have their three children grow up amidst the rituals that had defined his family for five generations....

The publicity push has already commenced and Little Way has been critically well-received. The book is going to make a mint. It will, I predict, be passed around churches and bought in bulk for book clubs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dreher ends up promoting the book on Oprah; he’s a decent writer, the story is assuredly compelling and he comes off as a reasonable sort.

Crucially, Dreher has  (to employ a theologically inappropriate term from Law & Order ) a rabbi in David Brooks. In late 2011, Brooks declared Dreher “one of the country’s most interesting bloggers” and “part of a communitarian conservative tradition that goes back to thinkers like Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet.” And last year, Brooks placed Dreher among the conservatives of the future, who “tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth.”

As it happens, I find most of this (“big government” crack excepted) thoroughly agreeable. It would be a wonderful thing indeed if Dreher were the type of level-headed conservative Brooks describes. But, alas, as Dreher expert Roy Edroso has patiently explained, he is not. Brooks ignores the side of Dreher that has nothing in common with Reihan Salam, Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen -- his pernicious social conservatism. In particular, homosexuality in general and gay rights in particular are longtime obsessions of Dreher’s. His writings in this area betray a belief that, one would hope, is not of a piece with the conservatism of the future.

Prospective readers, particularly gay readers and their allies, ought to know that the man to whom they might fork over their hard-earned cash is not in their corner and has made them a target of an astonishing opprobrium. What follows is hardly a definitive review of Dreher’s work concerning gays -- he makes these arguments ad nauseum -- but it is representative of his beliefs.

“Fully human.” In 2009, Dreher worried that homosexuality might be “legitimized.” Were that to happen, he wrote, that would “lock in, and on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality.” He continued: “I believe this would be a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human.”

“Death of the soul.” In the same post, Dreher says that “failing to live by Christian sexual morality” -- i.e., being gay -- “contributes to the debasement of one's character, and the death of the soul.”

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