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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.
 
 
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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.”

"Homosexuality = alcoholism.""Let's assume, as I believe most people do, that homosexuality is not a choice,” Dreher wrote. “Given that premise, is it an immutable, morally neutral condition (like race)? Or is it an immutable, morally deficient condition (like alcoholism) that can be accomodated [sic] to some degree by law and custom, but which has no civil rights claims?” He continued: “The view of gay rights activists and their supporters is the first option; the view of traditional religious believers” -- among whom Mr. Dreher counts himself -- “is the second.”

“Purpose-driven hissy fit.” When it was announced that Rick Warren, a noted opponent of gays and gay rights, would speak at Barack Obama’s first presidential inauguration, activists recoiled. “The narcissism of some gays really knows no bounds,” responded Dreher, who accused activists of living in a “spiteful little bubble.”

“Repulsive.” In July 2006, after George Michael was accused of engaging in anonymous public sex, Dreher used the incident to tar gays at large. “[W]hat are the rest of us supposed to think,” he asked, “about gay male culture, and the degree to which it self-defines according to behavior that most people rightly find repulsive?” It should go without saying Dreher produced no evidence that gays “self-define” according to enthusiasm for sex in public places any more, or less, than straights.

“Moral order.” Commenting on a story about the near-slaughter of a Texas family, Dreher said what was really shocking was the presence of bisexuals in the small town: “From my point of view, both [murder and bisexuality] are violations of the moral order."

”Hetero activities.” In 2007, an Australian hotel catering to gays won the right to exclude straights and women. Dreher, riffing on the story, wondered why it wasn’t okay for gays to be similarly shut out. When a reader complained, he replied that “there's an offensive inconsistency of gays demanding full access to hetero activities/places (to the point of filing a lawsuit), while also demanding the right to exclude heteros from gay activities/places[.]” Edroso saw the absurdity in Dreher’s argument, noting, “Similarly, it's offensively inconsistent for women to demand full access to male preserves -- such as barrooms, political clubs, and many other organizations were, once upon a time -- while also demanding the right to all-chick domains such as Curves Fitness Centers, ladies' rooms, etc, from which hiding places they no doubt plot man-bashing jihad!”

“Gay McCarthyism.” In 2000, Dr. Laura Schlessinger sought to parlay her success in radio into a syndicated talk show and was met with opposition from the gay community, offended by her description of homosexuality as “a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex" and "deviant behavior, a dysfunctional behavior." The resulting were denounced by Dreher as “gay McCarthyism” (a particularly odious label because Joseph McCarthy went after homosexuals), “the death of free speech” and “un-American.”

***

To be sure, relative to the late Jerry Falwell or Jesse Helms or the still-breathing Tony Perkins, Rod Dreher’s distaste for gays is subtle. You will not catch him publically tossing around faggot or queer. But the intolerance is very real, and the purpose seems to be always to undercut homosexuals. There isn’t another way to interpret Dreher’s belief that gays are less than “fully human,” that being gay means “the death of the soul,” that homosexuality is synonymous with alcoholism, and that bisexuality is a “violation of the moral order.” Just keep that in mind over the coming months as Dreher continues his media blitz. He is not a nice guy.

Elon Green is a contributing editor to Longform.

 
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