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Ben Appel On Woke And Christian Cults

Ben Appel On Woke And Christian Cults

The normie gay writer has a compelling story of survival.

After working as a hairstylist for over a decade, Ben got a creative writing degree from Columbia University and started contributing to publications such as Newsweek and The Washington Examiner. Raised in a Christian cult, he’s close to publishing a memoir, Cis White Gay, about his liberation from that church and what he calls the Church of Social Justice. You can also read Ben on his substack. I find his story a fascinating glimpse into our fast-changing world.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify doesn’t accept the paid feed unfortunately). For two clips of our convo — why women bond with gay hairdressers, and what queer theorists and Iran’s theocrats have in common — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Ben’s upbringing in a Christian cult while being a “super effeminate girly kid,” his OCD through praying, his escape into alcohol at age 12, his parents’ divorce and leaving the church, his codependency with his mother, being tormented as a “faggot” at his public high school, his drug addiction as a teen and dropping out of college, his 17-year sobriety, his marriage to a man, his activism for gay and trans rights, getting a college degree in his 30s, and the brutal woke bigotry he experienced at Columbia.

Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). Next week is Nicholas Wade on the lab leak theory. Before we air emails from listeners on Rod Dreher, here’s a moving one that’s very relevant to the Ben Appel chat:

I’ve seen you on Bill Maher’s program twice now speaking to an issue that has struck a chord with my family. Last season you told a moving story of not being considered a “real boy” by a relative. You also spoke passionately about your concern that children are being misidentified too early as “trans.” I share your concern.

We adopted my son from foster care when he was seven. Those adults who knew him told us that he may be a trans girl, due to his strong interest in stereotypically “girl” toys and activities. We were given information about children’s hospitals that specialized in supporting “trans” children. Shortly after he joined our family, he told us that his foster mom told him that he likes “girl” activities because he’s really a girl on the inside; this is what he believed. We were disturbed that this idea had been so deeply planted into his head at such a young age. It was as if no one had given him an alternative way of seeing himself. 

Over the years we focused on loving him, letting him be himself, encouraging him follow his interests, and moving away from labels. We emphasized that there are many ways to be, and as he got older he’d have a better understanding of who he is. Over the years he has learned much more about himself. 

He is now 14 years old and full of life, energy, curiosity, and confidence. He’s an artist, a dancer, an avid reader, a budding zoologist, a leader, and one of the most sensitive souls I’ve ever known. He has also come out to his friends as gay. He looks back on those days when others had convinced him he was “really a girl inside” with bewilderment and frustration: “I am definitely a boy!”

I want to thank you for bringing attention to this issue. Thank you for your struggle and your advocacy. We have watched and discussed your appearances on Real Time with our son; I want you to know that it does make a difference.

Thank you. The attempt to get gay boys to renounce their sex because they are gender-nonconforming is about as reactionary a policy as you can imagine. We are supposed to trust medical authorities not to misdiagnose gay kids as trans, but the more you examine these professionals, and their rigid ideology, and their adoption of the entire premises of critical queer and gender theory, you realize that trust isn’t possible any more. If any of them even acknowledged that this is possible and could be happening I’d feel better. But they don’t. They have the certainty of fanatics, not doctors.

Many listeners are responding to last week’s convo with Rod Dreher. But first, here’s Rod on what finally drove him away from the Catholic Church:

A listener writes:

Pretty rich of Dreher to accuse you of rejecting “appeals to rational arguments against the sexually liberationist ideology” when he also said that he didn’t know how to justify his position against homosexuality beyond, ultimately, this: “Honest answer is I don’t know.” And he even admitted that his position was “unsatisfying intellectually.”

Another listener was also frustrated with Rod:

I listened to this episode while working out, as is my custom for a lot of podcasts. In some respects, this was easily more painful than getting heavy kettlebells overhead!

Your sincere question of how, if Rod leads with the heart, he can countenance the exclusion of gays from a full expression of their sexual orientation in the way nature compels, seemed to me to merit a much better response than, “Well, I don’t know, but that is what scripture tells us.” So Rod must say to you, with compassion in his heart, that your life is disordered and you can only be compliant with scripture if you stay “chaste” — living half a life.

As a former Episcopalian for over 30 years, I must say I struggle with your Catholic beliefs, Andrew, but if one believes in a God who made us in his image, then God does not make mistakes. If God did not make a mistake making you the way you are, how can it be sinful to live as your nature compels?

I take my Catholicism from Pope Francis not from Rod, who is Orthodox now.

Another Dishhead comments on the “interesting discussion as ever — even for a non-religious person such as myself”:

I’ll take a page from Rod Dreher: he and his opinions deserve compassion, disordered as they are. As an adult, he imagined a “being” standing by his bed, placing a stone in his heart, telling him God loves him? As a grownup, Dreher selectively prattles on about “the biblical norm”? He reacted to the tremendous evil of the Catholic Church, true; and yet he seems to have missed that the relentless judgmental nonsense and excuse-making of that troubled organization do not in any measurable degree differ from the relentless judgmental nonsense and excuse-making he himself offers as he struggles to reconcile a set of man-made fables with reality. He sounds like a decent guy and is of course welcome to live his life as he wishes, but please: who exactly is the disordered one here?

This next listener shares a passage about being judgmental:

I think that the basis of judging is where the difference lies in your and Rod’s takes on sexual ethics in Christianity. I recently started reading the book Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The first two sentences and their footnote are significant:

The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.

1. For the purpose of our present discussion it makes no difference if modern ethics replaces the concepts of good and evil by those of moral and immoral, valuable and valueless or (in the case of existential philosophy) of actual or proper being and not actual or proper being.

Bonhoeffer describes that to live under knowledge of good and evil is to be in disunion with God, with people, with things, and oneself. Bonhoeffer contrasts this state of disunion with Jesus, who does not allow himself to be drawn into arguments and conflicts concerning good and evil. “He lives and acts not by the knowledge of good and evil but by the will of God.”

Some varied thoughts from this listener:

I think your astute observation that Dreher was trying to recreate and repair his early relationship with his father — first through the Catholic Church, then with the Orthodox Church — might also be extended to his current attachment to Victor Orbán.

Like you and Rod, I also was awed by Chartres and other French cathedrals on my first visit — but I did not see God, but rather the excesses of money spent by those who robbed the poor to build temples to themselves. I learned, later in Italy, that the Cathedral in Sienna was built by a duke who wanted to show up the duke who built the cathedral in Florence (or it may have been the other way around), and religious piety had not much to do with it.

Which brings me to the observation that we often interpret our experiences based on our past experiences, our beliefs and our wishes. Whether it is seeing a cathedral or having a drug induced hallucination, our response might reflect those internal factors rather than some larger truth. I am aware of the current research on the use of psychedelics in the preparation of people for death, for the treatment of depression and addiction, and the research is compelling. But here too the matter of the interpretation of the experience is open to further examination. I do accept the subjective experiences as real and powerful, but they are subjective.

Or, as Iris DeMent had it, “Let the Mystery Be”:

 Thanks once again for keeping me on my toes.

Another listener wanted a lot more from the episode:

This was quite disappointing — a dud, in fact. While the accounts of Rod’s return to his hometown and his relationship with his dad were interesting, much of the podcast was given over to Rod’s and your views on extra-marital sex — which to be honest I, and I suspect most other listeners, have very little interest in. 

I was hoping for a robust exchange on Rod’s views on Victor Orbán and the Ukraine-Russia war. Orbán has used language (e.g. on race-mixing) that comes across as blatantly racist. Rod has claimed that nuance is lost in translation. He should have been challenged on this and asked for evidence and details. It would also have been enlightening to discuss the state of democracy in Hungary. Do Western commentators miscategorize Orbán by calling hims an autocrat, as Rod claims? I do not know — which is why I was hoping to learn more from the episode.

Every other blog post by Rod is on Ukraine. These always begin along the lines of “Putin is bad, what the Russians are doing is terrible, but ...”  Rod then bemoans that the West is risking a nuclear war with Russia by continuing to provide arms to Ukraine. He should have been asked what, then, should the West specifically do?  Stop provide arms and let Ukraine be eventually overrun? There are vague assertions about nudging Ukraine into peace talks, even though Putin has shown no interest in such talks. What should Ukraine be asked to give up? What if the Ukrainians do not want to give up territory?  

I am hoping you will bring him back for another talk. 

I failed, I agree. I should have been much more focused on Orbàn, especially given the recent news that the Hungarian government may indirectly be paying Rod a salary. I apologize. But I wanted to drill down on some core theological propositions of his, and I hope I brought some clarity to that.

Next up, many readers are discussing my column on urban violence and the underperforming DC school district pushing “equity.” Here’s a disturbing, revelatory view on the ground:

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