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Rod Dreher On His Crises Of Faith And Family

Rod Dreher On His Crises Of Faith And Family

The inimitable blogger gets more personal than usual.

Rod is an old-school blogger and author living in Budapest. He’s a senior editor at The American Conservative and has written several bestsellers, including The Benedict Option and Live Not by Lies. He’s currently writing a book about bringing the enchantment back to Christianity in a time of growing secularism. He was enchanted himself after taking LSD in college, putting him on the path to Christianity — something he hasn’t talked about in public until now. We’ve been sparring online for a couple of decades, while remaining friends.

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 — Rod coming to terms with his father being in the KKK, and breaking from the Catholic Church after learning of suicides by sex-abuse victims — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: television as a way for Rod to escape the racism of the rural South, his struggle for his father’s acceptance, meeting gay kids for the first time in boarding school, his youthful indiscretions of drinking and casual sex, his family rejecting him after moving home for his dying sister, reconciling with his dad, his friendly correspondence with a gay meth addict, his current divorce and moving to Budapest, and Rod believing that homosexuality and transness are “disordered” — and my profound disagreement with him on both counts. It’s one of the most revealing episodes we’ve had yet.

Rod has already commented on our convo over on his blog:

[Andrew] believes quite sincerely in radical sexual freedom. I tried to explain how I believe that our moral behavior is embedded in a transcendent sacred order, but this made no sense to him. I tried to describe married sex as reproducing the life of the Trinity, which he thought was bonkers. […]

I didn’t really engage Andrew as I ought to have done, in part because I was unprepared to have this discussion, but mostly because I don’t believe, at this point, that most people — even the self-professed Catholic Andrew Sullivan — don’t want to accept appeals to rational arguments against the sexually liberationist ideology. I fully believe it’s a matter of the will. I understand Andrew’s point of view, I think — and that’s why I despair that people like him and people like me can ever reach agreement.

For much of my adult life, I have “accepted appeals to rational arguments against the sexually liberationist ideology,” although in no way do I regard my position on sex as “liberationist.” Just one example, in my collection Out on a Limb, is here.

In another post, the uber-prolific Rod gets in another dig:

This week [on the Dishcast] I invited my friend Andrew Sullivan, who is strongly opposed to the Orban government, to come to Hungary and see for himself what it’s like. He said he didn’t need to, because he’s done his research on the place. I didn’t press him, but I suspect the research involves reading what right-liberals like Anne Applebaum have to say about Hungary.

I didn’t dismiss the idea of going there and I sure don’t rely entirely on Applebaum as an authority on the question, though she has a right to an opinion.

A quick note from a listener on the new Dishcast format:

I’m very happy with your decision to move to a private paywalled podcast — makes total sense, given how much free value you’re currently putting out there, and the 102 full episodes you’ve had available for free during the past two years. Also, I understand that the world of private podcast feeds is inexplicably awful on the technical front, but is there anything you can do on the Spotify front? I, like an increasing number of people I think, use Spotify as my only podcast player, and using another one just for your private feed is a bit of a nuisance.

Unfortunately we don’t have any control over the inability of the private feed to play on Spotify. Apologies. Also, a reminder to paid subscribers who listen to the Dishcast on your desktop rather than podcast apps: you don’t have to do anything new for the private feed. Lastly, if you happen to have both the free feed and the paid feed loaded on your podcast app, you can distinguish the paid feed by seeing “(private feed for” just below the beagle logo — and you should probably unfollow the free feed to avoid any confusion in your scrolling. (Email us at if you run into any obstacles.)

On to the commentary of listeners on recent episodes, here’s a fan of my debate with Carl Trueman on the nature of homosexuality (new transcript here):

I just wanted to say that I happily subscribed yesterday (FINALLY). What made the big shift happen was a combo: I had just listened to your podcast with Carl Trueman (I was behind and catching up!) and I had heard that you may put part of the Dishcast behind a paywall. I knew I didn’t want to miss hearing your full conversations. Hearing you discuss gayness and religion with someone who literally wrote a book that went against who you are as a person (to a degree). And to hear how humbly you spoke to Trueman, how you let him make his arguments, and then how you gently smacked him down with grace, I was blown away.

Do I agree with all you say? No, not at all. I am a baptized Catholic turned atheist, and there are times I argue with you in my car while listening to the Dish, but that conversation made me realize that true discourse is still here, it is still happening, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

This next listener keeps the discourse going:

I can’t help but respond to a comment from a fellow Dishhead on the Trueman episode: “Non-reproductive sex is clearly a design feature of our species and is probably tied to reinforcing pair bonds when humans have such a long developmental process. The survival interest of the group and maturation of offspring is clearly supported by this.”

While non-reproductive sex may have a positive effect of reinforcing pair bonds in some instances, this broad statement is pretty speculative. It could also be argued that male promiscuity could equally undermine these bonds. I would reiterate the earlier comment that referring to design in this context misunderstands biology and Darwinism. There need not be a useful purpose behind non-reproductive sex for it to exist.

Like all animals, humans have an evolutionary imperative to reproduce. A strong sex drive ensures that humans will engage in acts of reproduction, especially in times of scarcity. There needn’t be a conscious awareness of whether or not this act will result in successful reproduction to be done. And, as long as there is an evolutionary advantage to the successful outcome, there needn’t be an evolutionary advantage to the converse outcome.

In an analogous manner, we have a very strong evolutionary drive to eat, to ensure fat reserves to get us through times of scarcity. In an age of constant abundance, these evolutionarily deep-seated pleasure triggers still drive us to eat — even though doing so is not a survival advantage, and is even detrimental.

Agreed. Here’s a religious dissent:

I have a different notion of why homosexuality may be wrong. While it does relate to the purpose of the male and female body, it is not the physical act of putting things in the “wrong hole,” per se — not directly. 

Men and women are fundamentally and essentially different and complementary in nature. It is obvious that this is true physically, as much as many today like to pretend otherwise. It is also true mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I believe.

Marriage is the process by which two people join together to become something greater. CS Lewis says marriage is meant to “bring you out of yourself.” Sex is not merely procreative but also serves to establish and reinforce a spiritual bond that is part of the foundation for marriage, which is meant to spiritually develop the person more fully throughout the rest of life. Sex outside of marriage is sex that misdirects this bond; adultery breaks it. 

When two people of the same gender join together, they can achieve some of the spiritual benefits of a heterosexual relationship, but ultimately they do not share in each other’s complementary nature. Their spiritual growth is therefore inherently limited and in that way contrary to God’s design — not merely because they put a physical thing where it wasn’t supposed to go. There is something God wants men to get from women, and women to get from men. Men can’t get it from other men, women can’t get it from other women. (I don’t claim to know exactly what those things are.) How can you be brought out of yourself when you are joined with a reflection of yourself? 

Gay marriage is therefore something of a contradiction in terms; almost by definition, such a marriage cannot achieve its purpose. Moreover, gay sex is no different than any other form of fornication, except when it leads a person to desire commitment to an inferior form of relationship, and to that extent it may be considered something worse.

This is also why non-procreative sex between heterosexual couples is not immoral, since their relationship still reflects the fact that sex is meant to reinforce the complementary spiritual bonds that God intended marriage to effect.

Under this way of thinking, one can agree to — or at least not actively oppose — recognition and acceptance of same-sex marriage and relationships, since one can concede that same-sex relationships may achieve some, but not all, of God’s design. Nevertheless, one still recognizes that homosexuality cannot be considered equal to heterosexuality on a moral or spiritual level.

This isn’t as bad as it may seem for getting along with each other, because as Christians we are not supposed to set ourselves above others for our perceived moral superiority (Luke 18:9-14). Instead, we should recognize that we all have spiritual and moral shortcomings that must be addressed. Unfortunately too many Christians have forgotten this. 

I accept my reader’s different position on the question. But I don’t see why we have to say “inferior” rather than “different.” Since gay men and women are constitutively unable to have meaningful sexual and emotional relationships with the opposite sex, my reader’s argument depends, like Rod’s, on simply defining us as disordered because we are not heterosexual. But what if we represent, as natural selection might suggest, a complement to heterosexuality, a way in which human beings have sustained cultures and societies because a group of them has no obligations to rearing children? What if God’s “pied beauty” is a bit more heterogeneous than my reader’s vision?

Here’s Trueman on the question of whether gays destabilize marriage:

Another religious listener has some mixed praise:

I’m late to this, but I do want to comment briefly on your interview with Trueman. I’d thought I would just tune in just for a few minutes but was captivated and ended up listening to it all. I am a card-carrying Evangelical and am convinced that Holy Scripture and historic Christian orthodoxy do not endorse homosexual behavior and understand homosexuality as disordered. I believe — and believe strongly — that God intends all sexual expression only to occur between one man and one woman in life-long marriage.

I’m writing you not to debate this, but simply to thank you for the amazingly brilliant and respectful conversation you had with Trueman! How so very, very rare today to find two people who take two opposing stands on such a very personal and controversial topic, to listen to one another, respect one another, and disagree civilly with one another! (And even find some areas of genuine agreement!)

My experience on this particular issue of homosexuality has been that EITHER people with different views on this topic will talk civilly together, but only because one side isn’t really, truly a believer in his side’s position. OR there will be lots of anger, sarcasm, condescension and name-calling. But how very rare to find two people who STRONGLY DISAGREE, yet enter into a true dialogue together! This is just so very, very rare in American society today. Keep on, please.

On to last week’s episode with Matt Taibbi, a dissent:

I wish you would’ve challenged him way more, instead of ranting about topics you both agree on — especially because I think there’s a lot to criticize about Taibbi and his agenda-driven opinion journalism. This is what I heard:

“You’re so brave and honest.”
“YOU’RE so brave and honest!”
“Woke people hate me so much.”
“Me too!”
“Isn’t Hillary Clinton terrible?”
“Yes, Hillary Clinton IS terrible.”

Point taken. Another listener sharply dissents over our discussion of Russiagate and the Twitter Files:

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