Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt is an editor and author who focuses on a wide range of issues concerning politics, Christianity, the family, and female roles in Western society. She was interviewed because of her theories concerning the relation between religion and family experience and the state of Christianity in the West.

Growing Up Years

Mary Eberstadt:

Sure. Thanks, Doug. I grew up in a series of small towns and hamlets scattered across upstate New York. I think there were 12 of them. My stepfather was a manual laborer, so he would move for work. And along the way, I attended, I think, five different public schools. This area of the country, rural Central New York, is wild and forbidding and austere. And it’s funny about one sense of place because although I’ve lived in Washington DC for 30 years, I always think of myself as a girl from upstate New York. This part of the world is also a working-class, rural. It was the kind of place wherein my high school, more boys went into the military than went to college. So there is a deep patriotism and love of country, quite apart from politics that was stamped on me from an early age and upstate New York had a lot to do with that.

Has your worldview changed?

Mary Eberstadt:

The love of country is unchanged. When I think of worldview, I think of it in somewhat political terms and in the sense that my worldview is wedded to conservatism. I think there has been some change, say between the Reagan years and now. The biggest change is that during the Cold War, those of us who called ourselves conservatives could easily believe that the solution to the world’s problems was more freedom. More freedom would fix everything. And when you’re talking about an evil communist empire, that’s a pretty good recipe. But for what the United States is facing today, internally, I have more problems with that message because more freedom isn’t going to solve the deep cultural problems that have been compounding for decades now in this country, to the extent that anything has changed, it’s that.

Doug Monroe:

You know, that’s really, I’ve never heard that distinction said the way you just said it where when you’re in the Cold War, and you’re dealing with communism, and we thought of it as totalitarianism, freedom seemed to be the magic answer, but you remove that. And then, all of a sudden, it’s not the magic answer anymore.

Career & Motherhood

Mary Eberstadt:

Those were the most important 15 years of my life. We have a family of four children and I was able to take 15 years off. I remember literally the first day I realized how important it was to disengage from the outside world was when I had our first infant. And I literally took my watch off. Remember the days when we wore watches because I had been keeping it on in order to observe a deadline. And I realized it was fruitless because you can’t take care of a baby and observe deadlines. At least I couldn’t. I’m sure there are superwomen who can, and that was the beginning of spending time on playgrounds and elsewhere, wherever little kids go and then big kids and teenagers go. And so, although I’m not in the advice business at all, when young women ask, “How does one have a career and have a family?” I always say, “It’s entirely possible, but for some of us doing it simultaneously is a recipe for unhappiness.” So if you can do one thing and then the other, that’s a pretty good recipe for life, I think.

Millennials and Gen Z: You’ve Been Robbed

Mary Eberstadt:

So it’s very easy and it’s common for people say of the Baby Boom generation to make fun of the Millennials, right? We have all of these derogatory terms like snowflake that get hurled at the Millennials and the Zoomers. And I think that’s a big mistake. First of all, because there’s a lack of empathy behind it, but also because the Millennials and the Zoomers have distinct problems that their parents did not. And in the speech that you mentioned, the theme of that speech was you’ve been robbed because I do think young people have been robbed, not intentionally, but they’ve been deprived of things that their parents could take for granted. So for example, robust family life is one of those things. Families have been shrinking. Families have been imploding. There’s been a lot of family breakup during the decades, since the Sexual Revolution.

And so that’s one pretty big thing that’s missing in a lot of young lives. It’s not the only thing. Young people because of ideological indoctrination in the universities are being taught that their country is a terrible place. That America is a failed experiment, that it can’t be distinguished from the worst parts of its history. So they’ve been robbed of something very ordinary there too, which is the ability to feel proud of where you come from. And of course, because of the same kind of indoctrination, they’ve also been robbed of the classics, the great books. It is no longer to recur for them to be taught these things. All of these are treasures to be passed down through generations and the generations before the Millennials and the Zoomers have largely failed at that transmission. That’s what I meant in saying that they’ve been robbed.

Are the younger generations responding to your work?

Mary Eberstadt:

Well, that’s an interesting question. I have only begun to enter the modern world in the sense of having a website of my own, but the wonderful young man who runs it tells me that my work is read among people in my age group, tail end of the baby boom, and people in their late twenties and early thirties. Those are the two demographics most interested in what’s on offer. And that suggests to me that people in that younger demographic are responding, that there is a sense that something is wrong. Something generational has gone wrong.

And in a lot of my work, what I’m trying to do is teach them that the names they’ve come up with for what ails them are the wrong names. In other words, what’s a problem for younger people in America is not heteronormativity. It’s not the gender binary. It’s not the patriarchy. It’s not structural racism. To say that it is not to say that racism doesn’t exist. It does. And if you’re a Christian, it’s a sin. And so there, we have it, but structural racism, heteronormativity, all of that, all of those abstractions that they’re taught in college do not get to the root of what is ailing young America. What’s ailing young America is a people deficit and a failure of transmission of culture.

Your book “Left to Right”? What moves people like you that way?

Mary Eberstadt:

So at one point, I pulled together a book of 12 different voices on the right. Excuse me. 12 different conservatives talking about how they had moved from left to right. And the common denominator was academia. The common denominator was that they had gone to elite schools and been radicalized in reverse. In other words, reacting to the extreme left-wing environment on campus, they found themselves moving more this way. Another common denominator was just life itself. The experience of say getting married, having a family, which tends to teach people that there are certain things about human nature that are entrenched. Not everyone draws that conclusion, but many people are forced to a more sort of pragmatic, conservative understanding of the world by that kind of life experience as well. So those are two factors that seem to come up most often.

Who has personally influenced your life? Norman Kretzmann

Mary Eberstadt:

Certainly a professor I had at Cornell University. His name was Norman Kretzmann and he was one of the world’s great medieval scholars. He taught Medieval philosophy and he was a mentor who was very important for a number of reasons. One, because he believed in me where philosophy was not something I had known anything about. So he encouraged me like any good mentor, but also he was wrestling with things himself. He was a medieval scholar from a long line of Lutheran ministers and he thought he was agnostic even though he taught all of this stuff about Thomas Aquinas, et cetera.

Most of his best friends were Catholic medievalists, people in religious orders. And I was fascinated that someone could be agnostic because at Cornell University at that time, and probably now, even more so there was very little religious observance by anyone. And the understanding that this whole God business was behind us was common. And yet here was this towering intellectual figure, one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, who couldn’t make up his own mind about it. And that somehow planted a seed because if someone of his stature was still thinking about something that everyone else thought was off the table, what did that tell us?

Other figures in your life? Heavy-Weight Champ & Grandfather, Steve Hamas

Mary Eberstadt:

The novelist Evelyn Walker comes to mind. That seems like a random answer, but there are so many writers, Doug. I really would have trouble narrowing it down, but I did want to tell you a story about someone who influenced me that I have not shared elsewhere.

Doug Monroe:

Okay.

Mary Eberstadt:

And that was my late grandfather. His name was Steve Hamas, H-A-M-A-S, spelled like the terrorist group, unfortunately. He was a world-class boxer. He was a heavyweight champion. He defeated several people who held the title, including Max Schmeling and Max Baer, and Tommy Loughran, if you’re a boxing fan you’ll know those names. So he’s a piece of American history, but it wasn’t the boxing that left the impression so much as… Again, he was a man who was inspiring to everyone who knew him. We’d say he was cool. Young people followed him everywhere. And he was a devout Catholic. And he went to mass most days. And this juxtaposition of this man who was a celebrity and a world-class athlete and a leader, having the humility to be found in church all the time, which wasn’t something he was public about, made a very deep impression. And I’m sharing that with you because I think very few people know of that connection. Michael Novak did know of that connection. He knew about my grandfather. And once, when Michael introduced me in public, he said that I wrote the way my grandfather boxed, and it was the compliment of my life.

Doug Monroe:

Wow. I mean, that’s really amazing. Holy Toledo. And that’s when boxing was a very serious endeavor. It was serious boxing.

Mary Eberstadt:

Michael knew about that by the way-

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Mary Eberstadt:

… because we figured it out. And our families, whenever they came over to the United States, came

from the same corner of Northeastern Slovakia.

Doug Monroe:

Wow.

Mary Eberstadt:

So Michael was fascinated by these connections of the dots.

Personal mentors? Gertrude Mimmelfarb, Irving Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick

Mary Eberstadt:

Of course, I would love to say a few words about all of them out of gratitude. One of the blessings of my life has been a series of wonderful mentors. So Gertrude Himmelfarb, for example, was Irving Kristol’s wife, made a point of inviting Irving’s interns over to their home regularly. We were regularly invited to parties where there were important people. And we were just lowly interns at a little magazine. And that kind of graciousness impressed itself on all of us because here was this world-class intellectual Gertrude Himmelfarb, hob-nobbing with the interns at the Public Interest magazine. So she was a wonderful model. Her marriage to Irving was a wonderful model. Irving Kristol was the greatest mentor of my life. He taught me anything I’ve managed to learn about writing, editing, handling oneself rhetorically. And he not only taught me, his magazine, the Public Interest was like a little university for generations of people like me. Irving and Bea were both incredibly generous with their time and their thoughts.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was another one. Irving Kristol sent me to her. She was our ambassador at the United Nations and she was needing ghost-writing help. She didn’t need help writing. It’s just that the demands on her time were such that, a little bit of writing behind the scenes was useful. And so I worked for her for six months. Again, a world-class figure and a very maternal person. She told me more than once that as a mother of three sons, she had always wanted a daughter and she cast me in that role. She gave me tickets to concerts. She asked me what I was working on apart from work. We stayed in touch. She was there when Nick and I were married. Again, one couldn’t ask for a more fantastic mentor than Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Michael Novak was yet another. Michael encouraged my writing, including when I was a young mother and I had stopped writing.

Friendship with Michael Novak

Mary Eberstadt:

Michael Novak, I could speak for hours about. He was so important to encouraging my work, to being that friend and that mentor.

I’ll give you one example when I did something pretty unusual in these quarters, which was to write a novel that was addressed against the new atheism, Michael’s idea was to orchestrate an event around it. He read it, we had an event, one of our children is an actress, and she read from the book, and it was so gala. And Michael said, “This should be a play.” And I thought it was just his usual offbeat suggestion. Years later, it actually happened. It was turned into a stage play by a noted playwright, Jeffrey Fiske, and it played at Catholic University for a couple of weeks. This was all magic, and the magic came from Michael. There was just something magical about him, which is why I wrote not one, but I think several eulogies for him.

Working as Speechwriter for Secretary of State George Schultz  

Mary Eberstadt:

I worked as a speechwriter for Secretary of State Schultz for two years and did not have much personal contact with him, because speechwriters tend not to. There are layers of bureaucracy in between. But I can report that he was universally admired. I often think, when we read the news today, and it seems as if everyone’s at each other’s throats politically, he may have been the last great figure that way, who had the admiration of the Foreign Service Officers in the building, the political appointees in the building, and people on both sides of the aisle in Congress. So he was an estimable man with natural gravitas.

Doug Monroe:

I agree. There are very few people since then, where both parties may agree or disagree, but say, “This is a heavyweight.”

About the Catholic Information Center

Mary Eberstadt:

The Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington DC is a very special place. It is an intellectual oasis in a political city, and it features books, lectures by all kinds of notable people, et cetera, but it’s also a spiritual safe place. It’s the closest tabernacle to the White House, and Mass is said there daily. It was presided over for years by the man whose title I bear so proudly, Father Arne Panula. For 10 years, he ran the Catholic Information Center and built it into an intellectual powerhouse.

Among other things, it is one of many institutional experiments in getting an end run around the universities. What I mean is that there are programs, including an intellectual program called the Leonine Forum, which brings together young professionals to read great books and to have great discussions with excellent leaders, thought leaders, we would call them.

It is a place that does what we started talking about in the beginning. It’s a place that is remedial for the Millennials and Gen Xers, who did not get these kinds of riches from the university and from elite schools. So we’re trying to do something about giving it back to them.

Catholic Cultural Engagement; The Faith and Reason Institute

Doug Monroe:

Well, it really seems to be one of the points of light, and I get their social media. But that’s true of the whole Catholic Church. As I said, when you got your award at… In the Q and A, I said, “Where would we be without the Catholic Church?” We might not have Western civ. You all are intellectually engaging at a serious level what needs to be discussed, and I don’t see that force really anywhere else in the same way.

Mary Eberstadt:

There is a really vibrant counterculture that is Catholic, and I’m proud to be part of it. The Faith & Reason Institute is another such institution. It’s president is Dr. Robert Royal, who is a renowned Dante scholar and a renowned scholar in other areas as well, who puts out a daily column, written by different people, called theCatholicthing.org.

You can see that there are these supple attempts, in different dimensions, to keep putting the word out and to counteract the culture. And I do think the Catholic organizations I’m familiar with have been most proactive about this. So I agree with you, Doug.

Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

Mary Eberstadt:

The argument of Primal Screams goes back to something else we were talking about at the beginning. The Sexual Revolution has created a people deficit. People today have fewer people to call their own. This is for reasons of all kinds of social trends we’re familiar with, smaller families, fatherlessness, divorce, abortion, et cetera. Each one of these things that I’ve just described neutrally is an act of subtraction. It takes people out of the lives of other people.

Primal Screams tries to answer the question of why are we beset with identity politics by pointing to this answer, which is a new answer. My answer is we are awash in identity politics because people no longer know who they are, because their family situations are so fragile. And the result is a great movement into the public square, where we see this frantic desire to attach to political collectives of one kind or another, based on gender, based on politics, based on ethnicity.

What I’m trying to point out is that this is new. This way of doing politics is new. It springs from the Sexual Revolution, which divided and scattered humanity on a scale that has never been seen in human history. None of that is overstatement. It’s just that there is a desire not to see it, not to finger that as the cause of what is ailing us or one cause of what is ailing us.

But I think the book provides ample evidence that this is true, that people are confused about who they are. They can no longer point to their families in many cases for solid identification. They can no longer point to a religious identification because of secularization. They’re cast adrift, trying to answer a universal question that every person in every generation asks, which is, “Who am I?” And that’s why I think it’s critical to have empathy for people who are struggling with this, including people who think that the enemy is Christianity or big bad conservatism or white men, or those kind of whipping boys. We need to have empathy for them because there’s a lot of genuine, deep confusion out there of an order that never existed before.

What is the “Great Scattering”?

Mary Eberstadt:

“The Great Scattering” just refers to all those acts of disruption that I just identified, things that have disrupted the human kinship chain. Again, since the Sexual Revolution, there was a technological shock called the birth control pill, and it ended up rewriting human history.

I argue in Primal Screams that we can see this in our politics now, in the divisive collectivized politics, based on emotion with very little reason attached to it. But we can also see the effect in lots of other dimensions. Again, people have fewer kin, they have fewer robust, extended families.

You ask about who did this? Who created this problem? Humanity created this problem. It’s not as if we can point to one or two people. The Sexual Revolution has had its apologists, to be sure, its people who said, “Everything’s going to be great after this,” people like Margaret Sanger and Kinzie and plenty of others. But what it hasn’t really had is a close, critical look, until now. I think that is overdue, because we are living with a lot of deleterious consequences from the way in which we have disrupted the human chain.

Primal Scream’s Prophecy: Summer of 2020; Needed: Metaphysical Certainty

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s rare to feel vindicated as a writer, but I have to admit watching 2020 unfold and all of this irrationality in the streets, crime in the streets, screaming in the streets, across the United States, this unprecedented outpouring that started with something legitimate, outrage over police brutality, quickly morphed into something else, night after night of political theatrics in the public square. And what we mainly saw there was rage. And it’s a rage that I think I understand, having written Primal Screams, because it’s exactly what I was trying to describe. It’s this incoherent rage by people who know they’ve been deprived of something, but can’t figure out what the name for that something is. I think the name for that something is they’ve been deprived of lots of people who love them and have their backs.

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. To that question, that long question, which it was more of an anecdote about me being at Chapel Hill about three weeks ago, where in the course of the same day I had one professor, who’s a lovely lady – she’s a historian of Christianity actually, and she’s one of the best professors at it – but I said, “well, are you a Christian?” I think she might be, but she wouldn’t admit it. She said, “I admire those who have metaphysical certainty.” I said, “Oh, that’s nice.” And we talked on.

But then the same day, the head of a very successful Christian study center, that’s mushrooming said that his kids, his college kids – they’re not kids they’re adults, all right. They’re 18 to 22 years old – are dying for metaphysical certainty. They have none, and it’s become dysfunctional. He had no knowledge that I had gotten that comment. So I guess it’s more than just a family relation. It’s also what… Do you have any comment on that?

Mary Eberstadt:

I think three things look to be closely tied together. One is the decline of patriotism. One is the decline of religion. And one is the decline of the family. Three things that I think are joined at the root, because it seems that if we reduce filial piety in one realm, say the family, we seem to be reducing it in others too, which suggests that filial piety may be like a muscle, something that has to be exercised in order to be strong. But it’s striking to see these things decline in tandem.

Universities vs. The Family

Mary Eberstadt:

Yeah. That universities, especially humanities faculties, are brainwashing kids is beyond doubt. There is arguably a dynamic here, where the kids are extra susceptible to the brainwashing because there’s no pushback by the family, because the family, in many cases, has lost the gravitational pull that it used to have. 

What would it mean: Roe v Wade overturned? Mercy

Mary Eberstadt:

So far in our thinking about the Sexual Revolution, there has been no rollback. That’s why abortion is so important, because if Roe vs Wade ends up going out the window, and we have a more restrictive approach to abortion on demand, it will be the first time there has been meaningful rollback of the Sexual Revolution. And it also opens the door to re-thinking other aspects of it. I think that’s terribly important. I’ve thought all my life that abortion is very important as a moral issue. I’ve written about it. But it’s also, just to take it out of the realm of philosophy and theology, it’s a question of mercy. If the analysis of Primal Screams is correct, and what ails people most these days is loneliness and atomization, how could abortion possibly be helping that situation? 

What policy changes could help the family?

Mary Eberstadt:

So, you asked what kind of policy prescriptions might help. The first thing I would do is enforce the laws against obscenity. We have such laws, we just don’t enforce them. We assume that the internet is this all-powerful thing and that people should be able to get anything they want on it, at any time.

Pornography is one of the biggest problems in America. It is destroying young men. It is rendering them incapable of romance and marriage. And that is a big problem. We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. I once went to a conference for a weekend, where there was nonstop testimony by therapists and others who treat this problem. It was harrowing. It’s something that we should do something about.

If we are thinking about what would help the family in America, that’s one thing. It’s not the only thing. I am not one of those who carries water for the nation of Hungary, in particular. However, I note that they are experimenting with family-friendly policies. For example, a mother of four or more is no longer subject to income tax, period. They have also attempted to tie student loans to family formation, in other words, to get preferential rates for people who marry. These are experiments worth watching and worth trying, it seems to me, once the results are in. They also in Hungary learned something unexpected, which is that the abortion rate went down when they started experimenting with these incentives for family formation. Again, these are experiments worth trying.

Feminism: Women and Children as Natural Enemies

Mary Eberstadt:

About feminism. I think feminism went astray when they made women and children natural enemies. That was a conscious ideological decision. And I think it’s wrong. But it also means that the various waves of feminism don’t interest me that much because I think they are all going in the wrong direction.

Now feminism and the entry of women into the workplace has raised very important questions obviously. For a while, women were told that the most important thing to do was to have a career. There was emphasis on the material as opposed to the immaterial.

To the extent that that balance gets more righted, I think that would be a great thing. But again, a feminism that embraces abortion is on the wrong track. A feminism that wants men to better men is a feminism that is a positive kind of feminism. And Erika Bachiochi, as you know, has done a good job of bringing out that history. Yeah.

Contemporary Feminism & Gender Ideology? Women as Failed Men

Mary Eberstadt:

This is another consequence of contemporary feminism. In the perfect phrase of Ashley McGuire, “It makes women into failed men.” In other words, if they can’t do everything men can do, they are somehow failed men.

We are seeing this in the headlines every day about women’s sports. This is something that I feel strongly about. I’ll tell you something else not known in the wider world, but one of our children was a very seriously athlete in volleyball and went to the Junior Olympics as a female athlete.

And had her team try to integrate a male on to that team, let alone the questions of whether that is just or unjust to the female athlete, simply from the point of view of safety, the parents would not have stood for it.

So I empathize a lot with what parents are going through when we have daughters who are athletes who are now being treated like failed men by the integration of biological men onto their teams.

Why are we not understanding basic biology today?

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s a very deep question. And yet I think part of the answer is prosaic. The less people have experience of babies, families, birth, death and these other elemental things, the more foreign these things are to them.

So for example, we have medicalized death and I don’t say that because I want to go back to a world in which we lived until the age of 30. But many people will go through life never having attended a death bed now.

This is also consequence of the shrinking of the family. And similarly, many will go through life without having had a baby, maybe even held a baby. And so this experience which used to be so universal has become rare. It’s rare may be overstating it, it’s become something that needs explanation. Something that people used to do all the time that taught them things like how to take care of a creature smaller and weaker than you are is now something that is a conscious choice.

This again is more fall out from the sexual revolution. But I think it’s part of the confusion out there is people do not have, literally, hands on experience of some very basic things.

And this also is something that can be laid at the door of feminism for teaching women for generations now that they need to get their head start in the marketplace before they think about marriage and children. That’s exactly the opposite of what should happen given the biological realities of reproduction.

Doug’s Comments on Life and Death

Doug Monroe:

It’s true. If you think about what having children does is make you more tender in a certain way and being around death more makes you tougher in a certain way. And both are tendencies that we’re getting farther away from to our disadvantage.

This is totally an aside, but just it seems like having lost a number of friends and relatives in the last two or three years in my mid-sixties, that whole process would have been a lot more gradual where you’re losing people at younger ages, 100 years ago or prior.

And I think that that makes you feel more vulnerable, more susceptible to when you had five or 10 children and you also death occurred on a regular basis, it brought you closer to your maker in a certain way that we’re more detached from now. Especially when you pour the wealth on top of it which might be part of the issue.

“Dangerous to Believe” and the Culture Wars

Mary Eberstadt:

First of all, of course I don’t mean dangerous in the literal sense. There are Christians in this world on this very day who are being killed for the faith. The United States is not a place where that happens.

But there is no denying that it is tougher to be a believer and enjoy access to all the better places these days than it used to be. And the question is why.

One answer that I have come up with is that we have now, thanks to the Sexual Revolution, created a rival faith. A rival, secularist faith that operates to protect the revolution at all costs. And we see this because it has the equivalent of secular saints like Margaret Sanger, the equivalent of sacraments. And I’ve written about this at some length including in that book, It’s Dangerous To Believe.

So, the bottom line is we need to understand that the struggle out there is not between religion on the one side and no religion on the other. Everybody has a religion. It’s just a question of which one you pick.

And at the moment in the United States the two main rival religions are Christianity on the one hand and this secularist faith that protects the Sexual Revolution on the other. This is where the entire culture war is coming from.

Two Rivals: Christianity vs. Secularism

Mary Eberstadt:

I don’t think the idea that Christians are doing something wrong is the answer of first resort here. Which is not to say that Christians are always right. To take the example of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, some of the Catholic Church has been scoring own goals in the form of these sex scandals that we will are enduring.

So, it’s not the case that Christians are always and everywhere right, but belligerent secularism is definitely the aggressor these days. Things can be said of Christians that can’t be said of other groups, including secularists.

Christian Engagement in the Public Square: What are you afraid of?

Mary Eberstadt:

I think part of the answer is a rhetorical question, what are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? There’s a lot of free floating fear out there. Fear of being smeared on Twitter and other forms of social media. Fear that somebody is going to make fun of you. Fear of the Thanksgiving dinner table and what your uncle might say.

And my response to all of that is what are you afraid of? If you’re a Christian and you believe what Christians believe, you have no choice but to be engaged in the public square.

This doesn’t mean that you have to subject your children to anti-religious instruction in public schools or substitute secularist, religious instruction in college. But there is too much fear.

And John Paul II was very good at zeroing in on that same thing and repeating that you’re not supposed to be afraid.

Does the Catholic Information Center train people on engaging the culture?

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s not a self-conscious effort, but at the Catholic Information Center, at the Faith and Reason Institute, at other places I could name, I do think part of the responsibility of the people in charge is to provide examples of arguments. To give rhetorical ammunition to people who have no idea.

For example, we could have arguments that have nothing to do with philosophy and theology. One can argue against abortion on demand, for example, without ever invoking the Bible. And it’s good to know that we have that kind of ammunition too. And so that’s part of what we do try to provide.

Why the rise in religious “nones” in the U.S.?

Mary Eberstadt:

That trend gets turned around when the family gets turned around. And there are grounds for hope. It is remarkable how just making common sense arguments can come as a shock to people, especially young people.

And I find that in one-on-one conversations there is a lot of common ground that they don’t always know is there going into it. My sense is that they don’t feel cared for in many cases. They don’t think the Boomers or whoever the stand in authority figures may be believe them to be of consequence.

And so, part of what I try to do is establish first that I think they are of consequence. That every person is fought over and unique and that they need to see themselves that way and not see themselves is just one more replaceable part in some collective identity politics consortium. We start with that.

How should we engage the “nones” of today’s younger generations?

Mary Eberstadt:

Very much so. Because I think part of what is alienating the young is the sense that none of this matters. They don’t matter. Take climate change. Take extreme thought on climate change. There are people who have convinced themselves that they don’t want children because they think it’s bad for the planet.

I have nothing against trying to be more green in all kinds of ways, but this is an extreme example of people giving up in the prime of life on some pretty important stuff. Now do they believe this because they’re self-deluding and they really don’t want the hard work of marriage and family and they’ve convinced themselves that there’s some kind of virtue in it? Maybe.

But maybe it’s also the case that they haven’t been told that these kinds of decisions matter to other people. That they matter to their families and the future of their country.

So again, I think we try to lead with the positive which is genuinely positive which is that they have inherited a stunted, crabbed anthropology that is wrong. It’s a wrong description of human nature. And we need to start with the right one because then we’ll see that we have all kinds of common ground.

Christianity vs. Atheism: Which side has the most problematic record?

Mary Eberstadt:

You mentioned that today’s despisers of Christianity like to go back to history and find examples of religious wars. And there are plenty of them. There are plenty of examples of Christians behaving badly. But I would point out that if we’re talking about wars that the greatest carnage in human history came about thanks to regimes that had purposefully disposed of God and theism. That is Nazism and communism.

Both of which decided that they could do what they could do because they were not answerable to anyone because God is dead. So if we’re really going to have to wrestle in the mud about body counts, the Christians are going to come out on the winning side of this.

Doug Monroe:

It’s not even close.

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s not even close.

Doug Monroe:

I mean it’s just-

Mary Eberstadt:

And it is something that I do say to young people who ask, who come from no religious background at all, how could anybody believe this kind of stuff? Sometimes I lead with do you know what happens when they don’t?

Where is the Catholic Church headed?

Mary Eberstadt:

I think there’s a great danger in the Catholic Church behaving more like an NGO than the repository of truth, and some of this danger is understandable. We live in an age of social media, but social media dumbs things down, and one thing I wonder about is whether the Catholic Church should be involved in it at all. That makes the Catholic Church just one more voice on Twitter, and if you believe this stuff, you believe that there’s something much deeper going on than being one more voice on Twitter. In a speech last summer to a Catholic group, I urged Catholic writers to get off and stay off Twitter. And if that’s my advice to writers, what do you think it is to the hierarchy?

Are you more or less hopeful for America since our first interview?

Doug Monroe:

My last question is, looking back on when we did your first interview in 2013, we were coming out of the Great Recession, and do you feel more or less optimistic or pessimistic now versus then about American things that are important to you?

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s a mixed bag, I think. I’ll start with the positive. 10 years ago or so when I first started talking about the importance of the Sexual Revolution to contemporary social and political problems, this argument fell on deaf ears and also laughing voices. It was considered really beyond what respectable society would endure. This was not true in religious circles, of course, but the book Adam and Eve After the Pill, which made that case, was published by Ignatius Press, a religious publishing house, Catholic publishing house. It is not the kind of thing you could have found in mainstream media anywhere. That has changed.

Right now in Germany, there is a book about the Sexual Revolution and its problems, that is the talk of the country. The same is true, I’m told, in France, a different book. And in the United States, a Washington Post journalist has written a new book, also much discussed, about what’s going on with men and women and should we take a second look at this kind of thing? This is all very welcome. I mean, second looks at the Sexual Revolution are not things that were much discussed 10 years ago. So, that’s a great change. The Dobbs case is of a piece with this, the idea that there might be rollback of some of this. That’s all to the good. What is not to the good is wondering how far the infiltration of woke has gone to erode American institutions that are fundamental. I’m talking about the military, I’m talking obviously about the schools.

To get back to the positive, and in the specific case of what’s happened in Virginia, it seems that the slumbering giant known as American parents has awakened and decided that they never meant to cede control of their childrens’ worldviews to a public school system that is infected with lies. And it’s not only a public school system. We know from elite education that the same is true there.

That might end up being the most consequential development of the last decade, and that might even be including President Trump and everything he did, President Biden and everything he does. If the parents of America with children in the school system can be that united about wanting a better set of substance in that system, that’s very encouraging. And that might even have a trickle-up effect to the universities, because if the parents of America have awakened to what their kids are being taught in third grade, they might start taking a closer look at what they’re being taught for $60,000 a year in elite universities. And all of this could have the effect of adding up to a reform movement of historical dimensions, so that is very encouraging.

Overview

Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt is an editor and author who focuses on a wide range of issues concerning politics, Christianity, the family, and female roles in Western society. She was interviewed because of her theories concerning the relation between religion and family experience and the state of Christianity in the West.
Transcript

Growing Up Years

Mary Eberstadt:

Sure. Thanks, Doug. I grew up in a series of small towns and hamlets scattered across upstate New York. I think there were 12 of them. My stepfather was a manual laborer, so he would move for work. And along the way, I attended, I think, five different public schools. This area of the country, rural Central New York, is wild and forbidding and austere. And it’s funny about one sense of place because although I’ve lived in Washington DC for 30 years, I always think of myself as a girl from upstate New York. This part of the world is also a working-class, rural. It was the kind of place wherein my high school, more boys went into the military than went to college. So there is a deep patriotism and love of country, quite apart from politics that was stamped on me from an early age and upstate New York had a lot to do with that.

Has your worldview changed?

Mary Eberstadt:

The love of country is unchanged. When I think of worldview, I think of it in somewhat political terms and in the sense that my worldview is wedded to conservatism. I think there has been some change, say between the Reagan years and now. The biggest change is that during the Cold War, those of us who called ourselves conservatives could easily believe that the solution to the world’s problems was more freedom. More freedom would fix everything. And when you’re talking about an evil communist empire, that’s a pretty good recipe. But for what the United States is facing today, internally, I have more problems with that message because more freedom isn’t going to solve the deep cultural problems that have been compounding for decades now in this country, to the extent that anything has changed, it’s that.

Doug Monroe:

You know, that’s really, I’ve never heard that distinction said the way you just said it where when you’re in the Cold War, and you’re dealing with communism, and we thought of it as totalitarianism, freedom seemed to be the magic answer, but you remove that. And then, all of a sudden, it’s not the magic answer anymore.

Career & Motherhood

Mary Eberstadt:

Those were the most important 15 years of my life. We have a family of four children and I was able to take 15 years off. I remember literally the first day I realized how important it was to disengage from the outside world was when I had our first infant. And I literally took my watch off. Remember the days when we wore watches because I had been keeping it on in order to observe a deadline. And I realized it was fruitless because you can’t take care of a baby and observe deadlines. At least I couldn’t. I’m sure there are superwomen who can, and that was the beginning of spending time on playgrounds and elsewhere, wherever little kids go and then big kids and teenagers go. And so, although I’m not in the advice business at all, when young women ask, “How does one have a career and have a family?” I always say, “It’s entirely possible, but for some of us doing it simultaneously is a recipe for unhappiness.” So if you can do one thing and then the other, that’s a pretty good recipe for life, I think.

Millennials and Gen Z: You’ve Been Robbed

Mary Eberstadt:

So it’s very easy and it’s common for people say of the Baby Boom generation to make fun of the Millennials, right? We have all of these derogatory terms like snowflake that get hurled at the Millennials and the Zoomers. And I think that’s a big mistake. First of all, because there’s a lack of empathy behind it, but also because the Millennials and the Zoomers have distinct problems that their parents did not. And in the speech that you mentioned, the theme of that speech was you’ve been robbed because I do think young people have been robbed, not intentionally, but they’ve been deprived of things that their parents could take for granted. So for example, robust family life is one of those things. Families have been shrinking. Families have been imploding. There’s been a lot of family breakup during the decades, since the Sexual Revolution.

And so that’s one pretty big thing that’s missing in a lot of young lives. It’s not the only thing. Young people because of ideological indoctrination in the universities are being taught that their country is a terrible place. That America is a failed experiment, that it can’t be distinguished from the worst parts of its history. So they’ve been robbed of something very ordinary there too, which is the ability to feel proud of where you come from. And of course, because of the same kind of indoctrination, they’ve also been robbed of the classics, the great books. It is no longer to recur for them to be taught these things. All of these are treasures to be passed down through generations and the generations before the Millennials and the Zoomers have largely failed at that transmission. That’s what I meant in saying that they’ve been robbed.

Are the younger generations responding to your work?

Mary Eberstadt:

Well, that’s an interesting question. I have only begun to enter the modern world in the sense of having a website of my own, but the wonderful young man who runs it tells me that my work is read among people in my age group, tail end of the baby boom, and people in their late twenties and early thirties. Those are the two demographics most interested in what’s on offer. And that suggests to me that people in that younger demographic are responding, that there is a sense that something is wrong. Something generational has gone wrong.

And in a lot of my work, what I’m trying to do is teach them that the names they’ve come up with for what ails them are the wrong names. In other words, what’s a problem for younger people in America is not heteronormativity. It’s not the gender binary. It’s not the patriarchy. It’s not structural racism. To say that it is not to say that racism doesn’t exist. It does. And if you’re a Christian, it’s a sin. And so there, we have it, but structural racism, heteronormativity, all of that, all of those abstractions that they’re taught in college do not get to the root of what is ailing young America. What’s ailing young America is a people deficit and a failure of transmission of culture.

Your book “Left to Right”? What moves people like you that way?

Mary Eberstadt:

So at one point, I pulled together a book of 12 different voices on the right. Excuse me. 12 different conservatives talking about how they had moved from left to right. And the common denominator was academia. The common denominator was that they had gone to elite schools and been radicalized in reverse. In other words, reacting to the extreme left-wing environment on campus, they found themselves moving more this way. Another common denominator was just life itself. The experience of say getting married, having a family, which tends to teach people that there are certain things about human nature that are entrenched. Not everyone draws that conclusion, but many people are forced to a more sort of pragmatic, conservative understanding of the world by that kind of life experience as well. So those are two factors that seem to come up most often.

Who has personally influenced your life? Norman Kretzmann

Mary Eberstadt:

Certainly a professor I had at Cornell University. His name was Norman Kretzmann and he was one of the world’s great medieval scholars. He taught Medieval philosophy and he was a mentor who was very important for a number of reasons. One, because he believed in me where philosophy was not something I had known anything about. So he encouraged me like any good mentor, but also he was wrestling with things himself. He was a medieval scholar from a long line of Lutheran ministers and he thought he was agnostic even though he taught all of this stuff about Thomas Aquinas, et cetera.

Most of his best friends were Catholic medievalists, people in religious orders. And I was fascinated that someone could be agnostic because at Cornell University at that time, and probably now, even more so there was very little religious observance by anyone. And the understanding that this whole God business was behind us was common. And yet here was this towering intellectual figure, one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, who couldn’t make up his own mind about it. And that somehow planted a seed because if someone of his stature was still thinking about something that everyone else thought was off the table, what did that tell us?

Other figures in your life? Heavy-Weight Champ & Grandfather, Steve Hamas

Mary Eberstadt:

The novelist Evelyn Walker comes to mind. That seems like a random answer, but there are so many writers, Doug. I really would have trouble narrowing it down, but I did want to tell you a story about someone who influenced me that I have not shared elsewhere.

Doug Monroe:

Okay.

Mary Eberstadt:

And that was my late grandfather. His name was Steve Hamas, H-A-M-A-S, spelled like the terrorist group, unfortunately. He was a world-class boxer. He was a heavyweight champion. He defeated several people who held the title, including Max Schmeling and Max Baer, and Tommy Loughran, if you’re a boxing fan you’ll know those names. So he’s a piece of American history, but it wasn’t the boxing that left the impression so much as… Again, he was a man who was inspiring to everyone who knew him. We’d say he was cool. Young people followed him everywhere. And he was a devout Catholic. And he went to mass most days. And this juxtaposition of this man who was a celebrity and a world-class athlete and a leader, having the humility to be found in church all the time, which wasn’t something he was public about, made a very deep impression. And I’m sharing that with you because I think very few people know of that connection. Michael Novak did know of that connection. He knew about my grandfather. And once, when Michael introduced me in public, he said that I wrote the way my grandfather boxed, and it was the compliment of my life.

Doug Monroe:

Wow. I mean, that’s really amazing. Holy Toledo. And that’s when boxing was a very serious endeavor. It was serious boxing.

Mary Eberstadt:

Michael knew about that by the way-

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Mary Eberstadt:

… because we figured it out. And our families, whenever they came over to the United States, came

from the same corner of Northeastern Slovakia.

Doug Monroe:

Wow.

Mary Eberstadt:

So Michael was fascinated by these connections of the dots.

Personal mentors? Gertrude Mimmelfarb, Irving Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick

Mary Eberstadt:

Of course, I would love to say a few words about all of them out of gratitude. One of the blessings of my life has been a series of wonderful mentors. So Gertrude Himmelfarb, for example, was Irving Kristol’s wife, made a point of inviting Irving’s interns over to their home regularly. We were regularly invited to parties where there were important people. And we were just lowly interns at a little magazine. And that kind of graciousness impressed itself on all of us because here was this world-class intellectual Gertrude Himmelfarb, hob-nobbing with the interns at the Public Interest magazine. So she was a wonderful model. Her marriage to Irving was a wonderful model. Irving Kristol was the greatest mentor of my life. He taught me anything I’ve managed to learn about writing, editing, handling oneself rhetorically. And he not only taught me, his magazine, the Public Interest was like a little university for generations of people like me. Irving and Bea were both incredibly generous with their time and their thoughts.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was another one. Irving Kristol sent me to her. She was our ambassador at the United Nations and she was needing ghost-writing help. She didn’t need help writing. It’s just that the demands on her time were such that, a little bit of writing behind the scenes was useful. And so I worked for her for six months. Again, a world-class figure and a very maternal person. She told me more than once that as a mother of three sons, she had always wanted a daughter and she cast me in that role. She gave me tickets to concerts. She asked me what I was working on apart from work. We stayed in touch. She was there when Nick and I were married. Again, one couldn’t ask for a more fantastic mentor than Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Michael Novak was yet another. Michael encouraged my writing, including when I was a young mother and I had stopped writing.

Friendship with Michael Novak

Mary Eberstadt:

Michael Novak, I could speak for hours about. He was so important to encouraging my work, to being that friend and that mentor.

I’ll give you one example when I did something pretty unusual in these quarters, which was to write a novel that was addressed against the new atheism, Michael’s idea was to orchestrate an event around it. He read it, we had an event, one of our children is an actress, and she read from the book, and it was so gala. And Michael said, “This should be a play.” And I thought it was just his usual offbeat suggestion. Years later, it actually happened. It was turned into a stage play by a noted playwright, Jeffrey Fiske, and it played at Catholic University for a couple of weeks. This was all magic, and the magic came from Michael. There was just something magical about him, which is why I wrote not one, but I think several eulogies for him.

Working as Speechwriter for Secretary of State George Schultz  

Mary Eberstadt:

I worked as a speechwriter for Secretary of State Schultz for two years and did not have much personal contact with him, because speechwriters tend not to. There are layers of bureaucracy in between. But I can report that he was universally admired. I often think, when we read the news today, and it seems as if everyone’s at each other’s throats politically, he may have been the last great figure that way, who had the admiration of the Foreign Service Officers in the building, the political appointees in the building, and people on both sides of the aisle in Congress. So he was an estimable man with natural gravitas.

Doug Monroe:

I agree. There are very few people since then, where both parties may agree or disagree, but say, “This is a heavyweight.”

About the Catholic Information Center

Mary Eberstadt:

The Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington DC is a very special place. It is an intellectual oasis in a political city, and it features books, lectures by all kinds of notable people, et cetera, but it’s also a spiritual safe place. It’s the closest tabernacle to the White House, and Mass is said there daily. It was presided over for years by the man whose title I bear so proudly, Father Arne Panula. For 10 years, he ran the Catholic Information Center and built it into an intellectual powerhouse.

Among other things, it is one of many institutional experiments in getting an end run around the universities. What I mean is that there are programs, including an intellectual program called the Leonine Forum, which brings together young professionals to read great books and to have great discussions with excellent leaders, thought leaders, we would call them.

It is a place that does what we started talking about in the beginning. It’s a place that is remedial for the Millennials and Gen Xers, who did not get these kinds of riches from the university and from elite schools. So we’re trying to do something about giving it back to them.

Catholic Cultural Engagement; The Faith and Reason Institute

Doug Monroe:

Well, it really seems to be one of the points of light, and I get their social media. But that’s true of the whole Catholic Church. As I said, when you got your award at… In the Q and A, I said, “Where would we be without the Catholic Church?” We might not have Western civ. You all are intellectually engaging at a serious level what needs to be discussed, and I don’t see that force really anywhere else in the same way.

Mary Eberstadt:

There is a really vibrant counterculture that is Catholic, and I’m proud to be part of it. The Faith & Reason Institute is another such institution. It’s president is Dr. Robert Royal, who is a renowned Dante scholar and a renowned scholar in other areas as well, who puts out a daily column, written by different people, called theCatholicthing.org.

You can see that there are these supple attempts, in different dimensions, to keep putting the word out and to counteract the culture. And I do think the Catholic organizations I’m familiar with have been most proactive about this. So I agree with you, Doug.

Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

Mary Eberstadt:

The argument of Primal Screams goes back to something else we were talking about at the beginning. The Sexual Revolution has created a people deficit. People today have fewer people to call their own. This is for reasons of all kinds of social trends we’re familiar with, smaller families, fatherlessness, divorce, abortion, et cetera. Each one of these things that I’ve just described neutrally is an act of subtraction. It takes people out of the lives of other people.

Primal Screams tries to answer the question of why are we beset with identity politics by pointing to this answer, which is a new answer. My answer is we are awash in identity politics because people no longer know who they are, because their family situations are so fragile. And the result is a great movement into the public square, where we see this frantic desire to attach to political collectives of one kind or another, based on gender, based on politics, based on ethnicity.

What I’m trying to point out is that this is new. This way of doing politics is new. It springs from the Sexual Revolution, which divided and scattered humanity on a scale that has never been seen in human history. None of that is overstatement. It’s just that there is a desire not to see it, not to finger that as the cause of what is ailing us or one cause of what is ailing us.

But I think the book provides ample evidence that this is true, that people are confused about who they are. They can no longer point to their families in many cases for solid identification. They can no longer point to a religious identification because of secularization. They’re cast adrift, trying to answer a universal question that every person in every generation asks, which is, “Who am I?” And that’s why I think it’s critical to have empathy for people who are struggling with this, including people who think that the enemy is Christianity or big bad conservatism or white men, or those kind of whipping boys. We need to have empathy for them because there’s a lot of genuine, deep confusion out there of an order that never existed before.

What is the “Great Scattering”?

Mary Eberstadt:

“The Great Scattering” just refers to all those acts of disruption that I just identified, things that have disrupted the human kinship chain. Again, since the Sexual Revolution, there was a technological shock called the birth control pill, and it ended up rewriting human history.

I argue in Primal Screams that we can see this in our politics now, in the divisive collectivized politics, based on emotion with very little reason attached to it. But we can also see the effect in lots of other dimensions. Again, people have fewer kin, they have fewer robust, extended families.

You ask about who did this? Who created this problem? Humanity created this problem. It’s not as if we can point to one or two people. The Sexual Revolution has had its apologists, to be sure, its people who said, “Everything’s going to be great after this,” people like Margaret Sanger and Kinzie and plenty of others. But what it hasn’t really had is a close, critical look, until now. I think that is overdue, because we are living with a lot of deleterious consequences from the way in which we have disrupted the human chain.

Primal Scream’s Prophecy: Summer of 2020; Needed: Metaphysical Certainty

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s rare to feel vindicated as a writer, but I have to admit watching 2020 unfold and all of this irrationality in the streets, crime in the streets, screaming in the streets, across the United States, this unprecedented outpouring that started with something legitimate, outrage over police brutality, quickly morphed into something else, night after night of political theatrics in the public square. And what we mainly saw there was rage. And it’s a rage that I think I understand, having written Primal Screams, because it’s exactly what I was trying to describe. It’s this incoherent rage by people who know they’ve been deprived of something, but can’t figure out what the name for that something is. I think the name for that something is they’ve been deprived of lots of people who love them and have their backs.

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. To that question, that long question, which it was more of an anecdote about me being at Chapel Hill about three weeks ago, where in the course of the same day I had one professor, who’s a lovely lady – she’s a historian of Christianity actually, and she’s one of the best professors at it – but I said, “well, are you a Christian?” I think she might be, but she wouldn’t admit it. She said, “I admire those who have metaphysical certainty.” I said, “Oh, that’s nice.” And we talked on.

But then the same day, the head of a very successful Christian study center, that’s mushrooming said that his kids, his college kids – they’re not kids they’re adults, all right. They’re 18 to 22 years old – are dying for metaphysical certainty. They have none, and it’s become dysfunctional. He had no knowledge that I had gotten that comment. So I guess it’s more than just a family relation. It’s also what… Do you have any comment on that?

Mary Eberstadt:

I think three things look to be closely tied together. One is the decline of patriotism. One is the decline of religion. And one is the decline of the family. Three things that I think are joined at the root, because it seems that if we reduce filial piety in one realm, say the family, we seem to be reducing it in others too, which suggests that filial piety may be like a muscle, something that has to be exercised in order to be strong. But it’s striking to see these things decline in tandem.

Universities vs. The Family

Mary Eberstadt:

Yeah. That universities, especially humanities faculties, are brainwashing kids is beyond doubt. There is arguably a dynamic here, where the kids are extra susceptible to the brainwashing because there’s no pushback by the family, because the family, in many cases, has lost the gravitational pull that it used to have. 

What would it mean: Roe v Wade overturned? Mercy

Mary Eberstadt:

So far in our thinking about the Sexual Revolution, there has been no rollback. That’s why abortion is so important, because if Roe vs Wade ends up going out the window, and we have a more restrictive approach to abortion on demand, it will be the first time there has been meaningful rollback of the Sexual Revolution. And it also opens the door to re-thinking other aspects of it. I think that’s terribly important. I’ve thought all my life that abortion is very important as a moral issue. I’ve written about it. But it’s also, just to take it out of the realm of philosophy and theology, it’s a question of mercy. If the analysis of Primal Screams is correct, and what ails people most these days is loneliness and atomization, how could abortion possibly be helping that situation? 

What policy changes could help the family?

Mary Eberstadt:

So, you asked what kind of policy prescriptions might help. The first thing I would do is enforce the laws against obscenity. We have such laws, we just don’t enforce them. We assume that the internet is this all-powerful thing and that people should be able to get anything they want on it, at any time.

Pornography is one of the biggest problems in America. It is destroying young men. It is rendering them incapable of romance and marriage. And that is a big problem. We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. I once went to a conference for a weekend, where there was nonstop testimony by therapists and others who treat this problem. It was harrowing. It’s something that we should do something about.

If we are thinking about what would help the family in America, that’s one thing. It’s not the only thing. I am not one of those who carries water for the nation of Hungary, in particular. However, I note that they are experimenting with family-friendly policies. For example, a mother of four or more is no longer subject to income tax, period. They have also attempted to tie student loans to family formation, in other words, to get preferential rates for people who marry. These are experiments worth watching and worth trying, it seems to me, once the results are in. They also in Hungary learned something unexpected, which is that the abortion rate went down when they started experimenting with these incentives for family formation. Again, these are experiments worth trying.

Feminism: Women and Children as Natural Enemies

Mary Eberstadt:

About feminism. I think feminism went astray when they made women and children natural enemies. That was a conscious ideological decision. And I think it’s wrong. But it also means that the various waves of feminism don’t interest me that much because I think they are all going in the wrong direction.

Now feminism and the entry of women into the workplace has raised very important questions obviously. For a while, women were told that the most important thing to do was to have a career. There was emphasis on the material as opposed to the immaterial.

To the extent that that balance gets more righted, I think that would be a great thing. But again, a feminism that embraces abortion is on the wrong track. A feminism that wants men to better men is a feminism that is a positive kind of feminism. And Erika Bachiochi, as you know, has done a good job of bringing out that history. Yeah.

Contemporary Feminism & Gender Ideology? Women as Failed Men

Mary Eberstadt:

This is another consequence of contemporary feminism. In the perfect phrase of Ashley McGuire, “It makes women into failed men.” In other words, if they can’t do everything men can do, they are somehow failed men.

We are seeing this in the headlines every day about women’s sports. This is something that I feel strongly about. I’ll tell you something else not known in the wider world, but one of our children was a very seriously athlete in volleyball and went to the Junior Olympics as a female athlete.

And had her team try to integrate a male on to that team, let alone the questions of whether that is just or unjust to the female athlete, simply from the point of view of safety, the parents would not have stood for it.

So I empathize a lot with what parents are going through when we have daughters who are athletes who are now being treated like failed men by the integration of biological men onto their teams.

Why are we not understanding basic biology today?

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s a very deep question. And yet I think part of the answer is prosaic. The less people have experience of babies, families, birth, death and these other elemental things, the more foreign these things are to them.

So for example, we have medicalized death and I don’t say that because I want to go back to a world in which we lived until the age of 30. But many people will go through life never having attended a death bed now.

This is also consequence of the shrinking of the family. And similarly, many will go through life without having had a baby, maybe even held a baby. And so this experience which used to be so universal has become rare. It’s rare may be overstating it, it’s become something that needs explanation. Something that people used to do all the time that taught them things like how to take care of a creature smaller and weaker than you are is now something that is a conscious choice.

This again is more fall out from the sexual revolution. But I think it’s part of the confusion out there is people do not have, literally, hands on experience of some very basic things.

And this also is something that can be laid at the door of feminism for teaching women for generations now that they need to get their head start in the marketplace before they think about marriage and children. That’s exactly the opposite of what should happen given the biological realities of reproduction.

Doug’s Comments on Life and Death

Doug Monroe:

It’s true. If you think about what having children does is make you more tender in a certain way and being around death more makes you tougher in a certain way. And both are tendencies that we’re getting farther away from to our disadvantage.

This is totally an aside, but just it seems like having lost a number of friends and relatives in the last two or three years in my mid-sixties, that whole process would have been a lot more gradual where you’re losing people at younger ages, 100 years ago or prior.

And I think that that makes you feel more vulnerable, more susceptible to when you had five or 10 children and you also death occurred on a regular basis, it brought you closer to your maker in a certain way that we’re more detached from now. Especially when you pour the wealth on top of it which might be part of the issue.

“Dangerous to Believe” and the Culture Wars

Mary Eberstadt:

First of all, of course I don’t mean dangerous in the literal sense. There are Christians in this world on this very day who are being killed for the faith. The United States is not a place where that happens.

But there is no denying that it is tougher to be a believer and enjoy access to all the better places these days than it used to be. And the question is why.

One answer that I have come up with is that we have now, thanks to the Sexual Revolution, created a rival faith. A rival, secularist faith that operates to protect the revolution at all costs. And we see this because it has the equivalent of secular saints like Margaret Sanger, the equivalent of sacraments. And I’ve written about this at some length including in that book, It’s Dangerous To Believe.

So, the bottom line is we need to understand that the struggle out there is not between religion on the one side and no religion on the other. Everybody has a religion. It’s just a question of which one you pick.

And at the moment in the United States the two main rival religions are Christianity on the one hand and this secularist faith that protects the Sexual Revolution on the other. This is where the entire culture war is coming from.

Two Rivals: Christianity vs. Secularism

Mary Eberstadt:

I don’t think the idea that Christians are doing something wrong is the answer of first resort here. Which is not to say that Christians are always right. To take the example of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, some of the Catholic Church has been scoring own goals in the form of these sex scandals that we will are enduring.

So, it’s not the case that Christians are always and everywhere right, but belligerent secularism is definitely the aggressor these days. Things can be said of Christians that can’t be said of other groups, including secularists.

Christian Engagement in the Public Square: What are you afraid of?

Mary Eberstadt:

I think part of the answer is a rhetorical question, what are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? There’s a lot of free floating fear out there. Fear of being smeared on Twitter and other forms of social media. Fear that somebody is going to make fun of you. Fear of the Thanksgiving dinner table and what your uncle might say.

And my response to all of that is what are you afraid of? If you’re a Christian and you believe what Christians believe, you have no choice but to be engaged in the public square.

This doesn’t mean that you have to subject your children to anti-religious instruction in public schools or substitute secularist, religious instruction in college. But there is too much fear.

And John Paul II was very good at zeroing in on that same thing and repeating that you’re not supposed to be afraid.

Does the Catholic Information Center train people on engaging the culture?

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s not a self-conscious effort, but at the Catholic Information Center, at the Faith and Reason Institute, at other places I could name, I do think part of the responsibility of the people in charge is to provide examples of arguments. To give rhetorical ammunition to people who have no idea.

For example, we could have arguments that have nothing to do with philosophy and theology. One can argue against abortion on demand, for example, without ever invoking the Bible. And it’s good to know that we have that kind of ammunition too. And so that’s part of what we do try to provide.

Why the rise in religious “nones” in the U.S.?

Mary Eberstadt:

That trend gets turned around when the family gets turned around. And there are grounds for hope. It is remarkable how just making common sense arguments can come as a shock to people, especially young people.

And I find that in one-on-one conversations there is a lot of common ground that they don’t always know is there going into it. My sense is that they don’t feel cared for in many cases. They don’t think the Boomers or whoever the stand in authority figures may be believe them to be of consequence.

And so, part of what I try to do is establish first that I think they are of consequence. That every person is fought over and unique and that they need to see themselves that way and not see themselves is just one more replaceable part in some collective identity politics consortium. We start with that.

How should we engage the “nones” of today’s younger generations?

Mary Eberstadt:

Very much so. Because I think part of what is alienating the young is the sense that none of this matters. They don’t matter. Take climate change. Take extreme thought on climate change. There are people who have convinced themselves that they don’t want children because they think it’s bad for the planet.

I have nothing against trying to be more green in all kinds of ways, but this is an extreme example of people giving up in the prime of life on some pretty important stuff. Now do they believe this because they’re self-deluding and they really don’t want the hard work of marriage and family and they’ve convinced themselves that there’s some kind of virtue in it? Maybe.

But maybe it’s also the case that they haven’t been told that these kinds of decisions matter to other people. That they matter to their families and the future of their country.

So again, I think we try to lead with the positive which is genuinely positive which is that they have inherited a stunted, crabbed anthropology that is wrong. It’s a wrong description of human nature. And we need to start with the right one because then we’ll see that we have all kinds of common ground.

Christianity vs. Atheism: Which side has the most problematic record?

Mary Eberstadt:

You mentioned that today’s despisers of Christianity like to go back to history and find examples of religious wars. And there are plenty of them. There are plenty of examples of Christians behaving badly. But I would point out that if we’re talking about wars that the greatest carnage in human history came about thanks to regimes that had purposefully disposed of God and theism. That is Nazism and communism.

Both of which decided that they could do what they could do because they were not answerable to anyone because God is dead. So if we’re really going to have to wrestle in the mud about body counts, the Christians are going to come out on the winning side of this.

Doug Monroe:

It’s not even close.

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s not even close.

Doug Monroe:

I mean it’s just-

Mary Eberstadt:

And it is something that I do say to young people who ask, who come from no religious background at all, how could anybody believe this kind of stuff? Sometimes I lead with do you know what happens when they don’t?

Where is the Catholic Church headed?

Mary Eberstadt:

I think there’s a great danger in the Catholic Church behaving more like an NGO than the repository of truth, and some of this danger is understandable. We live in an age of social media, but social media dumbs things down, and one thing I wonder about is whether the Catholic Church should be involved in it at all. That makes the Catholic Church just one more voice on Twitter, and if you believe this stuff, you believe that there’s something much deeper going on than being one more voice on Twitter. In a speech last summer to a Catholic group, I urged Catholic writers to get off and stay off Twitter. And if that’s my advice to writers, what do you think it is to the hierarchy?

Are you more or less hopeful for America since our first interview?

Doug Monroe:

My last question is, looking back on when we did your first interview in 2013, we were coming out of the Great Recession, and do you feel more or less optimistic or pessimistic now versus then about American things that are important to you?

Mary Eberstadt:

It’s a mixed bag, I think. I’ll start with the positive. 10 years ago or so when I first started talking about the importance of the Sexual Revolution to contemporary social and political problems, this argument fell on deaf ears and also laughing voices. It was considered really beyond what respectable society would endure. This was not true in religious circles, of course, but the book Adam and Eve After the Pill, which made that case, was published by Ignatius Press, a religious publishing house, Catholic publishing house. It is not the kind of thing you could have found in mainstream media anywhere. That has changed.

Right now in Germany, there is a book about the Sexual Revolution and its problems, that is the talk of the country. The same is true, I’m told, in France, a different book. And in the United States, a Washington Post journalist has written a new book, also much discussed, about what’s going on with men and women and should we take a second look at this kind of thing? This is all very welcome. I mean, second looks at the Sexual Revolution are not things that were much discussed 10 years ago. So, that’s a great change. The Dobbs case is of a piece with this, the idea that there might be rollback of some of this. That’s all to the good. What is not to the good is wondering how far the infiltration of woke has gone to erode American institutions that are fundamental. I’m talking about the military, I’m talking obviously about the schools.

To get back to the positive, and in the specific case of what’s happened in Virginia, it seems that the slumbering giant known as American parents has awakened and decided that they never meant to cede control of their childrens’ worldviews to a public school system that is infected with lies. And it’s not only a public school system. We know from elite education that the same is true there.

That might end up being the most consequential development of the last decade, and that might even be including President Trump and everything he did, President Biden and everything he does. If the parents of America with children in the school system can be that united about wanting a better set of substance in that system, that’s very encouraging. And that might even have a trickle-up effect to the universities, because if the parents of America have awakened to what their kids are being taught in third grade, they might start taking a closer look at what they’re being taught for $60,000 a year in elite universities. And all of this could have the effect of adding up to a reform movement of historical dimensions, so that is very encouraging.

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