Discover more from Christopher F. Rufo
Weekend Listen: Bishop Barron on Faith and Ideology
My conversation with America’s leading Catholic intellectual.
I recently traveled to Minnesota to visit with Bishop Robert Barron, America’s most prominent Catholic intellectual. His Word on Fire ministry has brought the Catholic perspective to new media audiences, and his interview series, Bishop Barron Presents, has featured notable guests including Robert George, Shia LaBeouf, and Ethan Hawke.
This was one of my favorite conversations during the book tour for America’s Cultural Revolution, and I encourage you to watch the video in full. The following are lightly edited highlights from our conversation.
On Gender Theory as a Neo-Gnostic Cult
Bishop Barron: Do you find some of that neo-gnostic idea, the oldest heresy in the church that keeps asserting itself century and century out, and the view that the “real me” is hidden deep in there somewhere and the body is malleable, the body can be changed according to the whims of the real inner self? And, of course, the Church recognized very early on—go back to Saint Irenaeus in the second century—that that’s repugnant to a Christian or biblical anthropology. Do you find some of that neo-gnostic in form?
Christopher Rufo: Definitely. And I think it’s most pronounced in gender theory and trans activism, which is very much predicated on the rejection of any concept of human nature. Human nature is part of what they call sexual “normativity,” which is an oppressive structure that’s created by human invention. And they believe that they can manipulate the physical and biological world to meet any ideological demand. Men can become women. Men can become pregnant. These small phrases that you might’ve heard are based on this idea of a rejection of any natural limits and using technology to transcend not just the categories of male and female, which are embedded in the human experience, but all the way down. If you look at it from a scientific perspective, if you look at it from a biblical perspective, they think that they can transcend the limitation of human nature as such. And so, it’s a movement that is, at the end of the day, an anti-human movement.
On the Inversion of Orthodox Marxism
Rufo: This is the new status quo: to use orthodox Marxist terms, we have a hyper-capitalist economic base and a very left-wing, or neo-Marxist, cultural superstructure. These are the great tectonic plates of our society and they’re in very strong opposition right now.
Barron: The weird thing is Marx thought the purpose of the superstructure was to protect the substructure. So capitalist economy would throw up around itself a protective. Now, as you’re suggesting, I think correctly, they’re at odds with each other. The superstructure is at odds with the capitalist substructure. That’s completely unstable. I just wonder what that bodes for the future because it goes against the Marxist logic.
Rufo: It goes against the orthodox Marxist logic, but, in one sense, you have a revolution on both fronts. You have a technological and economic revolution—an unprecedented increase in productivity in the economy. And then you have, actually, in some ways, a similar cultural revolution in family life, social life, conceptions of race, gender, and identity. And I think that is part of the reason why so many Americans find themselves unmoored.
On the Secularization of Leftism
Barron: The conspicuous lack of religious leadership struck me in the summer of 2020 when all the protests and riots were breaking out. Religious people were not involved in leading those movements, and the movements were, in fact, explicitly anti-religious. When people say, “Oh, this is just another expression of what Martin Luther King was saying”—no, it’s not. This is another philosophical perspective.
Rufo: Absolutely, it’s an explicitly atheist ideology from the beginning. They don’t appeal to the American Founding. They don’t appeal to any religious tradition. And I encourage people to look at the old pictures from the 1960s civil rights marches—it’s people of a variety of racial backgrounds, dressed in their Sunday best, with nice hand-painted signs. It’s optimistic, hopeful, faithful. The speeches appeal to our best instincts and our best moments as a country. They were led by Southern Baptist preachers and the African-American churches. These are respectful, middle-class people who are demanding recognition of their individual dignity.
Compare this to the images of the crowds in 2020. It’s people who, very frankly, are deranged, unwell, nihilistic. If you look at the slogans on the walls, it’s a very different tenor and vocabulary. It’s people who are masked and looking for destruction. If you look at the mugshots in Portland, Oregon, for example, it’s people who have nothing of the quality, even visually, as those civil rights marches of the past. Beneath the veneer of “civil rights,” it was an atheistic, nihilistic, neo-Marxist ideology that sought to level all the structures of society.
Christopher F. Rufo is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.