It’s been a great book release week for Testimony. The responses to the book have been incredible. I’m going to include a few of those below. I am truly grateful that anyone would read the book.
NPR aired a segment on the book Tuesday. There are plans for a longer segment in May as well. Rolling Stone published an excerpt. Yahoo News did as well. There is one more excerpt in the works. And I have some TV appearances coming up the next few days as well. I also will be doing an Instagram Live conversation with Sara Billups at 1 pm EST today.
But first, I wanted to note something else. An old friend texted me to say he’d read the book and that he was glad to read the story of someone who “landed on their feet” after growing up in a church like I did.
That phrase stood out to me. Because it’s a great reminder of one of the reasons I wrote the book: for those who didn’t land on their feet.
Now, this is a relative term. How do we judge who has landed on their feet and who hasn’t? In some ways, it might be minimizing the negative impacts of church on me to say I landed on my feet. But I get what he’s saying.
The real question is why the same people go through similar experiences and some come out better than others. Well, I wasn’t victimized or physically abused. Some were, and the church failed them in clear ways. And many of those people are still dealing with the fallout from that.
Many others simply grew up in this world and weren’t sexually or physically abused, but have still really struggled to come to grips with their church background. Many are still trying to figure out what they believe. To some degree this is natural. An honest life is always one of growth and change and evolution. (I also recognize that there are plenty of people who are happy with the way they grew up in the church, or at least they don’t see what all the fuss is about.)
It’s hard to know why some of us struggle to “land on our feet” coming out of these religious subcultures. But some of it may have to do with the context that brought someone or their family to the church in the first place. How much generational trauma was already in place? How much resilience did the family history provide, or how much vulnerability?
I have grappled with the way church shaped me and impacted me. But I think my family background was relatively strong. Not perfect, for sure. But fairly resilient and able to absorb challenges. Two-parent household. Plenty of imperfections. But pretty solid.
Maybe, maybe others have struggled more because they were already vulnerable for some reason. Maybe not. But I do think that one of the reasons it’s important to really think hard about culture, systems, incentive structures, power arrangements, and the like is because the less intentional we are about these things, the more we create cultures that — intentionally or not — chew people up and spit them out.
And for the others who did “land on their feet,” I wrote this for you too. Because you may be standing, but to be human is to be constantly stumbling and fumbling toward growth and greater understanding, and to be dealing with your own private struggles and doubts that few others can see.
Responses to the book
I’ve received a decent number of notes like this. I’m quoting this one because it’s public on social media:
“We were trained to think of God’s power as a heavenly tractor beam that moved around unpredictably. Our job was to keep looking up to see where it was, and chase it wherever it might lead.”
I just started crying when I read his quote that I posted above because, outside of counseling, I’ve never had anyone else so eloquently articulate my specific experience with “following the will of God” like that before. I’ve felt so much shame and guilt for 30+ years that chasing “God’s will” seemed so exhausting/unstable/doomed and maybe I was just bad at it or not good enough to ever get there because, honestly, after a while, I just didn’t want to anymore if that’s what it took.
In this moment, I’m feeling two things: 1. Incredible validation that I’m not a crazy person and that other people experienced the same thing and 2. Incredibly sad and heartbroken that so many of us are still putting together pieces of our faith so many years later.
I’m happy that people feel like they’re not the only ones who have had questions or doubts, and that they feel encouraged to keep pressing on.
And then there have been a lot of really nice public notes like this:
On the day the book came out, my kids and I walked to our local bookstore and saw the book on the shelf. I will be doing a live event at East City Books next week, in conversation with Pete Wehner. Details are here. Advance registration is required.
Other media appearances for the book include:
The Holy Post with Sky Jethani
Sirius XM with Julie Mason
The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg
You Have Permission with Dan Koch
Footnotes with Jemar Tisby
Things Not Seen with David Dault
“The Romance of Rod Dreher” by David Sessions
This is such a fascinating piece. Really well-written. I love how complicated and messy it is.
The fusion of his two personas—Rod the hysterical political reactionary, and Rod the broken human on a relentless quest for meaning—is central to his anti-fandom. I suspect that it’s the second Rod that has made him such a fascination in the current intellectual landscape: the fact that reading him holds up such an unsettling mirror to our own psychic burdens. I’ll speak for myself, but I wonder if the the average academic or journalist, constrained by the constant demand not only to perform all-knowing expertise but to do so in a perfectly-calibrated way that avoids contravening ever-shifting politically correct shibboleths, doesn’t look at Rod with a kind of wonder, even envy.
… And, for people who are wrapped up in analyzing and writing about politics, there is also the suspicion that there’s something deeper in all of our existences that matters more. In Rod’s travails, we see life in all its harshness and tragedy, the fact that people with perfectly normal and healthy desires for recognition can be warped and deformed by its absence. Thank god I went to grad school, I’ve sometimes thought, that I didn’t remain an undisciplined, un-self-aware thinker, thank god I don’t embarrass myself like that. But that can be a cold comfort. We all know, deep down, that we are really no better, no saner, that we’ve also failed and that we too have holes we’ve been trying to fill our entire lives and may never succeed. Maybe when we look at Rod, we sometimes think, what if I could just say it, what if I could tell the truth.
“I’ve been in Congress for 100 days. Most of the really angry voices here are faking it.” - Rep. Jeff Jackson, D-NC
A very clear, concise video explanation of how “conflict entrepreneurship” works
“As Migrant Children Were Put to Work, U.S. Ignored Warnings,” by Hannah Drier for The New York Times
Over the past two years, more than 250,000 migrant children have come alone to the United States. Thousands of children have ended up in punishing jobs across the country — working overnight in slaughterhouses, replacing roofs, operating machinery in factories — all in violation of child labor laws, a recent Times investigation showed. After the article’s publication in February, the White House announced policy changes and a crackdown on companies that hire children.
But all along, there were signs of the explosive growth of this labor force and warnings that the Biden administration ignored or missed, The Times has found.
… a boy working construction said he felt ashamed about not knowing how to read. He, too, was released in 2021 — at age 12 — and was immediately put to work by a man who had sponsored at least five children. At a day-labor pickup site, a 13-year-old released last year to a man he had never met said he wished he could enroll in middle school and start learning English.
“Fox News reaches $787.5 million settlement in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit,” by Matt Taylor for Politico
“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said while trumpeting the payout outside the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center on Tuesday. “Over two years ago, a torrent of lies swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.”
This is what I and many others in the media were reporting at the time in 2020. “A torrent of lies” is quite accurate.
“We Can’t Let AI Dehumanize Our Memory,” by John Inazu
If who we are is in part a function of how we remember, then the integrity of our identity depends on the integrity of our memory.
We could, of course, dismiss the importance of the integrity of our identity—we could decide that all that matters is who we are in this moment in time. But if we see our life as a narrative that includes past, present, and future, then remembering rightly—or as rightly as we can—may affect not only who we are but also who we are becoming.
Thank you for reading! Have a great weekend - Jon
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The piece on Rod Dreher is ... wow!
Also have heard you speak of epistemic humility a lot. Thought you would appreciate this article that was just published today at The Conversation site.
What Socrates’ ‘know nothing’ wisdom can teach a polarized America -- The most important part of knowledge, in Socrates’ view? Knowing how much you don’t know.