Mark Judge: The RealClearReligion Interview

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Conservative critiques of pop culture tend toward the scathing. Think of Allan Bloom railing against brain dead kids who listen to rock music through headphones or Robert Bork warning that it was but a slight slouch from Elvis to Gomorrah. Mark Judge comes at these things a bit differently. He recently found fault not with rock music but its criticism, which is "damn near impossible to read" because the press "has become so liberal and secular that to rock critics, writing about music has become an exercise in creative writing and taxonomy." They are no longer interested in answering that all-important question "What is this music about?"

Judge has written on religion and pop culture for publications including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Daily Caller, and, starting tomorrow, RealClearReligion. To give readers some sense of what they might expect regularly, RCR corresponded with Judge this week about his new book, rock music, surviving cancer, and the perils of sex ed in Catholic schools.

RealClearReligion: You used to go by Mark Gauvreau Judge. In fact, you published several books with that handle. Why did you decide to drop the middle name?

Mark Judge: That was my grandmother's name. She was French Canadian. I started to do it as a tribute to her, but it increasingly seemed unwieldy -- I had one editor joke that I was Mark Unpronounceable Judge. It was just easier during interviews and for people to remember.

RCR: Could you give readers the back story of your new book A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock 'n' Roll?

Judge: I was contracted by Adam Bellow at Random House (when he was there) to write a book about liberals and conservatives in the Church, how they can heal the undeclared schism that is part of the Church these days. The first chapter was going to be about sex. I was doing research and came across all this remarkably wise and beautiful writing about sex -- and it was all written by Catholics, and most of it was written before Vatican II. I realized that I had a book right there, even if it was a small one. I realized that the Catholic Church was actually the repository of the soundest teaching about human sexuality I had ever seen.

I also realized that I had been raised on rock 'n' roll, and that most of the messages of the music have to do with love -- its metaphysical nature, its beauty, the joys and miseries of our reactions to it. I wanted to baptize the Beatles the way Saint Thomas Aquinas baptized Aristotle. Thus, sex, Catholicism, and rock 'n' roll. (If you want to read an in-depth interview about it, click here.)

RCR: How long was it in the making?

Judge: A couple years. It's actually got killed at one point. I was struggling very badly, not only with the book but with other things. I was just exhausted all the time. It turned out I had -- have -- cancer. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I got chemo and am doing great; the doctor told me it was a slow-moving, non-aggressive form, and that it had "been percolating" in my gut for a while. I actually lost a couple years of my life, if not more, wondering what the hell was wrong. It taught me a lot about what Christopher Lasch's wonderful philosophy, which he once summarized as "limits and hope." Limits and hope, I love that. It opens up the whole world. I got treated and finished the book. My journey through that illness is actually documented on my YouTube page.

RCR: One idea stood out to me from the book. What is punitive liberalism?

Judge: That's a great idea that has been given to us by James Piereson, in his great book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism. In it, Piereson talks about "punitive liberalism." Before the 1960s liberalism wanted to challenge the opposition through reason and argument. After the murder of JFK, liberals declared that it was the right-wing that had killed Kennedy -- never mind that Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. Liberals became passionate about conservatism as an apostasy, as something demonic, something that needed to be punished.

Piereson argues that after the assassination liberals became what the fringes of conservatism had been in the 1950s -- hysterical, paranoid, punitive. Thus, punitive liberalism. It's incredible -- Obama and the Democrats could control the entire government, conservatism could be outlawed, and Rachel Maddow would find the one right-winger left on earth and vent at him. It's almost like they need us to maintain their health -- we provide the primal scream therapy.

RCR: I want to ask about a few of the people that you rely on or react against in in A Tremor of Bliss. Who is Dietrich von Hildebrand?

Judge: He was a 20th Century Catholic genius. His work is staggering in its perspicacity. He is far too complex and amazing a figure to summarize briefly. Read Transformation in Christ, that's all I can say.

RCR: Who is Charles Curran?

Judge: Probably the most well-known Catholic dissenter from the Church's teaching on human sexuality. He came to Catholic University in the 1960s, and was reprimanded in 1986, when I was a student there. I think he left the Church and is teaching in Texas somewhere. He pops up on NPR occasionally -- whenever there's a story about the Church and the media needs the voice of punitive liberalism. In the 60s and 70s the man was positively obsessed with masturbation.

RCR: And on a more personal note, who is Bernie Ward?

Judge: My sex ed teacher in the 1980s at Georgetown Prep. Became a left-wing radio host in San Francisco and then got busted for sending child pornography over the internet. That pretty much sums up the post-60s Jesuits. We learned all about orgasms and Betty Friedan; not much about Teresa of Avila or the Theology of the Body.

RCR: Many people have heard of the late Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, but far fewer have heard about the precursor to it, Love and Responsibility. How did that book come about?

Judge: It came about because as a young priest Karol Wojtyla listened to his friends discuss their questions about love, sex, family, etc. I think the future pope knew that love and sex are, as Dietrich Von Hildebrand said, the most dynamic experience of a persons life. He knew that the Church should be out front teaching about this stuff.

RCR: Catholics can be divided into three schools of thought on John Paul II's recent beatification: right on, the Vatican shouldn't have rushed this, and this was a very bad idea. Where do you fall on that spectrum?

Judge: Right on, of course. Everyone else is a liberal.

RCR: Many critics, conservative and otherwise, have argued that rock music is the music of youth rebellion. Do you disagree with that assessment?

Judge: No, but there is a distinction to be made. There is a crucial difference between rebellion and resentment -- John Paul II makes that distinction in Love and Responsibility. Rebellion is good and healthy, and a lot of rock and roll is rebellious. "Gimme Shelter" is a song about rebellion. U2's music is very Christ-conscious rebel music. Unlike resentment, which attacks the good itself, rebellion calls for a more just and loving world. A lot of rap is pure resentment, whereas old soul music is both beautiful and rebellious.

RCR: A major obsession of your recent columns in the Daily Caller was media bias. How does bias work itself out in news stories and how big of a deal is that?

Judge: It's a huge deal. My father was a journalist and I was a kid in Washington, D.C. when Watergate broke. I venerated these people. Then I got older and worked for a few of them, and the level of dishonesty, dishonor, deceit and just plain lying was shocking. Forget bias -- a lot of these people simply have no honor.

That is the question. They ignore sources that disagree with them, ignore stories that don't fit their worldview, and destroy and humiliate people. They are the kids who never got picked for the team and this is their revenge. It's pathetic, but also dangerous. And as a question of honor, it touches on the soul, and eternity. If you screw someone innocent over in print, that has a timeless quality to it. A timeless iniquity.

RCR: One of those Daily Caller pieces was titled "Life begins at 46." How do you figure?

Judge: Did I really say that? I think that was from an article in The Economist that found that life is a lot of anxiety and emotional chaos until you hit 46, and then things start to even out. I actually agree with the band Talk Talk -- life's what you make it.

Jeremy Lott is editor-at-large of RealClearPolitics and author, most recently, of William F. Buckley.

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