Michael W. Hannon

Poisoned Ivies: Sex and God at Yale

Michael W. Hannon
By Michael Hannon
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September 17, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - They say everyone is entitled to his fifteen minutes of fame. My mom had her brief moment in the spotlight a couple years back, when the New York Post called her for a comment about a new dorm policy at Columbia, where I was a sophomore at the time. As the article put it, “Columbia University students will soon be able to live in sin—on their parents’ dime. A new ‘gender-neutral’ housing policy . . . will allow boys and girls to shack up together in campus housing.”

My mom’s reaction was, I hope, the reaction most parents would have to such news. “I was shocked enough last year when we moved our son in and we saw that guys and girls shared a bathroom on the hall,” she told the Post. “If it had been our daughter, we would have turned around and walked straight out. As far as coed roommates go, that would be insane. If our child chose to do that, we would opt out.” Thankfully for my mom’s sanity, sharing a dorm room with a girl was never high on my college to-do list. But had she known what else Columbia had in store for us, I can guarantee she would have opted out anyway.

I don’t consider myself particularly puritanical. On the contrary, as I’ve indicated elsewhere, I have a very high view of human sexuality. But somehow I never found Columbia’s university-sponsored sexual culture all that sexy. Call me old-fashioned, but that giant, inflatable penis on the quad, Health Services’ guess-how-many-condoms-are-in-the-jelly-bean-jar game, and that mandatory freshman orientation skit on coping with roommate autoeroticism, just never fit my idea of sexually appealing.

Neither did Columbia’s annual Erotic Cake-Baking Contest, or the (in)famous “Sexhibition,” a university-sponsored event complete with a sex-toy show-and-tell and, wouldn’t you know it, more phallus-shaped baked goods. But not to worry: in true Columbia multiculturalist style, those genital cookies are kosher, lest anyone’s religious observance exclude him from this romping good time.

For better or worse, Columbia has been regarded as a trailblazer on issues of sexual “progressivism” since long before I entered its hallowed gates. Back in 1993, the university’s Health Promotion Program launched Go Ask Alice!—a Q&A-style website offering insight on such meaningful topics as sex with stuffed animals, breastfeeding one’s sexual partner, urine-drinking fetishes, and that annoying medical guideline about having to abstain from sex for three weeks after an abortion. The following year, Columbia became home to the nation’s first university-recognized sadomasochism club, Conversio Virium. (That’s Latin for “exchange of forces.” Glad to see those Classics majors putting their education to good use.)

Then in 2006, Columbia partnered with one of Soho’s notorious sex shops to bring its students “Sex Toys 101,” a workshop put on by the university’s own Health Services, which earned the school a glowing write-up in the New York Daily News.

You might reasonably think that it can’t get much worse than teddy bear masturbation and S&M clubs. How I wish you were right. But during my first term at the school, Columbia students found a way to one-up themselves yet again. In October of 2008, a group of my classmates released the first issue of a raunchy new (unofficial) campus publication, oh so cleverly titled C-Spot. Apparently it wasn’t enough for students to exhibit sex toys; from now on, they were going to be exhibiting themselves.

Like Playboy and similar magazines, the original C-Spot issue did feature a handful of articles, including a historical essay on the origins of the vibrator, and, for the more literary-minded student, a collection of pornographic poetry. But the bulk of the publication is devoted to more, let’s say, visual works of art.

As Fox News put it, “Columbia students trying to prove that scholarship can be sexy have launched a salacious magazine featuring strip-club reviews, Internet porn recommendations and nude pictures of students steamy enough to wilt ivy.” Now personally, I have never been able to figure out what would incline an Ivy League scholar to pose nude for C-Spot, often with other students and in all kinds of compromising sexual postures. But plenty do. And afterwards, sitting next to them in Symbolic Logic is never quite the same.

As I said, Columbia prides itself on being something of a trendsetter in the sexual arena. And there is certainly merit (or perhaps, more appropriately, demerit) to that claim. But while Columbia has indeed pushed the envelope on these issues of sexual obscenity, it is not the only groundbreaking force in the elite academic world. And if my brief highlight reel of Columbia’s exploits has come across as inappropriately scandalous, then I highly recommend steering clear of a new 300-page exposé about our Ivy League neighbors in New Haven. Don’t get me wrong—Nathan Harden’s Sex and God at Yale is a phenomenal book, and a timely and insightful addition to this conversation. But it definitely is not written for those with a weak stomach.

A recent graduate and a proud Yale Man himself, Harden writes not to slander the name of his alma mater, but to lovingly reprimand her for failing to live out her noble calling. It was the early fifties when William F. Buckley authored the now legendary God and Man at Yale, a book that similarly laments Yale’s abandonment of religion and its straying from its original academic mission. Harden sees his own Sex and God at Yale as “a continuation of the story [Buckley] began to tell” more than half a century ago. And yet, with the utmost respect for the late Mr. Buckley, Harden notes that Buckley’s complaints unfortunately “look quaint alongside the hard-core realities of today’s Yale.”

Chapter by chapter, Harden describes episodes in which these “hard-core realities” became particularly prominent in his own Yale experience. I will refrain from sharing here much of the graphic detail he supplies in the book, of which there is certainly plenty.

But in context, I actually found Harden’s illustrative descriptions effective in establishing a friendly tone, and a certain sense of ease between himself and the reader. True, Harden’s style of casual narrative makes it seem that he is speaking more to a young peer than to his elders at the university or in society writ large. But given the subject matter, this is the kind of book I would be more likely to pass along to a college friend than to my mother anyway.

Harden begins each chapter with a relevant quotation from a prominent Yale alumnus, effectively reinforcing the disconnect between the powerful noblemen Yale has formed in the past and the perverted juveniles it seems bent on producing today. My favorite quotation was the one he selected from Tom Wolfe, who received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1957, for Chapter 10, Hooking Up. Says Wolfe, “Today’s first base is kissing. . . . Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other’s names.” This line is obviously said a little tongue-in-cheek. But, I think, only a little.

It is presumably no secret that college is now dominated by the so-called “hook-up culture,” and that at many places anonymous or near-anonymous sexual encounters have become the norm rather than the exception on a typical Friday night. And depressingly, writes Harden, for “most college students, hooking up is the only way to carry on any kind of romantic relationship at all. Dating, in case you haven’t heard, is dead.” He goes so far as to say that actually “taking a girl to dinner is tantamount to a college marriage.” That may sound radical, but it is true to my own experience as well. Dating has become exceedingly rare among Columbia students, so much so that most students probably go all four years without ever going out on an official date.

And so, instead, college students “hook up.” Of course Yale is no different in that regard, and neither is Columbia. But at such elite institutions, and particularly at institutions as committed to the cause of women’s equality as these two are, there are special tensions that become particularly apparent. In one of the book’s more memorable passages, Harden writes,

When sex comes casually and with no relational strings attached, as it often does at Yale and on other college campuses, women are essentially commodified and objectified in the eyes of men. Here’s why: When no real relationship is involved, there is no need to treat one’s sexual partner like anything more than a functional object—a sex doll that breathes. … Under this arrangement women lose the respect they want and deserve. It’s hard to be a randy sexpot and a deobjectified feminist at the same time.

And unfortunately, as we will see, this is hardly the only respect in which the attitudes Yale fosters toward women are pathetically paradoxical.

The hook-up culture is, I’m told, fairly ubiquitous at this point, a common phenomenon nationwide. But thankfully for the rest of our country’s universities, most of the episodes in Sex and God at Yale are so over-the-top that they could only occur on a relatively few, particularly “progressed” college campuses.

Harden devotes one chapter to the tragically terrifying case of Aliza Shvarts, the Yale art major whose senior project centered around the “art” of abortion. Shvarts made national news back in 2008 for, allegedly, repeatedly artificially inseminating herself and then inducing her own abortions, as often as possible over the course of a nine-month period. She then used documentation from the process and the organic materials it produced in her final artistic display. While the media spectacle did eventually lead the university to try to distance itself from the project, up until then Shvarts had had the approval and supervision of the Yale Art Department for the entire exhibition.

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One of Yale’s most infamous events, and one that occupies about a hundred pages of Sex and God at Yale, is Sex Week. Held every other year, Sex Week features a ten-day series of activities, with varying levels of university involvement from one event to another. During Harden’s time, it featured such uplifting installments as: “Defiant Desires,” an S&M symposium; “Y-Couture Fetish Fashion Show,” with student models, of course; “Getting What You Really Want,” an anti-monogamy talk by a “polyamorist activist”; “Babeland’s Lip Tricks,” wherein a burlesque performer gave a 90-minute oral sex workshop to a packed auditorium of students; “Speed Dating—Give Some, Get Some!”, which is pretty pathetically self-explanatory; “Love Junkies,” a panel discussion in which a “clinical sexologist” described the group therapy he once gave to a grandfather, a grandmother, and their sex slave; “Erotic Piercings,” a section which I highly recommend skipping over in the book, as I’m still having nightmares about it; and “BDSM 101,” yet another sadomasochistic event, but this one including a demonstration in which the presenter, herself a porn star, got naked in a Yale classroom and became a human prop in the presentings. Once again, I sense some potential conflicts with the prevailing feminist ideologies of the Ivy League. Somehow, I don’t think this is quite what Gloria Steinem had in mind.

Harden’s book is incredibly graphic, and it should probably not be recommended reading for too general an audience. Nonetheless, his commentary on these obscene scenes is truly top-notch. In his discussion of the “Babeland’s Lip Tricks” event at Sex Week, Harden draws attention to the fact that many of the techniques recommended by the burlesque lecturer require latex gloves, to be performed safely. In a particularly gripping moment, he steals away from the action to offer the following gem, another of my favorites from the book:

This must be, I think to myself, the natural progression of the culture of clinical safe sex, taken to its banal extreme. It started with sex educators’ near-religious devotion to the condom—that miraculous wonder-sock that was supposed to cure AIDS, liberate women from the curse of motherhood, eliminate unwanted pregnancy, make abortion obsolete, and, above all, free mankind from so many lingering Victorian vestiges of fearful prudery. The all-powerful rubber gave us sex with no strings attached. But that wasn’t enough. Now our hands are also supposed to be covered with latex. Slowly but surely, our anonymous sex culture is becoming as devoid of physical contact as it is of emotional contact. Touchless, heartless, passionless sex is the inheritance of this porned-out, hooked-up generation.

In the fifth and final section of Sex and God at Yale, Harden ceases most of his narrative style, and in its place he offers a reflective analysis of what went wrong, of what led the ivy-covered university that produced presidents, Supreme Court justices, and movers and shakers the world over, to such a pathetic, pornified place. Squeamishness aside, this section really is worth everyone’s reading in its entirety.

Harden’s diagnosis is that Yale has lost its sense of moral and educational purpose, thereby losing any standard by which to discriminate worthy from unworthy classroom pursuits, and that the resulting relativism has inevitably given rise to the bizarre sexual dystopia one finds there today. Looking to the future, he prophesies,

Nihilism is, ultimately, where Yale is headed. Yale was built in order to nurture ideas that would elevate the soul and advance human understanding, but it now has no governing moral principle. As a result, the knowledge generated there is divorced from any larger human purpose. Apart from a kind of vague appreciation of certain concepts like tolerance and diversity, Yale is a moral vacuum. Therefore, almost anything goes.

One might wonder, given nude porn stars in the classroom, what that “almost” could still exclude.

Looking back on his expectations before moving to New Haven, Harden says, “I had thought of Yale as a modern-day equivalent of the Athenian agora; but all too often, I found myself sitting in the equivalent of an intellectual whorehouse.” And yet, he authored Sex and God at Yale not simply to draw attention to the university’s defects, but to hold Yale up to the standards that it once set for itself. In penning the present essay, I mean to do the same with regard to my own alma mater. Please do not misunderstand me; Yale and Columbia are fantastic institutions. I count myself blessed to have studied where I did, and Harden frequently conveys the same sense of gratitude to Yale throughout his book. But the greatness of these universities has come under fire, and their sexual obsession is compromising the virtues of the academy. So we write what we do, that they may be what they were. Our shared hope is that Columbia and Yale would once again flourish as the universities they were created to be—intellectual whorehouses no longer, and Athenian agoras once more.

Michael W. Hannon is a first-year law student at New York University and a graduate of Columbia University, where he triple-majored in Philosophy, Religion, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. This article first appeared at Mercatornet.com and is reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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