Pentecost 2023

Anticipating Paul Kingsnorth?

I knew that C.S. Lewis was prescient (less so that Ken Myers was), but this was Copyright 1989.

Blinded by Might

Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, who had been Falwell’s chief lieutenants in the Moral Majority, published a book questioning not just the efficacy of political action but the righteousness of the enterprise. In Blinded by Might they argued that in the process of trying to win elections conservative Christians had been seduced by the lure of power. What had begun as an effort to restore Christian values to the nation had degenerated into an unbridled partisan struggle, creating an atmosphere in which it was assumed that Democrats could not be Christians and that Bill and Hillary Clinton were the Antichrist.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals

I never read Blinded by Might, but this characterization of it, which is consistent with the books title, seems prescient.

Is Tim Kellerism outdated?

Some Christian critics say that the “Tim Keller model” of engagement, his winsome, gentle approach to those with whom he disagreed, is outdated. They say that increased secularization and progressive hostility toward traditional Christianity requires the faithful to hit back, respond in kind, dominate or humiliate those who oppose us. But Tim wasn’t kind, gentle and loving to others as some sort of strategy to win the culture wars, grow his church or achieve a particular result. Tim loved his neighbors, even across deep differences, simply because he was a man who had been transformed by the grace of Jesus. As he wrote in The Times, he believed and lived as if “the Gospel gives us the resources to love people who reject both our beliefs and us personally.”

The Christian Scriptures describe “the fruit of the Spirit” — what grows in us as we walk with God — as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Tim’s life was marked by these things. And these dispositions are not a political strategy. They are not a part of a brand. They are not a way to sell books, gain power, win culture wars or “take back America for Christ.” Tim inhabited these ways of being, not as a means to any end, but as a response to his relationship with God and love for his neighbor. The last 10 years or so have been hard on orthodox or traditional Christians who are wary of Christian nationalism, hyperpartisanship and the politics of bitterness or resentment. “Keller’s passing leaves a void in the nascent movement to reform evangelicalism,” wrote Michael Luo in The New Yorker, “and today’s social and political currents make the prospects for change seem dim.”)

Tish Harrison Warren

Just one little oversight

Why Antonio García Martínez became Zebulon ben Abraham. Except for the little matter of Christ’s resurrection, he’d have a pretty convincing case against Western Christendom.

Religious, not Spiritual

Occasional strong posts like Why I’m religious, and not spiritual are why I follow Fr. Silouan Thompson. But now I’ve got another book to buy: Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept — a “modern concept” as in “Procrustean bed,” that variously cuts or stretches reality.

Protestant scholars of religion continually try to find in ancient writings the kind of pietistic interiority, feelings, or personal experience of the Numinous, that to these scholars is “true religion.” This underpins practically all modern study of religion and much of interfaith activity. But the sources don’t point to any such thing in the ancient mind; ancient religion is a creation of modern scholarship.

Why I’m religious, and not spiritual

The Religious Right (and more frank and candid atheists)

A motley crew of white evangelicals and traditional Catholics locked arms on some social issues, started voting in large numbers for Republican candidates, and changed American politics forever.

But I think that era of religion and politics is rapidly coming to a close. The Religious Right is no longer a primarily religious movement — from my point of view it’s one about cultural conservatism and nearly blind support for the GOP with few trappings of any real religiosity behind it.

Here’s what I believe to be the emerging narrative of the next several decades: the rise of atheism and their unbelievably high level of political engagement in recent electoral politics.

Ryan Burge, Religious Right? Those true believers are nowhere near as politically active as atheists.

Unfortunately, some of the Christianists on the “Religious Right” will take this as a call to go big-footing into politics at higher intensity because, as Burge observes, the Religious Right is no longer a primarily religious movement.

As for me, I find this result unsurprising. If you have no hope beyond this life, you’ll be apt to grab for all the temporal gusto you can get. If you’re getting close to the end of life, you look for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, and you’re trying to get ready for all that — heck, you might not even save Burge’s article after reading it and passing along this clip, if you know what I mean.

What it takes for a Tradition to endure

When I first encountered Orthodoxy fourteen years ago, my first thought was, “This is what I thought Catholicism would be when I converted back in the 1990s.” This was BEFORE I knew much of anything about Orthodox theology. This was from what I learned by worshiping liturgically with the Orthodox, and discovering the role of asceticism and related practices in Orthodox life. Years later, as I was writing The Benedict Option, I discovered in anthropological texts why some version of monastic practices is necessary for lay Christian life today, and also why Orthodox Christianity is UNIQUELY SUITED for the Benedict Option.

Rod Dreher, Healing Humanity: Confronting our Moral Crisis (emphases in original). Co-authors include Frederica Mathewes-Green, David Ford, Alfred Kentigern Siewers and Alexander F. C. Webster.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Largely wordplay (6/1/23)

Endonym and exonym. I had no idea these words existed. They are at least marginally useful. (H/T Tara Isabella Burton writing about postrationalists)


An interesting word. It seems to me that its commonest use now is metaphorical, referring to pursuit of vengeance or pay-back, rather than literal territory.

Therianthrope (or just Therian): A person who experiences being and identifies as a non-human animal on an integral, personal level. (The Therian Guide).

(I’m with Kathleen Stock on this: it’s mostly larping, trolling, or satire. I also note that “therian” used to mean something different, of which the current meaning is derivative. There’s probably an adjective for that kind of derivation; “metaphor” doesn’t seem right.)

breaking news bias

A proposed replacement for “misinformation” at least in cases where the initial misrepresentation isn’t malicious.

In fact, most people just believe something that turned out later not to be true, and they never got the new information. We’ve seen this play out a thousand times—an initial, salacious tweet gets 50,000 retweets and the more accurate, updated tweet gets 23. You’d be forgiven if you never saw the corrected tweet.

Sarah Isgur

Bud Lighting”—a freshly minted term for boycotting companies that cater to various “woke” causes, particularly transgender issues.

H/T Jonah Goldberg, who continues:

The most remarkable thing about the Bud Light boycott is that it worked, because boycotts usually don’t—if your definition of success is actually affecting sales and stock price in a significant way. PETA’s been boycotting KFC for 20 years to little or no effect. KFC’s biggest challenge hasn’t been from boycotters, but from rivals like Chick-fil-A, which has been going gangbusters despite facing plenty of boycotts of its own. 

Why are there boycotts if they don’t work? Because the definition has changed. The goal is rarely to affect the bottom line but to hurt the reputation of the company and create headaches for management. 

But even that is secondary. Most boycotts are what historian Daniel Boorstin called “pseudo-events,” also known as media events, which are, in Boorstin’s words, “produced by a communicator with the sole purpose of generating media attention and publicity.”

… Once you develop a taste for scalps, only more scalps can satisfy. More broadly, the rise of the attention economy makes the incentives for these pseudo-events too attractive to ignore.

Nellie Bowles anticipated Goldberg by a few days:

If DeSantis wins the presidency, you better believe he will have F-15s circling Bud Light warehouses.

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Snarling logicality: Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraff’s characterization (or at least one of them) of Western Christianity in contrast to Eastern Christianity.

What do you find most inspiring — or unsettling — about [Ron DeSantis’] vision for America?
[Jane] Coaston: His belief is that America is a problem that must be solved by the state.

Agree or disagree with the substance, her style is arresting.

Eighty is too old to be angry. Even seventy is.

Garrison Keillor

A civilization flourishes until it starts to analyze itself.

Alfred North Whitehead, via Iain McGilchrist

Frank Bruni at the New York Times often (maybe invariably) follows his main essay (usually political) with a section called For Love of Sentences. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t dropped the Times yet.

Excerpts from June 1:

  • [I]n The Guardian, Jay Rayner appraised the more-is-more culinary sensibility of a dish at Jacuzzi, which was opened recently in London by the Big Mamma group: “I would have been happy with simple ribbons of that pasta with that ragu, but going to a Big Mamma restaurant in search of simplicity is like going to a brothel hoping to find someone to hold your hand.” (Robert Tilleard, Salisbury, England)
  • [I]n The Post, Ron Charles noted the publication of “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs,” by Senator Josh Hawley: “The book’s final cover contains just text, including the title so oversized that the word ‘Manhood’ can’t even fit on one line — like a dude whose shoulders are so broad that he has to turn sideways to flee through the doors of the Capitol.” (Sue Borg, Menlo Park, Calif.)
  • [I]n The Times, Michelle Cottle characterized Ron DeSantis as having “the people skills of a Roomba.” (Stephen Burrow, Teaneck, N.J., and Tim McFadden, Encinitas, Calif., among others)

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

May 31, 2023

303 Creative

Lorrie Smith of 303 Creative in Colorado would like to expand her website-design business to wedding websites, but she realizes that she’ll eventually get, and will decline for reasons of conscience, requests for same-sex wedding websites. Colorado antidiscrimination authorities say that’s a no-no. The case is before SCOTUS, awaiting a decision within a month or so.

Hurt Feelings, Conscience, and Freedom

Rick Plasterer, previously unknown to me, lays out some of the social history behind such cases (with an obvious bit of ax-grinding):

Faced with a court intent on protecting freedom of religion and speech, the Left has turned to the claim that civil rights law, and behind it, the Fourteenth Amendment, mandates pro-active government measures to remove social stigma. This is really a very blatant effort to gain what social conservatives have complained about for years, the claim of a right not to be offended.

[S]ome research proposes that younger LGBT cohorts seem to be more sensitive to perceived stigmatizing than the older LGBT population. Given the large “snowflake” population in colleges and universities, this is not surprising. As a researcher critical of the consequences of the sexual revolution, Regnerus said he experiences much day-to-day stigma, but has learned to deal with it. The LGBT identifying population can and does deal with it as well. But pro-LGBT stigma research tends to deny “agency on the part of persons. It esteems collective action while implying personal passivity and an externalized locus of control.”

But although the claim to “dignitary harm” might be newly raised with LGBT liberation, the claim that there cannot be fundamental differences in society about ultimate things is old. Quoting Jean Jacques Rosseau’s “The Social Contract,” (1762), George observed that “America is stalked by an ancient fear: The creeping suspicion that ‘[i]t is impossible to live with those whom we regard as damned.’”

Rick Plasterer, Hurt Feelings, Conscience, and Freedom – Part 1.

First Amendment protections

One of my heroes, Robert P. George of Princeton, has weighed in on behalf of 303 Creative via an amicus brief:

Although the rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion are distinct and thus receive separate protection under the First Amendment, they are often intertwined. “[M]uch . . . religious speech might be perceived as offensive to some,” because faithful adherence to a religious tradition implies the acceptance of certain claims about objective truth and the concomitant rejection of certain conduct as morally inconsistent with that truth.

… the Supreme Court has consistently affirmed that the First Amendment protects even profoundly offensive forms of expressive conduct. See, e. g., Snyder, 562 U.S., at 447 (First Amendment protects group that picketed a soldier’s funeral bearing signs indicating their belief “that God kills American soldiers as punishment” for national sins); Virginia v. Black, 583 U.S. 343, 347–348 (2003) (affirming the right of the Ku Klux Klan to burn crosses at rallies); Johnson, 491 U.S., at 420 (holding a “State’s interest in preserving the [American] flag as a symbol of nationhood and national unity” did not justify a man’s criminal conviction for engaging in protected political expression by burning it). Hence, when a speaker’s message is explicit—as unmistakable in expressive intent as a twenty-five-foot-tall burning cross, for instance, Black, 583 U.S., at 349—it is clearly protected by the First Amendment. But Colorado’s argument would deny protection to far milder forms of speech, such as an artist’s refusal to design a product that promotes a message to which she objects.

The Supreme Court has ruled that “the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades.” McCutcheon v. FEC, 572 U.S. 185, 191 (2014). It would be an absurd jurisprudential result to rule that Ms. Smith could not, however, politely tell a couple that satisfying their request would conflict with her deeply held religious beliefs about marriage, and then direct them to a different service provider, without bringing the full force of Colorado law down upon herself.

Even if Ms. Smith’s refusal to provide website design services for same-sex ceremonies is deeply upsetting, her customers’ distress would still not justify coercion, because the dignity of both parties would be at stake. Ms. Smith could just as easily claim that Colorado’s attempt to commandeer her voice inflicts a “dignitary harm” upon her. By using its power to take from Ms. Smith the right to speak and disseminate her ideas in the public square, Colorado’s actions deprive Ms. Smith of “the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect” for her voice.

The First Amendment is a default setting against governmental restraints on speech that the State can overcome only with a compelling rationale. Allegations of “dignitary harm,” on their own, do not suffice, particularly when state action to remedy that “harm” only transfers the injury to a different party.

Robert P. George, Brief of Amicus Curiae in 303 Creative v. Elenis (bold added; link is to a PDF).

I added the boldface because the impossibility of avoiding dignitary harm to someone in situations like this is generally overlooked. Instead, Colorado has been deciding the cases based on an unspoken hierarchy of who’s cool and who’s not. Currently, sexual minorities are cool; Christians who believe that no real marriage is being solemnized when both parties are of the same sex (and that lament, not celebration, is in order) are not cool.

I’m pretty confident that SCOTUS is going to correct that, but it may contrive a narrow, niggling way to avoid hitting it head-on in Lorrie Smith’s case.

Other Legalia

Advice to aspiring law students

  1. Law school opens doors
  2. Law school will not turn a Beta into an Alpha
  3. Big student loan debt closes doors. Want to work for the Innocence Project, or Becket Fund or the like? Fuggedaboudit!
  4. Unless you are a lifetime, Alpha, and you can’t imagine life apart from running with the big dogs, don’t take on heavy student debt on the assumption that you’ll have an Alpha job and Alpha compensation.

Items 1 and 3 have been a mantra of mine for several years. Items 2 and 4 just came to me very recently.

Better Late Than Never

The Texas House voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to impeach the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, over accusations of bribery, using his position to enrich himself and a campaign donor, and abuse of public trust. The vote immediately removed Paxton—in his third term as A.G.—from office, pending a trial in the state Senate, where a two-thirds majority of the 31 senators is needed to convict him. If convicted, he would be barred from ever holding office in Texas again. This is the first time since 1917 Texas has impeached a state-wide office-holder.


Clarence Thomas

If you subscribe, or are lucky enough not to hit the WSJ paywall, do read John C. Danforth, The Clarence Thomas Stories That PBS Refused to Tell


Trans kids

I like Andrew Sullivan’s take on trangenderism matters even better in distilled form:

A longtime reader quits the Dish:

Andrew, I cannot take your obsession with trans kids any longer. There are so many other issues you could be covering in your weekly essay: the debt ceiling, McCarthy’s tenuous leadership, China, baseball’s new rules, climate change, the Pope, and on and on. As the mother of a trans son who was miserable from age 8 on — and the friend of many other parents of trans kids who were miserable or even suicidal (one at age 6) — I cannot bear your ignorance and fear any longer. I will miss the VFYW and the contest.

I’m sorry you feel this way. As I said in the piece: “We should counter hostility and prejudice toward trans people. We should treat gay kids and kids with gender dysphoria with tenderness, care, and love.” But I confess I am obsessed when gay boys are having their heads filled with notions like “you are in the wrong body” if they are behaving like stereotypical girls, and when so many are irreversibly sterilized before they have even had a chance to grow up. Have you read Time to Think?

I’m also against crude bans on transing children. I’d prefer a European compromise whereby these medical experiments on children can continue — but only with carefully screened patients in rigorous clinical trials. But the American medical establishment refuses to acknowledge any concerns at all, and has recently abolished any lower age limit for transing children. They won’t even engage in debate.

I’m not entirely comfortable with Sullivan’s “European compromise,” because I think it is ontologically false that a female can be born in a male body or vice-versa.

But I’m not comfortable with categorical bans, either, because I recognize the reality of gender dysphoria (at levels a tiny fraction of what we’re currently seeing claimed) that in some cases is intractable and disabling. Social transitioning may give some of these unfortunate people adequate relief, but maybe not all of them. But it generally will not be until adulthood that “so intractable it needs medical intervention” becomes clear, and the social policy calculus changes with adults, doesn’t it?

If I’m wrong about that, the European compromise may be the best we’ve got in a screwed-up world.

Selective enforcement

Homosexual sex has been illegal in Uganda since the days of British colonial rule. No one’s been convicted under the statute since independence in 1962, but the rule provides license for routine repression …


This was essentially the US pattern in the 1960s as well.

It seems to me to be a principle all people of good will should support: there should be no criminal laws that are 99% unenforced, but get trotted out against people who get cross-wise with some prickly official.

Masculine virtues

In 2016, for example, the single most important intellectual work of the new right was an essay by Michael Anton entitled “The Flight 93 Election.” It began like this: “2016 is the Flight 93 election: Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: If you don’t try, death is certain.”

That’s right: The argument was that electing Hillary Clinton, a thoroughly establishment Democrat, would mean the end of America. It’s an argument that people never stopped making. In 2020, I debated the Christian author Eric Metaxas about whether Christians should support Donald Trump against Joe Biden. What did he argue? That Joe Biden could “genuinely destroy America forever.”

Catastrophic rhetoric is omnipresent on the right. Let’s go back to the “groomer” smear. It’s a hallmark of right-wing rhetoric that if you disagree with the new right on any matter relating to sex or sexuality, you’re not just wrong; you’re a “groomer” or “soft on pedos.” Did a senator vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court? Then he’s “pro-pedophile.” Did you disagree with Florida’s H.B. 1557, which restricted instruction on sexuality and gender identity? Then “you are probably a groomer.”

But conservative catastrophism is only one part of the equation. The other is meanspirited pettiness. Traditional masculinity says that people should meet a challenge with a level head and firm convictions. Right-wing culture says that everything is an emergency, and is to be combated with relentless trolling and hyperbolic insults.

… And that brings us back to Mr. Hawley. For all of its faults when taken to excess, the traditional masculinity of which he claims to be a champion would demand that he stand firm against a howling mob. Rather, he saluted it with a raised fist — and then ran from it when it got too close and too unruly.

David French

Of course, we don’t need to pay attention to David French since he’s a particularly notorious groomer who has gone to work for the Devil.

Back to The Flight 93 Election. When it was very fresh, I read it and admired the Chuzpah of daring the right wing to live up to its catastrophism (about the end of America if Hillary was elected) by voting for Trump. I thought the author risked undermining the catastrophism rather than exploiting it — another in a long line of bets I’d have lost by overestimating the American electorate.

Selected dramatis personae


The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind’s flaws, biases, contradictions, and irrationality-without exploiting them for fun and profit.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes

Mind you, I’m not denying I’m a loser by this vivid definition.


Professor [Rémi] Brague observed that even today many Europeans defend and fight for Christian morality because they see Christianity as a set of values rather than a religion. They are, as the professor noted,  Christianists. They uphold the religion’s moral framework but do not believe in Christ. This paradox leads to a major challenge: Christian values, culture, and civilization cannot be sustained if we are cut off from Christ and tradition as the source.

Zsófia Tóth-Bíró, Shaping Europe with Real Values (The European Conservative)

That strikes me as a pretty good use of the term “Christianist” (Lord knows we’ve got plenty of them in the US), and consistent, I think, of how I’ve generally used the term.

Brief foray into politics

Overloading narrative circuits

I would prefer Trump didn’t become President. But if he became president with 40+ percent of the Hispanic vote and 25+ percent of the black vote, it would be a great thing for the country, finally overloading the circuits of the “everything is white supremacy” machine.

Wesley Yang on an ABC News/WaPo poll showing that 27 percent of black Americans would “definitely or probably vote for Trump in 2024.” (Quoted by Andrew Sullivan)

I’m afraid Linker’s right

DeSantis says: Look at all these great policies I’ve enacted!

Trump says: I’ll kick the shit out of your enemies!

And Republican voters may just prefer the latter.

Trump is first and foremost the vehicle of a right-wing revenge fantasy. Everything else follows from that.

Damon Linker, The Rise of the Anti-Ideological Right

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 5/28/23

Tim Keller

Hedgehog Keller knew two big things

[T]wo fundamental ideas propelled [Tim Keller]: Biblical Christianity is not a political position, and secular liberalism deserves theological critique—because it is not simply how the world really works, but is itself a kind of faith.

One might have expected Keller to imitate the apologists who were at the height of their powers while he was starting out as a young pastor: men like Francis Schaeffer and Josh McDowell, who blended their mission to defend the truth of Christianity with their callings as culture warriors.

Instead, he modeled his writing and preaching on irenic British Christians: the Anglican minister John Stott and, especially, C. S. Lewis (although Keller’s books feature a wide range of cultural and literary references, including Pascal, Tolstoy, the movie Fargo, various atheist thinkers—even, at least once, the Disney cartoon Frozen). Over the years, Keller became not just a Christian apologist but a sophisticated critic of secular liberalism, especially its worship of personal autonomy as the highest good. He pushed his audiences to consider whether total sexual freedom was truly the pinnacle of human liberation, or whether the boundaries of marriage might actually enrich their lives. He took on the false idol of professional achievement: “As long as you think there is a pretty good chance that you will achieve some of your dreams, as long as you think you have a shot at success, you experience your inner emptiness as ‘drive’ and your anxiety as ‘hope,’” he wrote in 2013’s Encounters With Jesus. “And so you can remain almost completely oblivious to how deep your thirst actually is.”

… We all seek what [Charles] Taylor calls “fullness”: an idea that, Keller wrote, “is neither strictly a belief nor a mere experience. It is the perception that life is greater than can be accounted for by naturalistic explanations … It is the widespread, actual lived condition of most human beings regardless of worldview.”

Molly Worthen

Worthen’s remembrance, better than any other I’ve read yet, shows here why I found Keller a kindred spirit. I have omitted a few of his traits that I should emulate, but frankly have not and may be temperamentally incapable of emulating.

(More on Worthen personally below.)

Keller on the social marks of evangelicalism

Keller was no fundamentalist. He saw the return of fundamentalism in the form of the Moral Majority as part of the problem. In 2022, he began speaking of the six social marks of evangelicalism, which he essentially equated with fundamentalism. These were moralism over gracious engagement, individualism over social reform, dualism over a comprehensive vision of life, anti-intellectualism over scholarship, anti-institutionalism over accountability, and enculturation over cultural reflection.

From Dale Coulter’s reminescence/obituary for Tim Keller.

If more will listen and repent, this could become Keller’s posthumous great contribution to Evangelicalism.

I am not holding my breath.

I’ve read half a dozen obituaries or remembrances of Tim Keller now, and I’ve reached a conclusion: If I had been a member of his Church when I encountered Orthodox Christianity as I did, I still would have become Orthodox, but with more mixed feelings and more nostalgia for my “former delusion” at its best.

Biblical goals, biblical ethics

Over time, some in the Christian world came to criticize Tim [Keller]’s commitment to … engagement as a weakness, or at least, as an approach poorly suited to this moment. “I would argue quite the opposite,” Bill Fullilove, the executive pastor at McLean Presbyterian, told me. “His model of gracious and thoughtful engagement, even when disagreeing vehemently, is exactly what we need more of today. It is simply impermissible to pursue biblical goals while ignoring biblical ethics.

Peter Wehner (italics added)

My first registered sour note from Tim Keller

When I asked him to define for me an “Evangelical,” he borrowed Church of England bishop and theologian N. T. Wright’s answer: an Evangelical was the one who would immediately and exuberantly respond yes to the question, “Do you believe that Jesus really, truly, bodily rose from the dead?”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Tim Keller.

I appreciate Keller’s ecumenical gesture, but that definition makes “evangelical” useless for anything more than ruling out professed Christians who don’t or can’t affirm the real, true, bodily Resurrection.

(In his defense, “evangelical” is notoriously difficult to define.)

Pica outbreak among the rationalists

According to Tara Isabella Burton (Rational Magic — The New Atlantis), a lot of Silicon Valley rationalist types are stepping back from rationalism and dabbling in — well, quite a palette of things:

Vogel’s enthusiasm [Vogel is a pseudonym] for beauty, for poetry, for mythic references, for an esoteric strain of quasi-occult religious thought called Traditionalism: all of this, his onetime compatriots in the rationality community might once upon a time have dismissed as New Age claptrap. But Vogel’s personal journey from rationalism to postrationalism is part of a wider intellectual shift — in hyper-STEM-focused Silicon Valley circles and beyond — toward a new openness to the religious, the numinous, and the perilously “woo.”

… More and more rationalists and fellow-travelers were yearning to address personal existential crises alongside global existential risks. The realm of the “woo” started to look less like a wrong turn and more like territory to be mined for new insights.

This wasn’t totally out of left field, even for rationalists. They even had a word for such impulses, according to a former employee of the Center for Applied Rationality, Leah Libresco Sargeant, who writes regularly on how rationalism led her to her Catholic faith. They called it “pica,” after a compulsion that causes people to eat dirt or other non-food objects, and that is often a sign of nutritional imbalance.

I love that “pica” metaphor.

Eyes wide open

Evangelicals claim sola scriptura as their guide, but it is no secret that the challenge of determining what the Bible actually means finds its ultimate caricature in their schisming and squabbling. They are the children of estranged parents, pietism and the enlightenment, but behave like orphans. This confusion over authority is both their greatest affliction and their most potent source of vitality.

I think that locating one’s primary authority as a Christian in the Bible, has a lot of implications. One thing it can do is provide a license to to break away from wider communities — from a church, from a pastor, another source of authority — who is telling you things you you don’t want to hear — a message that is in some way at odds with how you experience Christianity. And it can be a license to start your own community.

I see that impulse towards schism or toward entrepreneurship, too, would be an another way of putting it, as something that has really enlivened evangelicalism that in the context of American culture, and the at least relatively speaking, free market that we have in our in our religious marketplace …

But over the long term, I think it is not always a good thing to be able to break away from people you disagree with, from ideas and information that make you uncomfortable. And so I see that relationship to authority, and perhaps … its power, but also its brittle quality, as something that has both really served evangelicals but has also been a source of consistent struggle.

Molly Worthen, interviewed by Colin Hansen. The inset quote is from her Apostles of Reason which she wrote before she was a committed Christian. She converted to active Christian faith in 2022.

In fairness, I should note that she converted through, and now attends, a Southern Baptist megachurch, but does not appear to back down from her earlier characterization of Evangelicalism. She had her eyes wide open before her heart was.

It must be uncomfortable for her in many ways. But pastor J.D. Greer, to his credit, spent a lot of time with her, answering her many questions, even looping in Tim Keller a time or two. So I understand why she would attend his megachurch.

But she is aware of Orthodoxy, and friendly toward it, albeit while anachronistically viewing it as too ethnic. I’m praying that she’ll discover the truth about that.

The Gospel According to St. John

When I was a young Evangelical, several lifetimes ago, it was common practice to give a new convert a copy of the Gospel According to St. John — never Saints Matthew, Mark or Luke.

Sometime after I became an Orthodox Christian, I was surprised to learn that the Gospel According to St. John was traditionally the only version of the Gospel withheld from pre-converts, known as catechumens.

Only then, in the earlier days of Christianity, were they admitted to the second half of the Liturgy, and then, immediately after Pascha (the traditional time for baptizing catechumens), was the Gospel According to St. John preached, for it was considered too theological for them until baptism.

So familiar were the Gospels to me that I had trouble seeing why it was considered too theological, but that coin has finally dropped, thanks to Fr. Stephen De Young’s Bible studies. It’s not all that difficult to grasp, really.

You see, the Gospel According to St. John was written many decades after the other three “synoptic” Gospels, and it was written to a Church well familiar with the basic narrative of Christ’s incarnation, life, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. So John did not repeat all that basic narrative, but filled in the gaps, giving prolonged attention to some of Jesus’ teachings and to passion week, defying any strict chronology as he did.

It’s in that sense, I think, that John wrote a “theological” gospel as a complement to the three relatively more historical or narrative versions.

And that’s why I think Evangelicalism erred in passing out his version to new converts who might not yet know that outline of Christ’s earthly ministry — just who was this guy to whom they’d committed themselves?

If you can tolerate his mannerisms, as I have learned to do, you can learn a lot from Fr. Stephen, which I suppose is why Ancient Faith Ministries has given him a platform.

Chaos response

[Iconographer Jonathan] Pageau focused, in part, on waves of online conspiracy theories that have shaken many flocks and the shepherds who lead them. Wild rumors and questions, he said, often reveal what people are thinking and feeling and, especially, whether they trust authority figures.

“Even the craziest conspiracy nuts, what they are saying is not arbitrary,” he said …

“It’s like an alarm bell. It’s like an alarm bell that you can hear, and you can understand that the person that’s ringing the alarm maybe doesn’t understand what is going on. … They may think that they have an inside track based on what they’ve heard and think that they know what is going on. But the alarm is not a false alarm, necessarily.”

The chaos is real, stressed Pageau. There is chaos in politics, science, schools, technology, economic systems, family structures and many issues linked to sex and gender. It’s a time when conspiracy theories about vaccines containing tracking devices echo decades of science-fiction stories, while millions of people navigate daily life with smartphones in their pockets that allow Big Tech leaders to research their every move.

This chaos will lead to change, one way or another, he said. The goal for church leaders is to listen and respond with biblical images, themes and stories – as opposed to more acidic chatter about politics.

Terry Mattingly (emphasis added). Pageau was addressing Orthodox clergy.

Christianity as “religion”

In the pre-modern West, as in much of the world today, there was no such thing as “religion”. The Christian story was the basis of peoples’ understanding of reality itself. There was no “religion”, because there was no notion that this truth was somehow optional or partial, any more than we today might assume that gravity or the roundness of the Earth are facts we could choose to engage with only on Sunday mornings.

Paul Kingsnorth, Is there anything left to conserve

Gnostic extremists

My pessimistic views about the physical world made me instinctively suspicious of Christian traditions that incorporated tangible gestures of piety into their worship—gestures like raising hands, making the sign of the cross, kneeling during confession, and so forth. I preferred to attend churches that did not sully the worship experience with earthly things like ornate communion tables, pictures of saints, or even beautiful church buildings. Material things were in competition to spiritual things. I was surrounded by others who thought similarly, including some who went so far as to burn down their church building. “What a powerful testimony to the fact that God’s kingdom is not of this world,” they reflected while watching their former sanctuary go up in flames.

Robin Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic.

I haven’t mentioned it lately, but I agree with Robin Phillips, who wrote a lot about it, that gnosticism is pandemic in American Protestantism.


… A mirror’s temperature
is always at zero. It is ice
in the veins. Its camera
is an X-ray. It is a chalice

held out to you in
silent communion, where gaspingly
you partake of a shifting
identity never your own.

(R.S. Thomas, Collected Later Works)

Wordplay for keeps

The problems with the King James Version of the Bible come from the translators’ imperfect mastery of Hebrew, and the problems with other versions come from the translators’ imperfect mastery of English.

Robert Alter via John Brady on


They go on to assume or claim, without philosophical justification, that the remarkable success of this methodological reductionism entails that we should accept the kind of ontological reductionism in which reality is seen ultimately as consisting only of the interactions of the universe’s basic building blocks.

Christopher C. Knight, Science and the Christian Faith

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 5/27/23

It’s a long one today, but I’ve broken it down by rubric.

And for what it’s worth, Mrs. Tipsy and I have been married 51 years as of today.


The single most counterintuitive social principle in all of human history.

The idea that obnoxious, misguided, seditious, blasphemous, and bigoted expressions deserve not only to be tolerated but, of all things, protected is the single most counterintuitive social principle in all of human history. Every human instinct cries out against it, and every generation discovers fresh reasons to oppose it. It is saved from the scrapheap of self-evident absurdity only by the fact that it is also the single most successful social principle in all of human history.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

I could have classified this under politics, but if we lose all culture of free speech, we’ll eventually lose the law as well — and I wanted anyone who skips politics to see it.

Tasting monasticism

Fascinating: Molly Worthen, What College Students Need Is a Taste of the Monk’s Life

RIP Europe, age 33

The Europe that came together in 1990 is coming apart again, its people angry and fragmented, its leaders visionless, the once-free-ish West boiling in a stew of hate speech laws, vaccine mandates and ever-accelerating censorship and intolerance. ‘Populists’ continue to barrack and harrass its leaders, and neither they nor their media allies can quite work out why. The last global empire is led by a confused octogenarian, and within a few years the biggest economy in the world will be a communist dictatorship. The Scorpions never saw that one coming.

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World

“Science” in service of ridiculous ideologies

“White-throated sparrows have four chromosomally distinct sexes that pair up in fascinating ways. P.S. Nature is amazing. P.P.S. Sex is not binary,” – Laura Helmuth, editor-in-chief of Scientific American. The sparrows have just two sexes, as Community Notes corrected. Jerry Coyne has a beaut of a piece on this.

I regret that I have no recollection of the source for this, but I hereby explicitly disclaim adding a word other than the heading.

The elite avatars of proledom

Stanford Law School students were in the news for awhile, thanks to a contingent of them having shouted down a conservative campus speaker … I’ve come to think that the whole frame of the thing speaks to a real refusal of the American left to take its own ideas seriously. The debate fell along the typical lines. Liberals and lefties, as is their habit, rushed not only to defend the student protesters but to lionize them. What I find somewhat depressing is that this has become a habit, anointing representatives of the academic 1% as the footsoldiers of progressive change. The catechism of 21st-century progressivism insists that we are creatures of our immutable demographic traits, that our race and our class and our privilege define us and our influence on the world. If that’s true, how are we to assume that law students at Stanford Law School are anything other than the next generation’s shock troops of the bourgeoisie, whatever their professed politics? Where did all of that demographic determinism go?

Freddie deBoer, Stanford Law Students Are Your Class Enemy


This feeling that I’m feeling isn’t schadenfreude

… because there’s not an ounce of sorrow in it:

Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes—convicted in November on a number of charges, including seditious conspiracy, for his role instigating the January 6 riots and seeking to disrupt the transfer of power—was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison, the longest such term of any January 6 defendant thus far. The head of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, Kelly Meggs, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

TMD. It’s important that insurrectionists like Rhodes and Meggs pay dearly.

On the other hand, I’m not opposed in principle to Ron DeSantis’ promise to review January 6 convictions and consider Presidential pardons. I know one fellow I’d like to see pardoned, who wandered in rubbernecking like a bog-standard tourist. I at least glimmeringly understand why DOJ prosecuted one and all, but for some of those convicted, the process should be the only lasting punishment.

It pays to increase your word-power

With the etiology now explained (Happy 20th Birthday to the Streisand Effect), I may add “Streisand Effect” to my vocabulary.

It doesn’t pay (easily) to win a bet with PillowMan

As long as I’m channeling Volokh Conspiracy postings, here’s another one, equally gratifying and more contemporary: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Taken to Court for Refusing to Pay the Person who Proved Him Wrong


It is in the nature of American justice that anger can end a life, yet forgiveness cannot necessarily save one.

Elizabeth Bruenig, A Murder Forgiven

Just because

You only live once

I had marked this for sharing already, but then I had lunch with someone, soon turning 61, who is feeling his age and wondering if he has mis-spent his life, and it became more salient to me:

I had a dream last night in which I visited [my parents] James and Dora on their farm after the house burned down and saw their seven kids and little Eleanor had a terrible fever and the family sat praying for her — a fleeting dream but I would give anything to revisit it. I feel the same way about the picture of my mother, 17, with sister Elsie and friend Dorothy, three girls in summer dresses standing holding their bikes by Lake Nokomis in 1932, so happy — I want to ask her, “Do you realize you’re going to have six kids and not much money and they’ll cause you a lot of problems? Is this really what you want? I’m a writer, I can send you to Hollywood. You’re very charming, very funny. What he loves about you, millions of others would love too. What do you say, kid?” And she gets on her bike and wheels away.

Garrison Keillor

The problem of Uniqueness

[T]he analytic process cannot deal with uniqueness: there is an irresistible temptation for it to move from the uniqueness of something to its assumed non-existence, since the reality of the unique would have to be captured by idioms that apply to nothing else.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Two favorite safety devices

BitDefender Box protects my entire home network, including IOT devices. I cheerfully pay up each year for software and firmware updates plus anti-virus for all my iOS and MacOS stuff.

The only kind of stepladder I have any business using these days.

Now, even if you hate politics, you might want to read the opener to the next item.


The Quaker whose mule wouldn’t plow

One of my favorite stories, for roughly five decades now, is of a Quaker with a mule who wouldn’t plow.

Finally, after various goads, the Quaker walked to the mule, took its ears gently in hand, looked into its eyes, and said “Brother mule. Thee knowest I am a Quaker, Thee knowest I cannot beat thee. Thee knowest I cannot curse thee. What thee does not know is that I can sell thee — to the baptist up the road. And he can beat the living daylights out of thee.”

That’s pretty much how I’m starting to feel about the wokesters/progressive Left/successor ideology. My “baptists” are the Irreligious Right, the Christianist Right — both capable of violence, I think — and a few politicians who can see which way the wind is blowing, such as Ron DeSantis.

I doubt I can vote for DeSantis, in part because of his ham-handed attacks on the progressive Left in Florida and his playing illegal immigrants (I know the adjective is offensive to some, but it’s a perfectly good description) as pawns by putting them on busses headed to Blue zones. So maybe I really wouldn’t sell my cultural adversaries to him.

And I know I can’t vote for Trump.

But I’m starting to feel at least ambivalent, not entirely negative, about how the “baptists” might handle this. And I’m certain I’m not alone.

Fear casts out love

Fear casts out love. And not only love. Fear also casts out intelligence, casts out goodness, casts out all thought of beauty and truth.

Aldous Huxley via Peter Wehner, who was explaining ‌The Minds of Trump Supporters

I am aware of the possible irony of placing this after the immediately preceding item.

When Peggy Noonan speaks, one should listen

Peggy Noonan gives Ron DeSantis some advice:

At some point, I think soon, he’ll have to make a serious, textured and extended case against Donald Trump. Not insults and nicknames, not “Can he take a punch? Can he throw a punch?” No, something aimed at the big beating heart of the GOP that tells those who’ve gone on the Trumpian journey and aligned with him that they can no longer indulge their feelings. At a crucial point in history they’ll lose again, and the damage to the country will be too great. Throwaway lines like “the culture of losing” aren’t enough. That’s just a line that signals. Don’t signal, say. Include the long history of political losses—Congress, the presidency, the opportunity for a red wave in 2022.

Yes, tell those good people that you served your country in a tragedy called Iraq and the other guy claimed bone spurs and ran during a tragedy called Vietnam. You think you don’t have to say it, but you do. People who love Mr. Trump need reasons they can explain to themselves to peel away.

Religious conservatives in the 2016 election

When religious conservatism made its peace with Donald Trump in 2016, the fundamental calculation was that the benefits of political power — or, alternatively, of keeping cultural liberalism out of full political power — outweighed the costs to Christian credibility inherent in accepting a heathen figure as a political champion and leader.

The contrary calculation, made by the Christian wing of Never Trump, was that accepting Trump required moral compromises that American Christianity would ultimately suffer for, whatever Supreme Court seats or policy victories religious conservatives might gain.

Ross Douthat

There’s a lot distilled in those two paragraphs. I particularly note that the second paragraph at least hints at the view that Christianity is about something other than political power, a possibility that the New York Times in particular almost never considers. (“Politics is real, religion isn’t” is the gist of it.)

Yet I don’t see my own position reflected in either of them.

My core anti-Trump conviction was that his narcissism would distort his perceptions of reality, and that a President who misperceives reality — or even just a few key realities at a few pivotal times — could damage the nation terribly — worse than Hillary Clinton would.

The current formulation of my former position is inevitably colored by what actually happened, because I didn’t commit my position to writing in 2015-16 so I could some day say “see, I told you so.” But narcissism and misperception of reality was definitely at the core. And in 2016, I still thought that Christian Trump-voters were probably holding their noses because of the alternative. If I spoke or wrote about how wicked he was, it was my trying to pry others away from him with arguments that I thought they’d find weightier than “he’s a toxic narcissist.” I never expected so much troll-like adulation of that man under Christianish auspices.

Had it not been for his mesmerizing narcissism, he’d have never been such an effective demagogue and would not have won the GOP primary. So I’d never have needed to weigh whether a mere serial adulterer and shady casino magnate, without a disabling personality disorder, was an acceptable alternative to a woman who deplored roughly half the nation.

What keeps Damon Linker up at night

I just don’t think, even now, that the imposition of a right-wing tyranny is a likely scenario for the United States. Far more likely is a mutually reinforcing cycle of extra-constitutional power grabs, spasms of civil unrest, efforts to impose order, and more egregious acts of violence aimed at “the system.” This wouldn’t become a civil war like the one that consumed the United States in the 1860s, with massive armies facing each other for protracted, bloody battles aimed at seizing territory. But it would nonetheless be a form of low-boil civil war, perhaps resembling The Troubles in Northern Ireland more than any other recent examples.

… each side’s greatest fear is a dictatorship by the other side.

Another is that when each side is informed about the other side’s fears along these lines, the reaction is angry and mocking dismissal. You’re saying I’m a threat to them_? What a bunch of bullshit. Everybody with a brain and capable of unbiased thinking knows_ they’re the problem.

Yet another fact about our politics is that each side is becoming more willing to entertain (or fantasize about taking?) extra-constitutional acts in order to protect itself from what it’s convinced are the threatening extra-constitutional acts by the other side. Trump’s self-coup-attempt in January 2021 is only the most obvious and egregious example. More recent ones have come up throughout the current debt-ceiling battle, with prominent Democrats proposing all kinds of gambits, justified by the supposed national emergency posed by looming debt default, to get around the Constitution’s placement of the power of the purse in the hands of Congress.

My point, once again, is not to assign or remove blame from either side—or to treat both sides as equally good or bad. If the choice is between Trump’s self-coup to keep himself in power despite losing the 2020 election and the Democratic Speaker of the House talking with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about a plan to undertake a coup of their own against that same dictator-president, I would side with the latter every time. But the latter is still a coup—an unconstitutional power grab undertaken to thwart a prior unconstitutional power grab.

Damon Linker

I don’t know how to prevent this except by one personal step: declaring myself a noncombatant. That won’t keep “them” from coming for me, whichever “them” it be, and I don’t know how to prevent that, either.

Imagining a Trump reprise

[I]magine a second Trump administration. This time he surrounds himself with loyalists who vow to do his bidding. Among their first acts is to impose Schedule F reform on the executive branch, which enables them to fire tens of thousands of career civil servants and replace them with even more loyalists. This would open up the possibility of a more DeSantis-like Trump administration.

Yet it would still be different in one decisive respect: Trump doesn’t affirm any consistent ideology. Instead, he aims to inflict as much pain and damage as possible on his own enemies and those of his supporters. To that end, he’s perfectly willing and happy to reverse course the moment he sees an opening for a victory or a deal. He relies entirely on his own judgment. He doesn’t follow the lead of advisers. He sizes things up with his own eyes, and makes sudden, snap decisions. He prizes flexibility and despises constraints—and as we all learned in the two months following the 2020 election, this even extends to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the norms of ordinary democratic politics, including the peaceful transfer of power.

This sounds more than a little like the kind of government the ancient political philosophers described as a kingship—albeit one in which the king wholly lacks in virtue or wisdom. They called such a leader a tyrant. Such a tyranny is different than the ideological forms of dictatorship we’re familiar with from the modern age because it has no overarching constellation of ideas it seeks to enact or to which it looks for guidance. It’s the rule, instead, of one man seeking to satisfy his own insatiable hunger for attention and thirst for the adulation of the people.

Modern ideological dictators are ascetics of a kind. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong devoted their lives to a cause.

But Trump’s only cause is himself. Somewhat like the ancient tyrants Plato and Aristotle analyzed, he is a political hedonist who acts as he does out of a craving for the pleasure that comes from being loved and cheered by a crowd.

Damon Linker, The Rise of the Anti-Ideological Right—2 I’m not sure how “political hedonist” differs from political narcissist, but I’ll let that go.

Surely not!

I’m beginning to despair of the whole right, but especially the anti-woke formation (much as I loathe woke-ism). There’s no positive vision to it. It’s unserious. It seems designed to stave off real populism at the level of political economy.

Sohrab Ahmari on Twitter (H/T Nellie Bowles)

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.


It has been a while. Let’s have a little fun.

bellicose utopianism

The foreign policy mind-set that emerged in the United States after the end of the Cold War, demonstrated by Washington’s series of regime-change wars.

stenographic process

How ethnic-Albanian militants, humanitarian organizations, NATO and the news media fed off each other to give credibility to genocide rumors about Yugoslavia. (It’s tempting to call most of today’s journalists “stenographers”)

For both items, see Why Are We in Ukraine?.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a famous actress. And then, as I got a little older, I just wanted to be a successful actress. And then, as I got even older, I wanted to be a successful actress, and I also didn’t want anyone to know who I was.

Psychologist (and occasional actress) Pamela Paresky, who hosts a regular get-together for Thought Criminals.

There are so many people who trade in cancellation—circles where they wear it like a badge of honor. It is good to be brave. But you shouldn’t be an edgelord.

Sarah Rose Siskind, one of the thought-criminals, who monkeywrenched her young life by an anti-affirmative action column in a campus paper at Harvard.

it is because … political discourses … are so detached from the prospect of actual violence that they can afford to be so extreme.

Alexis Carré, in the concluding essay in a series on the “coalition of the sensible” at Public Discourse.

Even a bad man can get railroaded.

Peggy Noonan

It’s hard to ==underestimate== Tim Keller’s influence on American evangelicalism—even though he preferred to call himself a “conservative Protestant.” …

Dale M. Coulter, Remembering Tim Keller. I strongly suggest that Coulter meant “overestimate.”

When Princeton withdrew his [Kuyper Award], Keller went and delivered lectures associated with the award anyway, a magnanimous gesture that ==belied== his generous spirit.

Daniel Darling. I’m less sure of this, but it seems to me that “belied” is the wrong word, too. “Belie” is in my vocabulary, but I usually need to check to make sure I’m not misusing it.

I notice that sort of thing often enough that it seems like there should be a name for it. “Spoonerism” comes to mind, but that’s not it.

Décroissance, or “de-growth” in French. The aim of some left-leaning Europeans, who would like to deliberately shrink the economy in the hope of avoiding ecological and societal collapse. Read the full story.

Suddenly, talk of de-growth seems to pop up daily or oftener in my reading. Apparently, that’s not just an anglophone thing.

We owe a debt of gratitude to whoever coined “Luxury Beliefs.” It’s adjacent to ad hominem fallacies, but some lifestyle advocacy is so patently destructive of the poor (even if the elite can get away with living that way) that shorthand dismissal is a healthy instinct.

Monday 5/22/23

Open Culture Wars

Our Culture War is a Cold War

True revolutionaries do not need to borrow authority from institutions, because they have the power to take what they want from their unconsenting enemy. The woke Left, whether we want to admit it or not, and whether it is itself conscious of it or not, has no such power. It has only consenting victims.

People on the New Right will probably object, claiming that they’re unwilling to listen to and aren’t convinced by the woke Left but are coerced into acquiescing in its beliefs and required conduct thanks to its institutional power—that they are the victims of a form of violence. But the nature of the new Left’s power is not Schmittian. Instead, its power comes from its capacity to influence the state through … “institutional capture” [a/k/a] “cultural hegemony.”

The irritating proximity of different ways of life, which is inevitable in complex modern societies, would not lead their proponents to such extreme expressions of disdain and mutual hatred if those proponents were made to bear the consequences of their discourse. Without such a prospect, each side can all too safely afford to see the other as an absolute enemy and claim to heroically stand for its cause. In the spirit of Schmitt, no situation is as little political as ours.

The woke Left and the New Right are manifestations of a deeper crisis. Both of them find their origin in the neutral state’s aims to liberate people from the responsibility to determine and to pursue a common good, and therefore focus on the administration of things. The state remains neutral out of fear that our disagreements about the common good might lead us to become enemies. But polarization shows clearly enough that peace reduced to mere coexistence, and the virtues attached to it (tolerance and moderation), fall short of what makes human beings want to form a united people, and ready to cultivate the virtues necessary to achieve such a goal.

Freedom, understood as individual autonomy, can never be the sole or even the main question to which a political regime provides the collective answer: How to live together and still be free?

Our problem is not that Left and Right are bringing us to the verge of civil war, but that their political demands have become completely detached from the reality of the human relations that make the satisfaction of such demands possible and just.

Alexis Carré, in the concluding essay in a series on the “coalition of the sensible” at Public Discourse.

That essay was a real mind-bender for someone like me who has bought the narrative that we are dangerously polarized, almost on the brink of a hot civil war. It’s one of the rare pieces I’m flagging (Obsidian bookmark) to re-read after a while.

The other essays in the series are linked at the top of Carré’s essay.

Our ideologically incoherent tribes

Today, the Lewises argue, “Left” and “Right” are competing bundles of unconnected and sometimes incompatible issue commitments held together by tribalism. The authors bring to bear a wealth of social science research that shows that people’s issue commitments are more heavily influenced by group loyalties than by philosophical consistency. They also catalogue a history of various political stances that, for example, began as Right, then were considered Left, and sometimes back again, depending on the coalitions’ needs. Trade protectionism, for example, was “Right;” then “Left;” now “Right” again (or maybe “Right” and “Left”). Foreign interventionism took the reverse course. Today what counts as “Right” and “Left” has become conflated with party, and party with the views of individual leaders. All of this, the Lewises contend, cuts strongly against the “essentialist” concept of ideology and in favor of their “social theory.”

Andrew Busch, reviewing The Myth of Left and Right by Hyrum and Verlan Lewis.

Considering what became of the GOP in 2015-16, this “social theory of ideology” has some obvious appeal, as the GOP now holds policies opposite those held ten years ago, and the change was not gradual and evolutionary.

Covert Culture Wars

No Place of One’s Own

To make every place available to all is not to erase privilege, if by that term we mean something illegitimate. Rather it is to erase an earned ability to know and to use diverse and localized pockets of the world according to different levels of personal investment and responsibility. Another way to name this would be the end of ownership, conceived not simply as private property, but as title to inhabit some place on the earth as one’s own.

Matthew Crawford, Seeing Like Google

Google Street View undermines our ability to inhabit a place on earth as our own, and Google has ambitions toward something even more deracinating (I suspect it involved the map of your home created by your Roomba and uploaded to our overlords.)

It is good periodically to be reminded, first, how evil Google is and, second, to trace the implications of its hubris (and its market-tested insouciant responses to objectors).

Participatory disinformation

Disinformation and conspiracism spread in advanced, individualistic democracies like the United States not because their targets are sheeplike but because, to the contrary, so many people are active collaborators in their own deception. … “It’s a fight between good and evil,” one woman told the Associated Press in 2021, explaining why she spent hours every day scouring the internet for proof that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. “She saw systems fail those most vulnerable,” reported the A.P., “and her faith in the standard truth-bearers of American democracy—courts, Congress, the media—eroded. She felt she could trust nothing but believe anything.… … Conspiracy theories like the ones about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic “are profoundly participatory disinformation campaigns,”

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

Return from captivity

Playing in her first real WNBA game in 579 days, Brittney Griner did something Friday night in Los Angeles that national television audiences hadn’t seen her do in a long time: The Phoenix Mercury center stood for the national anthem.

She stopped doing so in 2020 but has resumed the practice after returning from 10 months of imprisonment in Russia. “One thing that’s good about this country is our right to protest,” Griner said after the game when I asked her about the issue. “You have a right to be able to speak out, question, to challenge, and do all these things. [After] what I went through, it just means a little bit more to me now. I was literally in a cage and could not stand the way I wanted to … and a lot of other situations. Just being able to hear my national anthem, see my flag, I definitely wanted to stand.”

Jemele Hill

Trans matters

Telling statistics from Tavistock

The Tavistock Centre, the sole facility in the NHS dedicated to [gender reassignment], kept statistics on the children who came to their doors. Among those referred in 2012, ninety percent of natal girls and 80 percent of natal boys reported being same-sex attracted or bisexual. There is no inherent relationship between trans and gay and bi people. So why this staggering overlap? No answer. If a Christianist hospital was busy changing the sexes of overwhelmingly gay kids, so that they became straight, what do you think the gay rights establishment would say? But when a queer facility does exactly that, all the worriers are bigots.

… From the Times of London:

So many potentially gay children were being sent down the pathway to change gender, two of the clinicians said there was a dark joke among staff that “there would be no gay people left.” “It feels like conversion therapy for gay children,” one male clinician said. “I frequently had cases where people started identifying as trans after months of horrendous bullying for being gay,” he told The Times. “Young lesbians considered at the bottom of the heap suddenly found they were really popular when they said they were trans.”

Another female clinician said: “We heard a lot of homophobia which we felt nobody was challenging. A lot of the girls would come in and say, ‘I’m not a lesbian. I fell in love with my best girl friend but then I went online and realised I’m not a lesbian, I’m a boy. Phew.”

You might imagine that, given this record, the queers would go out of their way to reassure us, to show how tight the safeguarding is, how they screen thoroughly to ensure that gay kids are not swept up in this. But they regard the very question of whether gay kids are at risk as out of bounds.

Andrew Sullivan, Notes on a Medical Scandal. I don’t recall Sullivan ever before penning such a crie de couer, but I’m glad he did. You should read the whole thing if you can, bearing in mind that “queer” isn’t used as an insult but as the self-chosen adjective of the activists he’s opposing.

I had not known the “staggering” extent of the overlap between homosexual attractions and subsequent trans identification, but had been aware that most adolescents who presented with gender dysphoria would, if denied medical transition, eventually settle into conventional gay or lesbian identities. That probably is why the trans ideologues are ruling the very question of whether gay kids are at risk out of bounds, transphobic and evil.

I should also mention (confess?) that I have previously overlooked (not just underestimated the “stick” of anti-gay bullying, underestimated the role of qualms about homosexual attraction, and overestimated the “carrot” of social valorization as motives for kids to declare themselves trans.

Inconvenient parallel

California banned conversion therapy for minors in 2012. That law later withstood two legal challenges. I wonder if the precedents in those cases will affect legal challenges to the Texas and Florida bills [banning gender transitioning procedures for minors] as judges weigh whether legislators overreached in denying treatments many trans kids want.

Conor Friedersdorf

The Culture without the War

CNN trembling at the prospect of Trump 2024

[I]f you remember CNN’s ratings during the Trump presidency, then you know that quivering you see among the talking heads now might not be rage so much as thrill. More like the quivering you hear about in romance novels. There’s an unholy but unstoppable union, a love hidden but never extinguished kind of shake—yes yes yes!—it’s the story of Donald J. Trump and cable news.

Nellie Bowles

The Ancients: What Makes the Best Regime?

The ancient philosophers’ primary question was what makes the best regime. Democracy certainly did not qualify. Why not? The answer was simple. They thought democracy was a messy system, systematically undermining the rule of law, profoundly partisan, often hostile to the most prominent leaders and citizens. The famous defense of democratic Athens delivered by Pericles in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War is in fact more a defense of Athens and Athenian imperialism than of the democratic political model. When Plato and Aristotle wrote their scathing remarks about the Athenian system, they thought it was already in decline and Athens might soon become a victim of the crisis from which it would not be able to recover. And this is exactly what happened.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy

Guilt by Association

There seems to be some titilating about famous men who knew Jeffrey Epstein, the latest being Noam Chomsky.

For the record, I think human beings — even Jeffrey Epstein — are more complicated than that. If every man who knew Jeffrey Epstein was a sexual predator, then I should give up on Christianity and become a frank Manichean.


  • A student told me there were no objective moral truths.  I mentioned a precept of the Decalogue, and asked “What about that?”  He replied, “That’s not morality, that’s justice.”  But if we take justice in the classical sense – giving to each what is due to him – almost all morality is about justice.  To my wife, I owe fidelity; to my parents, honor; to the child whom I sire, an intact family in which to enjoy the care of me and his mother.
  • A warning to intellectuals such as myself. Supposing the existence of square circles, you can do a lot of things: You can make syllogisms about them, you can develop theories about them, you can even prove theorems about them. But that doesn’t mean that they exist.
  • As a Christian, I believe in the Messiah.  That doesn’t mean I have to like political messianism, which we find both on the right and on the left.  The difference is that left-wing political messianism is usually utopian, trusting the hero to take us to a political promised land — but right-wing political messianism is usually reactive, trusting the hero to save us from the crazies who believe in utopia.  The advantage here lies with the left, because unfortunately, most people are more impressed by lunatic visionaries than by persons with no vision at all.

J Budziszewski

The Burden

I realized
at dusk
under the flight path
of the rooks
that this weight on me
was perhaps not words
or my need to belong
but was the weight
of knowing too much
seeing too much
taking on too much
staring too long into the abyss
taking it all so personally.

(Paul Kingsnorth, versified by me because I felt that it “scanned” as poetry)

Rank Politics

DeSantis head-scratcher

Some of what Ron DeSantis is doing seems sensible, some dubious, some flat-out weird. What in heaven’s name is the purpose of the “2-minute opening remarks” in the fifth item on this list?


A group of prominent Democrats are calling for $14 trillion to be paid as reparations to the descendants of slaves. The bill was introduced by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who said: “The United States has a moral and legal obligation to provide reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its lasting harm on the lives of millions of Black people.” I’m on board with reparations. At least, I think it’d be better to do a big reparations shebang—cut checks and call it a day—than the strange sort of slow-drip reparations plans we see in liberal institutions. Like, yes, $14 trillion is a lot of money. But if the alternative is Robin DiAngelo trainings till the end of time and making the MCAT illegal and allowing people to self-ID as doctors because that’s more equitable, then $14 trillion is a bargain. 

But here’s why reparations … will never happen: simply cutting checks to the descendants of slaves means shuttering all the thousands of racial justice nonprofits that serve as an employment program for America’s white grad students ….

Nellie Bowles

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 5/21/23

Tim Keller, RIP

A major Protestant pastor has died at age 72, yet I’m surprised how many people have never heard of him. I left Protestantism roughly 26 years ago, but Tim Keller (who I doubt I’d heard of while still Protestant — everybody was talking about Bill Hybels or, if they were more intellectual, Ravi Zacharias) — once he came onto my radar, seemed a thoroughly admirable man.

In the measure of the world, Tim Keller wasn’t a newsworthy mover or shaker because he stayed away from partisan politics. If I were still Protestant, I hope I’d be a Tim Keller kind of Protestant:

Christianity’s unsurpassed offers — a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.

Tim Keller via Alan Jacobs

A few other things I’ve read about Keller upon his death:

  • “Fifty years from now,” the journal Christianity Today wrote in 2006, “if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.” (New York Times obituary)
  • He defined a fully formed Christian as “somebody who finds Christianity both rationally and intellectually credible, but also emotionally and existentially true and satisfying.” (New York Times obituary)
  • In 2022, he began speaking of the six social marks of evangelicalism, which he essentially equated with fundamentalism. These were moralism over gracious engagement, individualism over social reform, dualism over a comprehensive vision of life, anti-intellectualism over scholarship, anti-institutionalism over accountability, and enculturation over cultural reflection. (Dale Coulter)
  • He focused on grace because he believed that most people understand how broken they are. (Dale Coulter)
  • In 2017 Princeton University awarded him a prestigious prize named for Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. But the once proudly Christian institution rescinded the award after intrepid critics discovered, to their chagrin, that Keller, like Kuyper, took the Bible’s teachings on sexuality seriously.** Yet the New York pastor was also known for his warmth and gentleness, even toward those with whom he disagreed. **When Princeton withdrew his prize, Keller went and delivered lectures associated with the award anyway, a magnanimous gesture that belied (sic) his generous spirit. (Daniel Darling)
  • He wasn’t embarrassed to be associated with Jesus, nor was he embarrassed to be associated with Jesus’ followers. (Daniel Darling)

That last one almost felt accusatory.

Faux Christianity

I believe that I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Populist Christianity

Even when Fundamentalists set out to defend the truth, their temptation was to rally large constituencies to the cause rather than to prepare for scholarly exchange.

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

Autonomy, community

I sadly cannot recommend Rod Dreher’s recent writing, and my subscription to his Substack is set to expire, not renew. But I owe him a debt of gratitude for much of what he has written in the past, which I’ve followed non-stop since Crunchy Cons.

I strongly suspect that Rod would defend his recent turn by saying the world has changed, and so must his writing if it’s to remain relevant and true. My response would be, I think, that human nature has not fundamentally changed, and that ephemeral things appeal less to me than constant things. That’s my first draft outline of my imaginary conversation with him, at least.

Meanwhile, this Dreher excerpt was particularly frank and, frankly, is true of me and probably of many others:

I have to tell you, spending time with the Bruderhof folks caused an unsettling reaction within me. I was glad that theological differences would keep me from considering living in a Bruderhof — glad because to be honest, I know that I’m too much of a coward to surrender so much autonomy to live in close community. For me, this was a real moment of painful honesty. The Bruderhof communities have some of the things I desire, but they have them because people have voluntarily given up a degree of liberty and autonomy that we all take for granted. I felt like the Rich Young Ruler of the Gospel — the one who wants what Jesus offers, but won’t surrender everything to get it. I talk a good game about community built on religious belief and mutual obligation, but if there were an Orthodox Bruderhof, would I join?

With the Bruderhof

His concluding question may amount to “can I practice the Benedict Option I’ve preached?”

One of Reno’s most tightly-packed thoughts

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

True, that

An active and deeply engaged liturgical life is especially important for anyone who is seeking to truly become Orthodox in mind and heart.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Wednesday, 5/17/23


Gentle Persuastion

Let’s start with something nice.

Peter Wehner recounts an anecdote from a 1985 gathering of the South African National Initiative for Reconciliation, where the Dutch Reformed were guardedly present:

Bishop [Desmond] Tutu was one of the last people to speak; as he was preparing to do so, the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church were uneasy, visibly stiffening. Tutu addressed his remarks directly to them.

“I just want to thank God that he brought you, my white brothers, here to South Africa,” the Anglican bishop told the Dutch Reformed Church leaders, as best Haugen recalls his words decades later. “I thank God that you came because you brought the mission hospitals, and I was born in a mission hospital. I thank God you brought the mission schools, and I went to a mission school. But most of all, my brothers, I thank God that he brought you because you brought the word of God. But now I’m going to have to open up that word of God and show you why your apartheid system is a sin.”

Tutu proceeded to do just that.

Causation isn’t always obvious in human affairs, but according to Wehner “The following year, the Dutch Reformed Church declared that South Africa’s system of racial separation and minority white rule was morally wrong and had done the country and its people grievous harm.”

My recollection is that they declared it a heresy, which meant a lot to me since I was then a member of the Christian Reformed Church, historically Dutch and quite thoroughly “adjacent” to South Africa’s Dutch Reformed in many ways, and its defense of apartheid was an embarrassment — embarrassing like the Russian Orthodox Patriarch blessing the invasion of Ukraine.

What pluralism is and isn’t

Pluralism is an irreducible, sociological fact of American life. It is not a set of norms that requires perfect neutrality in public spaces; instead, it creates parameters around what’s politically possible amid profoundly diverse views about first principles.

Elayne Allen, Sensible Politics Can’t Ignore Religion.

That may be a sleeper. You might want to read it again.

Harder questions for The Man Who Would Be King

What the TV professionals should learn is that they have two choices in dealing with another Trump primary campaign. They can take the kind of this-is-an-emergency path urged on them by some press critics and anti-Trump writers: Don’t platform him or normalize his campaign in any way, don’t let him speak on live TV, cover him only within a set framework that constantly emphasizes his authoritarian tendencies and attempts to overturn the last election. I don’t believe this path is wise or workable, but it at least has a moral consistency lacking in the “democracy is in danger and tune in tonight for an hour with the demagogue!” approach that we already watched play out in 2016.

Alternatively, if the press intends to conduct interviews and run debates as normal, then in preparing for them they need to try to think a little bit more like Republican voters as opposed to center-left journalists. Not in the sense of behaving slavishly toward the former president, but in the sense of writing the kinds of questions that a right-leaning American primed to dislike the media might actually find illuminating.

In part, as Ramesh Ponnuru suggests, that means drilling into Trump’s presidential record on conservative terms rather than liberal ones — asking about, for instance, the failure to complete the border wall or the surge in crime in the last year of his administration. In part, as Erick Erickson writes, it means asking obvious questions that follow from his stolen-election narrative rather than just attacking it head-on — as in, if the Democrats really stole the election, why did your administration, your chosen attorney general and your appointed judges basically just let them do it?

Ross Douthat, Trump’s Lesson for the Media and Ron DeSantis

Sounds about right

Special Counsel John Durham—appointed during former President Donald Trump’s administration—issued a 306-page report criticizing the FBI’s investigation into allegations linking the Trump campaign and Russia ahead of the 2016 election. Durham found the collusion probe was opened based on “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence” and that investigators placed too much stock in supposed evidence provided by Trump’s political rivals. The report also alleges the FBI was far more hesitant to investigate claims Hillary Clinton’s campaign had similar foreign ties. GOP Rep. Jim Jordan—chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government—said yesterday he’d invited Durham to testify next week.

Via The Morning Dispatch for 5/16/23

Once again, I’m in the position of holding two truths in tension:

  1. The Media, the FBI, and who knows who all else, will do just about anything, including dirty, sleazy tricks, to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
  2. Donald Trump nevertheless is deeply unqualified for the Presidency of this troubled nation-state I live in.

The Biden Family Grift

“I don’t see any direct evidence of misconduct in the memo or reports about it,” Ken White, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who worked on government fraud and public corruption, told TMD. “When it rises to the level of an official doing things because of payments to a family member, or paying money with the specific intent to change an official’s decision, that’s illegal. But hiring a public official’s idiot brother-in-law for your board of directors generally isn’t.”

“There’s a vast amount of activity that’s sleazy but legal in American politics,” White told TMD. “It’s reasonable to make inquiries about why a vice president’s relatives are getting big payments from foreign countries. But so far it’s smoke, not fire.”

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees released a joint staff report last week claiming a letter signed by former intelligence officials during the 2020 election discounting the legitimacy of the infamous Hunter Biden laptop was coordinated with the Biden campaign and exploited the national security credentials of former officials.

Via The Morning Dispatch for 5/16/23

Point Well Made

President Biden says he will not negotiate with congressional Republicans over a bill to increase the debt ceiling. This is preposterous and indefensible, for several reasons: For one thing, taxing, spending, and borrowing are inherently congressional powers, not presidential powers. For another thing, Joe Biden is president—not king. The idea that a president would refuse to negotiate with Congress over congressional action is nonsensical from a constitutional point of view and autocratic from a political point of view. Congress is not there to do the president’s bidding—if anything, it is the other way around: The president is charged with the faithful execution of the laws Congress passes, not with barking orders at the branch of government that is actually charged by the Constitution with responsibility for this issue.

Kevin D. Williamson, Emperor Malarkey I.

I’m pleased to report that Biden was lying/bluffing/bloviating and is indeed talking with congressional Republicans — talks that cynics might even call “negotiations.”

Christian Nationalisms

Michelle Goldberg, who I don’t usually read, caught my attention with this one:

A major question for Republicans in 2024 is whether this militant version of Christian nationalism — one often rooted in Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on prophecy and revelation — can overcome the qualms of more mainstream evangelicals. The issue isn’t whether the next Republican presidential candidate is going to be a Christian nationalist, meaning someone who rejects the separation of church and state and treats Christianity as the foundation of American identity and law. That’s a foregone conclusion in a party whose state lawmakers are falling over themselves to pass book bans, abortion prohibitions, anti-trans laws, and, in Texas, bills authorizing school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

What’s not yet clear, though, is what sort of Christian nationalism will prevail: the elite, doctrinaire variety of candidates like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, or the violently messianic version embodied by Flynn and Trump.

If DeSantis treats Christianity as a moral code he’d like to impose on the rest of us, Trump treats it as an elevated status that should come with special perks. That’s how he can slam DeSantis for being “sanctimonious” even as he wraps his own campaign in biblical raiment. If a Republican wins in 2024, the victor will preside over a Christian nationalist administration. The question is whether that person will champion an orthodoxy or a cult.

What a hell of a state we’re in when Donald Trump, with zero Christian bona fides, is considered the avatar of one variety of “Christian Nationalism.” And while I question the use of “Christian Nationalism” to describe MAGAworld, he’s definitely the avatar of something that thinks it’s Christian. So too may be DeSantis, this time with some bona fides.

It’s shaping up once again that I’ll be unable to vote in good conscience for either major party candidate next fall.


How much menace can we be required to tolerate?

Today, Kat Rosenfeld of UnHerd gained the coveted status of “Writers the Tipsy Teetotaler intends henceforth to pay closer attention to.”

Her topic is the subway death of Jordan Neely at the hands of Daniel Penny with the approbation of some other passengers. It’s so rich that I commend the whole essay to you at UnHerd though it was reprinted at Bari Weiss’s Free Press behind a paywall:

During the 2017 peak of the #MeToo movement, the conversation about sexual harassment came down to two related but ultimately separate questions. On the one hand, there was the question of what men shouldn’t do; on the other, there was the question of what women could be expected to tolerate.

For [Jordan Neeliy] to die on the dirty floor of a subway car, screaming and defecating on himself while three strangers held him by the arms, legs, and neck, he had to be first failed at every turn by a system that was supposed to shelter and protect him — not just from doing harm, but from being harmed by others when his mental illness manifested in frightening ways.

Here, one might have expected that many of the same voices who argued so vehemently against the notion of resilience in the midst of MeToo … would now demand zero tolerance for male aggression on public transit …

But, no: instead, many of the people who once insisted that men who slid into DMs deserved the complete destruction of their professional reputations became passionate advocates for toughening up when it came to dealing with volatile people on public transit.

To sum up: a man who reposts an off-colour joke is advertising his innate misogyny, to the point where women should feel uncomfortable sharing a workplace with him. But an agitated and clearly unstable man announcing to a crowded subway car — as Neely reportedly did — that he’s been pushed to the brink and is ready to die, or go to prison for life: why in the world would you find that menacing?

Of course, today’s 180-degree pivot to brash fearlessness is identitarian horse-trading: MeToo is out, BLM is in. The dynamics of any conflict must be considered along these lines, and the narrative must be massaged accordingly. This was true in 2020 when a white woman called the police on a black man who threatened her in a public park; it is true now, as piety demands that the behaviour of the black, homeless victim of this terrible tragedy must not be scrutinised in any way. On the Left, that is; the Right has spent the past few days waving Neely’s criminal history in the air, singing “He Had It Coming”, in an absolute spectacle of ghoulishness.

That mindset, so ubiquitous in the wake of MeToo, so popular among progressives in general, says that no breach of decorum or moment of discomfort is too insignificant to ignore. It must be registered. It must be punished. It’s nothing more or less than a call for constant vigilance. The thing about that: when you demand vigilance, you get vigilantes.

(Italics added)

One cavil: Maybe Rosenfeld has been frequenting further-Right sites than I do, but “singing ‘He Had It Coming’, in an absolute spectacle of ghoulishness” strikes me, for once, as hyperbolic bothsiderism.

There definitely is a reflex to defend Daniel Penny, but the Right-coded commentary I’ve seen appreciates that Jordan Neely was non compos mentos and didn’t “deserve” to die. Were it clear that Daniel Penny intended his death, a lot of his support would disappear.

Meanwhile, I’m at least glad that there’s a generous legal defense fund for Penny — some of it probably ill-motivated, but the shade of green is the same regardless of motive — so he can mount a proper fight against dubious criminal charges.

Abortion extremism

North Carolina state lawmakers voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that prohibits most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape and incest (up to 20 weeks of gestation), “life-limiting anomalies” (up to 24 weeks), and life of the mother (no limit). The bill also appropriates money for child and foster care programs, contraception, and paid parental leave for teachers and government employees. North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have pitched the legislation as a model for states around the country.


I said previously that Governor Cooper’s veto should brand him as an absolutist and his party’s position on abortion as extreme.

I know I am well out of the mainstream, but this Bill strikes me as being about where the country is likely to end up on average, for the foreseeable future, with a few solid blue states echoing Gov. Cooper’s absolutism in favor of any and all abortions.

And if accepting that reality offends you, I commend The Truth of Sensible Politics at The Public Discourse.


A Cold Splash of Reality

A few years before his death in 1972, [C.] Day Lewis was made Poet Laureate of the UK—which is generally a mixed blessing of an honor, tending to mean that the poet in question has their best work behind them and now must try to summon the muses to celebrate the wedding of someone sixth in line to the throne.

Things Worth Remembering: A Poem for Parents | The Free Press

Fun fact 1: C. Day Lewis was father of Daniel Day Lewis.

Fun fact 2: Although I recognize the name as that of an actor, I probably could not pick Daniel Day Lewis out of a police lineup of famous middle-age, caucasian (whatever that means), dark-haired actors. I’m just not a movie groupie.

Embrace of Vigilantism

Jamelle Bouie, who I probably should watch more closely, echoes my distress over the Right-wing valorization of white males who arguably acted as vigilantes. (The Republican Embrace of Vigilantism Is No Accident).

He might have mentioned Left-wing valorization of the victims, who generally were not without fault in the lethal incidents, but if I’m going to complain about bothsiderism, I shouldn’t fault writers who don’t practice it — even if it’s because they see no enemies or toxic extremists on their side of the spectrum.

Companion Piece: Recommended: Firearms Classes Taught Me, and America, a Very Dangerous Lesson

Companion Piece to the Companion Piece: B. D. McClay, Phenomenology of the Gun (Recommended by an acquaintance on

The Good Life

Despite sociological evidence to the contrary, it remains to all appearances virtually axiomatic that the acquisition of consumer goods is the presumptive means to human happiness-and the more and better the goods, the better one’s life and the happier one will be.

Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation

More, from elsewhere:

Let’s just say you’d better have great discipline and a very rich interior life if you expect to be happy amid great affluence.

If this is true of individuals, that money doesn’t buy happiness, why can’t it be true of a whole society? Perhaps we can sum it up thusly: What does it profit a man to gain the world yet lose his soul? If America has gained the world but lost its soul, we should be anxious indeed.

Jon D. Schaff, Are Americans Better Off?


Ultimately, the education system should commit to spending at least as much on a fifteen-year-old whose next seven years will be spent in a combination of school, apprenticeship, and employment as it spends on one headed to a four-year public university.

Oren Cass, The Once and Future Worker

In the footer of each blog post, I mention my presence on and for shorter items or outbursts, respectively. Now Alan Jacobs has written a neat summary of, the three paths of

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mothers Day 2023

Discipline versus religious libertinism

Every day at five in the afternoon, I closed my books in the English graduate reading room in the library and crossed the street to the chapel for evening prayer. The service took about 20 minutes. The Epistle and the Gospel were read, psalms and spiritual canticles were recited, and prayers were said. It was spare in the extreme. Sometimes there were only two of us in the congregation besides the reader. There was nothing at all to appeal to any wish for pomp and ceremony. There was not even any music. There was certainly no variety. Every day followed the same pattern. Variety, apparently, was entirely irrelevant.

To someone not accustomed to disciplines like this, the picture might appear bleak. How can we go on, day after day, year, after year, with the same routine? Does it not all dry up and die?

Yes, indeed, it does dry up and die, if there is no taproot of life irrigating it. Just as the utter sameness of marriage dries up and dies if love departs, so will any routine. To the libertine, accustomed to woman after woman, the man who returns day after day, year, after year, to the same spouse, with no variety, appears unfortunate in the extreme. We must ask the man himself how things are.

Tom Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough.

“Disciplines” versus novelty and spectacle. That’s how gyms, physical and spiritual, work.

Not how they used to work, but how they work. Period, full stop.

Sins, transgression, infirmity

The reason we have sexual harassment is that we do not believe in chastity.  In the end, the only way to discourage unwanted advances is to condemn immoral ones.  To discredit sexual harassment, one must discredit sexual sin.

J Budziszewski, Things I Had to Learn. This is quite a little compendium of wisdom from an academic who thinks hard about things from a Thomistic and natural law perspective.

On first reading, though, I found one item (not in my quotation) that needs qualification: Budziszewski’s understanding of “sin” is too narrow, and his categorical pronouncement (Sins are not “mistakes.” Mistakes are things we didn’t mean to do.) is therefore substantially false.

Sin (Greek hamartia) is “missing the mark.” We can miss the mark in unintentional ways as well as intentional.

Since my early days approaching Orthodox Christianity, that discovery rang very true and made me appreciate this paragraph from the Orthodox “Trisagion prayers”:

Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake.

I suggest that Budziszewski’s view of sin is restricted to what this prayer calls “transgressions.” Transgressions, by the way, are relatively easy to recognize and take to sacramental confession. My infirmities, such as abstraction/absent-mindedness that makes me inattentive to the needs of others, are harder to recognize and pin down. But they do “miss the mark” and thus need healing.

I hope this rank pedantry is helpful to someone.

(By the way: “Budziszewski” is a name the spelling of which is so daunting that I’ve had to turn it into a TextExpander clip.)

Another book arguing that God exists

So: A very prominent trial lawyer has written a book, published by what used to be my favorite religious publisher, arguing that God exists and that the “Four Horsemen” atheists (of a decade or two or three ago) are full of — well, something unflattering.

It must be a mark of my age (or something) that I’m not tempted to add this to my reading queue. I can’t anticipate all his arguments, probably, but I have no interest in shoring up my faith in the bare existence of something conventionally called “God,” which is how many apologetics and theodicies proceed.

Dare I even suggest that this book might be a distraction from the real business of Christian living for many of its readers — a sort of “spiritual realm” echo of our Manichean politics?

But if you’re at a point in your life where you’re doubting that any manner of God could possibly exist, go for it.

Winged God

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity’s control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?

(R.S. Thomas)

Two opinions, held simultaneously

  1. I detest and condemn the Jehovah’s Witness cult/sect.
  2. I greatly regret that the European Court of Human Rights held that Finland can forbid them from making notes on their door-to-door calls under its “data collection” regulations. (Religion Clause: European Court: Finland May Require Jehovah’s Witnesses to Obtain Consent Before Taking Notes on Those They Visit)

I have no idea whether the ECHR is correctly interpreting Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
but I fault the Convention if it doesn’t protect note-taking of religious proselytizers.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.