Slipping Moorings

One of my favorite expressions, when I talk to myself, is to accuse myself of “making a virtue of necessity.” From what I can tell, my use of the phrase is a little bit idiosyncratic, which is okay so long as I understand myself.

What I mean when applying that phrase to myself is roughly “C’mon, Tipsy. Don’t be so full of yourself. You can’t help doing X. Don’t assume that people who do non-X are worse than you for it.”

I’m not trying to convince myself of relativism when I say that. I’m talking about things like my not being highly motivated by money. It would be really easy to morph that into the virtue of being “spiritual,” rather than “materialistic,” and to despise those who are more motivated by money. But that would be a whole lot of people to despise.

For another instance, I’ve never flirted with, let alone slept with, any “other woman.” But let’s get real: I’ve been overweight and a little homely that whole time, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the women who’ve come on to me over four decades, including two Amarillo hookers who apparently specialized in menages a trois and who mistook me for a guy with discretionary funds to spend. So I don’t really have grounds to boast of consummate chastity, either.

Which brings me to my main topic: making a virtue of my necessary political dispassion.

Many of my Facebook friends, and friends in the more concrete world, are pretty fired up politically, to the point, with many, of Obama Derangement Syndrome. A handful are lefties, and are still recovering from Bush Derangement Syndrome.

But I really need to remember that my lack of fire in the belly politically is the result of 15 years of increasing questioning of almost every premise by which I’d lived and thought for the previous 49 years:

  • A single monograph took away my false assurance that all the important answers about my Christian cognitive base could be found in careful personal reading of the Bible. This is one of the major epiphanies of my religious life, and it has led me to a better place. But it also took away a source of false assurance about current events.
  • While I’ve found natural law an attractive way of approaching “the social issues” in our common life, I’m aware that it flowered after the Great Schism, with roots in scholasticism, so I’m a little bit guarded about it.
  • I’ve recently come to appreciate the pervasive influence of gnosticism and nominalism in culture, including some of my own ways of thinking.
  • Now the generally admirable people at Distributist Review are questioning the reliability of Lord Acton and the Institute named after him, accusing them of being gnostic and Manichean.

Maybe I’ve stumbled into a political agnosticism that’s sound and sane.

I’m sure politics and elections matter, at least a little. I’m sure it’s a privilege, in some sense, two have the chance to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But I also know that every Sunday I sing the Psalm that includes “put not your trust in Princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation,” and I’m fairly well convinced now that there is no correct “Orthodox political position” on more than a handful of issues.

So maybe, just maybe, my political dispassion is a virtue of sorts. When I poke fun at candidates, I’m seriously trying to spread that virtue around.

The One True Sadness

The one true sadness is “that of not being a saint,” and how often the “moral” Christians are precisely those who never feel, never experience this sadness, because their own “experience of salvation,” the feeling of “being saved” fills them with self-satisfaction; and whoever has been “satisfied” has received already his reward and cannot thirst and hunger for that total transformation and transfiguration of life which alone makes us “saints.”

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World.

Demonology Lives

According to some modern interpreters of Christianity, “demonology” belongs to an antiquated worldview and cannot be taken seriously by the man who “uses electricity.” We cannot argue with them here. What we must affirm, what the Church has always affirmed, is that the use of electricity may be “demonic,” as in fact may be the use of anything and of life itself. That is, in other words, the experience of evil which we call demonic is not that of a mere absence of good, or, for that matter, of all sorts of existential alienations and anxieties. It is indeed the presence of dark and irrational power. Hatred is not merely absence of love. It is certainly more than that, and we recognize its presence as an almost physical burden that we feel in ourselves when we hate. In our world, in which normal and civilized men “used electricity” to exterminate six million human beings, in this world in which right now some ten million people are in concentration camps because they failed to understand the “only way to universal happiness”, in this world the “demonic” reality is not a myth.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Lizard brains

At its most fundamental level, same-sex marriage is not about what we think about homosexuality. It is about what we think about marriage.

(Maggie Gallagher)

I listened Friday evening to Jonathan Rausch’s and David Blankenhorn’s discussion on The Future of Marriage, facilitated by Krista Tippett, on On Being‘s “Civil Conversations Project.” The participants are two of the brightest, most thoughtful and civil, contestants in the struggles we’ve been undergoing over what we think about marriage, and they’ve “achieved disagreement” in large part because they share many counter-cultural convictions about marriage.

Rausch, a gay man who lectures straights about how they’ve screwed up marriage (and what they need to do to fix it), summarizes part of his view:

When I talk to young people on college campuses, they all think marriage is, you know, it’s a thing two people do and, if they need a piece of paper from the state, that’s just a convenience. I tell them, no, no, no, no. Maybe you have to be gay to see this, what it’s like to be excluded from a community and all the tools that go with this, but this is an institution.

This is a commitment that two people make not just with either other, but with their community. And that commitment is to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness to health, till death do we part. That’s a promise you as a couple are giving to care for each other and your children forever to your whole community and the community has a stake in it. And that’s what we gay people want. We want to be married in the eyes of community in that web of family.

Blankenhorn, formerly an opponent of same-sex marriage (arising from his  conviction, before same-sex marriage was a hot issue, that children need their fathers), announced a change of tactic, if not of heart, this summer, for reasons he explained in a New York Times Op-Ed.

The whole point of the On Being series is civility in disagreement, of course, but I was surprised when Blankenhorn recounted “losing it” the first time he engaged with Rausch publicly:

Mr. Blankenhorn: … I was a fatherhood nut and then I was a marriage nut and we weren’t giving a single thought to gay anything. This was just what we were doing, trying to strengthen this institution that protected children. So when the gay marriage issue came along, I first tried to avoid it. I spent years not trying to talk about it because I knew it was divisive and I didn’t want to — it seemed like a side issue. I didn’t take it that seriously. Eventually, in the early 2000s, I got drawn into it a bit, got all tangled up when I met Jonathan because he invited me to come talk when his book came out in 2005…

Mr. Rauch: 2004.

Mr. Blankenhorn: 2004. He invited me to come give a talk. We didn’t know each other, you know. I had met him. I read the book and I thought I was going to give a rational calm presentation, but I found myself just being overcome with emotion and I said many ugly things about him and the book and accused him of bad faith and cited all these radical gay writers and said that this is what his real agenda was. It was an un — uh, it was not by best day.


Mr. Blankenhorn: But, I…

Ms.Tippett: Why do you think it works that emotion in you?

Mr. Blankenhorn: I don’t know. I still don’t know.

Ms.Tippett: I haven’t read anything about that.

Mr. Blankenhorn: It just kind of poured out. I called him the next day. I said I was sorry. I said I really regret having acted this way. He was like, oh, OK.

Far too much of our “debate” over this issue consists of “being overcome with emotion and I said many ugly things” about the other side.

I won’t try to rehash the bad, hateful arguments, or summarize the good, thoughtful ones – that’s why I’ve provided some links (though they’re skewed toward the pro-SSM side, which is not my own; Tippett and her staff perhaps had trouble finding good arguments on the anti-SSM side now that Blankenhorn has left it) – nor will I declare which side I think more prone to saying ugly things.

Rausch and Blankenhorn both acknowledge that SSM is a profound change:

It took me a long time to get my mind around the notion that in the straight world this is not, you know, an obvious thing. This is a huge shift in the way they’re thinking about marriage for 3,000 years and I think we need to respect that. I think societies have to ingest change at a rate they can sustain. That was something I had to learn.

(Rausch) As Tippett quipped in a different podcast recently, “as human beings, one of the things we’re learning from science, change is stressful and it sends us back to our lizard brains, right?”

But there’s good change and there’s bad change. Just as paranoiac can have real enemies, so a stressful change can be truly bad, not just lizard-brain-stressful bad. A huge shift in the way we think about marriage after 3,000 years is an eminently debatable subject. That something should go from unthinkable to almost axiomatic in 50 years ought to give us pause, and I intend to continue saying and writing things to incite pauses.

But I intend to say them civilly –as by and large I think I’ve done so far.

Before I had gay friends who were comfortable enough to be “out” to me, I tried empathically to enter into what it might feel like to have come to terms with one’s same-sex attraction in a society where, it appears, you and those like you have the political and social momentum. Blankenhorn describes the process I went through:

There’s the intellectual, you know, you think, you read, you know, you sit in your study and you try to think about the correct view … But, I — you know, you build up a kind of a barriers of belief in theory and it keeps the other people out, and so you talk about them. You have theories about them. You can explain their lives to them, but you never really talk to them and see it from their point of view.

Since then, I’ve had more chance to “see it from their point of view,” and I don’t think my prior empathic effort to enter into their world led me far astray.

Three good aspirations in the debate would be:

  1. to stay away consciously from the lizard brain;
  2. to consciously lower barriers and try find thoughtful opponents to share their point of view (someone who shares your religious faith and trusts you enough to come out would be especially good; I’m not likely to learn much from someone who thinks sex has no more meaning than a handshake or hug); and
  3. so to debate this and other issues that if “the little light goes on” some day so that you change your mind, you won’t have to apologize for having been abusive or arguing in bad faith.

Stay off the Roof

Rachel Held Evans committed the kind of painfully protracted performance art that happens when Evangelicalism has utterly lost its sense – of decorum and of how to read scripture – and its publishing houses have become a commercial racket:

Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).​
It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.

Evans’ schtick incited Deborah Cruz at The Stir, reportedly secular herself, to indict her for making a mockery of the Bible:

Here’s my issue — isn’t it better to just be honest about your beliefs in the first place? I may not be living biblically, but I am living honestly. I’m not so sure the same can be said for Evans. She appears to be poking fun with her book, though she vehemently denies that she is. But you don’t make a spectacle, write a book, and make videos in a “poking fun” manner if you are taking a challenge seriously.

But Cruz, while right about Evans making a mockery of the Bible, may have inadvertently become a bedfellow (if that term isn’t too evocative) with Evans, says Strange Herring:

Interesting that that’s how the book is being read by some, although Cruz is making the same mistake Evans is. Which is to say, by trying to follow Old Testament precepts only to show them up as unrealistic in 2012, Evans has succeeded in proving absolutely nothing. Like the people who demand that Christians endorse “X” because we no longer stone adulterers or forbid the eating of shellfish — and those things are in the Bible! So it’s all relative!
As if the “New” in “New Testament” really meant “Same Old.”

If you have to “assume” roles — whether you believe them to be biblically based or culturally normative for a 21st century couple — you sure as hell aren’t being yousomething is being buried or ignored, and your marriage is doomed, I don’t care what you call it.

Say the Creed, say your prayers, go to work, feed your face, and try and actually enjoy your life together.
Flip the bird to the rest of it.
And stay off the roof.

Is Evans really crazy enough to think that her mocking (or is it merely “playful”?) treatment – of the Bible, of marriage, of sex roles – builds up marriage, which as a married, albeit “feminist” Christian, she presumably supports?

Maybe I should add Judaizing to my list of blows by the 98% to traditional marriage.

(For the record, I’d have seen none of these trendy young websites were I not following the Tweets of MZHemingway.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Modern Ironies

Two of the ironies of our era:

  • Newspapers unmistakably designed for people who can’t or don’t want to read.
  • Churches unmistakably designed for people who can’t or don’t want to worship.

(H/T Terry Mattingly in a talk from several years ago.)

It’s thus no coincidence that 20% of Americans now identify as religiously unaffiliated. If worship is merely a second-rate rock or smooth jazz show with a moralistic therapeutic deist “be nice now” admonition (or political exhortation) thrown in, then to hell with it. Homo adorans needs more.

That 20% unaffiliation makes us, by the ironic way, more irreligious that our old atheist nemesis Russia, where believers of one sort or another are 88%. Might it have something to do with the dominant religion there being famous for the profundity and beauty of its worship?

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.