Sunday, July 28, 2013

    1. Ars longa, sport longest
    2. No Wedding Vows?!
    3. Effing the Ineffable
    4. 1st amendment corporate rights?
    5. All Hail the Prophet Kurt!
    6. Odd Man Out


Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic of The New Yorker, is sad about the prospect of the Detroit Institute of Arts having to sell off its (publicly-owned) collection to help bail the city out of bankruptcy, but says it’s necessary.

(Rod Dreher)

Despite … having filed for bankruptcy, Detroit is going ahead with plans to spend over $400 million in public funds on a new hockey arena for the Detroit Red Wings.

(Ilya Somin)

What the heck?!



I have offered before “worthy reading for Orthodox and anyone else who thinks their view of marriage may be a bit thin and would like to thicken it” (for instance here), on marriage generally, and on same-sex marriage.

I now offer, in the “marriage generally” genre, Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog “No Wedding Vows.”

Few things differ more clearly between Eastern and Western Christianity than the service of Holy Matrimony. There are things found in Western Christian Marriage ceremonies that cannot be found in the East just as there are things in the East that cannot be found in the West. In many languages of the Eastern Churches, the service for a marriage is referred to as the “Crowning” – named for the central act within the ceremony – the crowning of the bride and groom. However nothing separates the marriage ceremonies of East and West like the place of marriage vows: there are no wedding vows in an Orthodox wedding.

In the Orthodox wedding the couple is first “bethrothed” with the exchange of rings. Led into the center of the Church, the priest offers prayers. In the course of those prayers, in something of an “epiclesis” (the calling down of the Holy Spirit to accomplish a particular purpose – present in all the sacraments of the Church), the priest asks God to be present; to bless the marriage; to preserve their bed unassailed; to give them the dew of heaven; to fill their houses with every good thing; to send down heavenly grace to bless, preserve and remember the bride and groom; and just prior to the crowning:

stretch out now also Thy hand from Thy holy dwelling‑place, and unite this Thy servant, N. and this Thy handmaiden, N.; for by Thee is the husband joined unto the wife. Unite them in one mind; wed them into one flesh, granting to them the fruit of the body and the procreation of fair children.

And then the priest crowns the couple (three times), saying each time: “Crown them with glory and honor!” (see Psalm 8:5)

In contrast, the marriage in the West finds its focus within the exchange of vows. “Do you…take this woman…to have and to hold, to love and to cherish…etc. as long as you both shall live?” I was taught, when I was an Anglican, that the “ministers” of the sacrament of marriage are the couple themselves. The priest witnesses, and prays for God’s blessing …

The blog obviously ramifies into the same-sex marriage topic, but that’s not Fr. Stephen’s point, nor (as will come as no surprise to those familiar with Fr. Stephen) is this a polemical or triumphalist blog. To read Fr. Stephen is to be invited into reflection, not beaten over the head.


Joel Miller gently ribs some well-meaning but confused artists’ vague spirituality:

“There are any number of names under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12).

“At the name of Jesus or Johnny or Jill or Giuseppe every knee should bow” (Phil 2.10).

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy nondescript, interchangeable nomenclature” (Ps 8.1).

On a certain level, I can appreciate what [Sinead] O’Connor and [Anne] Lamott are trying to do. But to say that God is approachable is one thing; to say that his name is something of indifference is quite another. It strikes me as an example of the modern impulse to see faith as a self-determined, self-created thing — DIY spirituality.

If your faith is merely whatever you choose it to be, then of course you can call God whatever you want to call him, her, it. But the Christian faith is not such a faith. It is not self-created; it is shared and handed one person to the next in a chain that goes back to the apostles and Christ himself.

The content of that tradition actually matters, including the name of God.

I don’t fully remember the spiritual backstories on O’Connor and Lamott. It seems to me that O’Connor has been virulently reacting against her childhood Catholicism, and perhaps for a good reason like deep wounding. Lamott has famously grappled with spiritual issues as well.

But here, they’re wrong and Miller is right. The good news is that wrongness is curable, and Fred God is gracious, a lover of humankind in all its sins, transgressions, infirmities and flat-out follies.


I’m considerably less certain about God’s disposition toward for-profit corporations than toward humankind, as obviously are the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal. This impasse was predictable.

The 10th Circuit thought Hobby Lobby had some rights to the free exercise of religion. The 3rd Circuit thinks a similar corporation doesn’t. But as Will Baude notes at the Volokh Conspiracy, where he’s guest-blogging, its reasoning is, while emphatic, rather odd:

But the majority’s reasoning is pretty strange. First, the majority says (quoting another court):

General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.

The majority also endorses other arguments “questioning whether a corporation can ‘believe’ at all,” and adding that “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” But those arguments would all prove too much, because they are technically true of any organizational association, including … a church!

Recognizing this, the majority then pivots:

Appellants, as well as the dissent, cite to cases in which courts have ruled in favor of free exercise claims advanced by religious organizations. See, e.g., Gonzalez v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006); Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993). None of the cases relied on by the dissent involve secular, for-profit corporations. We will not draw the conclusion that, just because courts have recognized the free exercise rights of churches and other religious entities, it necessarily follows that for-profit, secular corporations can exercise religion. As the Supreme Court recently noted, the “text of the First Amendment . . . gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations.” Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694, 706 (2012). That churches—as means by which individuals practice religion—have long enjoyed the protections of the Free Exercise Clause is not determinative of the question of whether for-profit, secular corporations should be granted these same protections.

But what the majority says here about churches cuts against everything it has just said about corporations not having “beliefs” or “religiously-motivated actions separate and apart” from their members– churches don’t do those things either, in a technical sense.

I may have pushed the boundaries of Fair Use, so I’ll again commend this short blog to you and leave it at that. (Man, I do love the Volokh Conspiracy blog!)


I linked it enigmatically yesterday, but I’ll now expressly say that Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Harrison Bergeron may be may favorite short story ever.


I continue to subscribe to a few blogs of people who are seriously observant Christians (in a way I can recognize) and who write often about their experience same-sex attraction. I was pointed on Saturday by one of them, the Mud Blood Catholic blog, to a posting at the Odd Man Out blog.

While commending the whole though-provoking piece to you, a few observations of my own, probably tangential.

Side note: A friend and I recently noticed how gay people involved in more established, historical traditions that emphasize submission to church authority, like Catholics, rarely seem to face this same uncertainty about what they ought to believe—not because they’re unthinking or uncritical, but because they’re confident in church teachings and trust the church will support them in their obedience. Those Christian circles with more diversity of belief seem more apt to engender the anxiety I’m describing.

This certainly rings true. Evangelicals, and even magisterial Protestants (perhaps as a result of them swinging toward Evangelicalism), tend toward a compulsion to roll their own “authentic” and “true-to-myself” answers to an extent vastly greater than do we who the late Richard John Neuhaus called “ecclesial Christians,” confident in church teachings and trusting the church to support them. May it ever be so in our churches.

I think the remedy to the neurosis of being a gay Christian in the tumultuous storm of our particular historical moment is immersing oneself into relationship with God, because sexual ethics (regardless of whether they seem, at face value, more or less permissive) ultimately ought to be a means of drawing us into closer relationship with God and conforming ourselves to God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Odd Man Out has his own issues with his own advice there, but mine would be “how is that any different than the calling of any Christian “in the tumultuous storm of our particular historical moment”?

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The original story order was reshuffled to put that outrageous Detroit story at the top.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.