Saturday, September 7, 2013

    1. Learning, talent, genius
    2. Krustian manliness
    3. The case that killed marriage
    4. CPSC Warning of the Week
    5. There’s more than “no” in Christian vocation


[I]t is always sensible to remember that in 1949 the Nobel Prize in medicine was given to Antonio Egas Moniz, a Portuguese surgeon, for developing the procedure known as the lobotomy.

Joseph Epstein, reflecting on the distinctions among learning, talent and the elusive, mysterious, genius. (H/T Arts & Letters Daily)

Distinguishing between a man of learning and a genius, Schopenhauer wrote: “A man of learning is a man who has learned a great deal; a man of genius, one from whom we learn something which the genius has learned from nobody.” A genius is not merely brilliant, skillful, masterly, sometimes dazzling; he is miraculous, in the sense that his presence cannot be predicted, explained, or accounted for (at least thus far) by natural laws or scientific study. The definitions for genius may be greater than the actual number of true geniuses who have walked the earth. My own definition is as follows: Be he a genius of thought, art, science, or politics, a genius changes the way the rest of us hear or see or think about the world.

Good reading.

Antonio Egas Monis may have been no genius, but it’s not because the lobotomy is now viewed with horror. Epstein recognizes that there are “evil geniuses,” with several of which we were cursed in the 20th Century.

I probably use genius too loosely, but not as loosely as some. My nominees in the field of pop music would include Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, though in the latter case I may be confusing my admiration for chameleon-like versatility with real genius.


Ecce Homo
Ecce Homo

Behold, the image of Krustian manhood!

I’ve been amused, including in these very pages not all that long ago, by the trendy emphasis on macho manliness in some Evangelical quarters in the past few decades.

One noted pastor has said that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel.” Another contrasted “latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers” with “real men.” Jesus and his buddies were “dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul “are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.”…
The back story on all of this is the rise of the “masculine Christianity movement” in Victorian England, especially with Charles Kingsley’s fictional stories in Two Years Ago (1857). D. L. Moody popularized the movement in the United States and baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday preached it as he pretended to hit a home run against the devil. For those of us raised on testimonies from recently converted football players in youth group, Tim Tebow is hardly a new phenomenon. Reacting against the safe deity, John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart (2001) offered a God who is wild and unpredictable. Neither image is grounded adequately in Scripture. With good intentions, the Promise Keepers movement apparently did not have a significant lasting impact. Nor, I predict, will the call of New Calvinists to a Jesus with “callused hands and big biceps,” “the Ultimate Fighting Jesus.”

(Michael Horton)

There are all kinds of snarky things I could, but won’t, say. I will not gloat, for instance, that men have famously fled western Christian churches. I will not comment on or link to any relevant book by Leon Podles. I will not suggest that “pizza, beer, burping and Jesus” parties “heal” deep wounds too lightly. I will not triumphantly note that men for whatever reason tend to be those who lead their families into Orthodoxy.

No, that would be unseemly – and beside the point that I recently noted for the first time. What I lost in the pathetic trendiness of it all was how insular, culture-bound and unbiblical such “Biblical Manhood”® is.

In what healthy culture, for instance, does “Local pubs, food, burping” represent the epitome of manliness? Duh! That’s not just trendy, it’s provincial. Imagine, for instance, a Krustian Church in Yemen, concerned at the loss of male members, advertizing “tea, qat and conversation” parties. Gosh, that’s worse that latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers! What kind of Christianity is that!?

I’m indebted to the good folks over at Spiritual Friendship, many of whom – Ahem! – give an ironic meaning to the term “a real man’s man,” for calling to my attention how unbiblical and goofy these efforts are. Michael Horton again:

[A]re these the characteristics that the New Testament highlights as “the fruit of the Spirit”—which, apparently, is not gender-specific? “Gentleness, meekness, self-control,” “growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “submitting to your leaders,” and the like? Officers are to be “apt to teach,” “preaching the truth in love,” not quenching a bruised reed or putting out a smoldering candle, and the like. There is nothing about beating people up or belonging to a biker club.

Or a less specific, “30,000-foot” view:

[W]e must remember that the purpose of discipleship is not primarily to become fulfilled men or women, but rather to be transformed into the image of Christ. In the end, the biblical image of Jesus presents a far more radical role model than Jesus the dude. Jesus was gritty, honest, and fearless. Yet his strength was not displayed in his willingness to punch evildoers in the mouth, but in his suffering at the hands of the wicked for their good.

(Brandon O’Brien, “A Jesus for Real Men”)


Lest we be misunderstood, however, we take this occasion to point out that the structure of society itself largely depends upon the institution of marriage, and nothing we have said in this opinion should be taken to derogate from that institution.

(California Supreme Court in Marvin v. Marvin) To the pantheon of delusional judicial assurances that a court has not done what it just did and that nobody should think that it did what it did, heaven forbid, this one has been nominated recently by Wesley J. Smith, in The Case That Destroyed Marriage.

Smith’s column has a whiff of mea culpa about it:

I was a young lawyer practicing in Los Angeles. Knowing that the justices were going to shatter the status quo with a new legal declaration of non-marital rights, we began filing breach of contract lawsuits on behalf of what are today called domestic partners.

But Smith’s interests go beyond the antiquarian or confessional:

That upheaval shows no signs of exhaustion. Many voices now claim that the state has “no place in the marriage business,” threatening to further undermine what little is left of the institution’s centrality in domestic life. We are even seeing the beginning of a drive to normalize polyamory as just another lifestyle choice.
In his recent controversial Commonweal essay, Joseph Bottum expressed a plaintive hope that accepting same-sex civil marriage “might prove a small advance in the coherence of family life in a society in which the family is dissolving.”
I’m sorry, but legalizing same-sex marriage won’t do a thing to rescue marriage. But then, neither will its rejection. A marriage renaissance will only be possible when we repudiate Marvin v. Marvin and revitalize marriage’s importance by returning to a strict policy mandating that couples actually get married before acquiring conjugal rights.

(Emphasis added)


I have a nomination of my own in the category “desperately needed product safety warnings.” (H/T iPhone JD)

Do not use your iPad charger as a bottle opener.
Product warnings we desperately need: Do not use your iPad charger as a bottle opener!


“You can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex. You can’t have a vocation of No.” (Eve Tushnet) Well, now that you mention it, I guess you can’t.

Gregg Webb, an Orthodox Christian at the same intriguing, ecumenical, Christian group blog, Spiritual Friendship, laments the handling of  same-sex attraction in Russia and, in his personal blog, in Georgia.

I think I may intuit what’s going on in those two Orthodox-majority lands. They’re not only Orthodox culturally and religiously, but they are, in recent memory, quite traditional. They have seen what’s happened in the U.S., and they’re trying hard to keep the lid on Pandora’s box. What thoughtful, semi-conservative Christian can blame them for not wanting to go the way of the United States on this issue?

But Webb, like Tushnet, knows there’s more than “no” to a Christian life:

The one who loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘will keep my commandments’ and ‘this is my commandment, that you love one another.’ Therefore the one who does not love his neighbor is not keeping the commandment, and the one who does not keep the commandment is not able to love the Lord. -St. Maximus the Confessor

And I gotta say, much as I can’t blame those lands for not wanting us to lead them down the garden path, to the abattoir where tradition meets its end, it would be very lonely and stifling to be a person with same-sex attraction in the environments of those two lands, which I in many ways love and admire.

So, for that matter, can it be in many Churches that cannot and will not condone homogenital intimacy, and that can’t quite figure out whether it’s safe to welcome people with an urge in that direction.

Of course it’s not! It’s always dangerous to hang around publicans and sinners. That’s why Sartre said “hell is other people.” It’s also why we kick off Lent with Forgiveness Sunday every year, and then go right back to hanging around all the sickos and sinners that populate any healthy Church.

* * * * *

“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.