When confusion is the refuge of scoundrels

Steve Viars, a local Pastor, normally quite irenic, sort of lost it when gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson came to Purdue for a series of provocations.

I say “sort of” because his response was uncharacteristically testy, plowed no new ground (is there any new ground left?) and used an example known to infuriate homophiles and people who just want the whole debate to go away, whatever the result. His was a solid if unimaginative column.

His example, polyamory, however, raises a legitimate question, however little people want to deal with it:

So here’s my question for Lowell, Gene and Peter: Is polyamory right or wrong? If a group of five polyamorists wanted to have a family because that is their perceived identity, should that desire be celebrated? And if they wanted to be married, should Indiana law allow them to be?

Gale Charlotte decidedly doesn’t want to deal with that. Days later he claimed that the Pastor’s column left him “confused”:

Here are some facts: From almost the beginning of time, people have “pair bonded,” to provide stability in child-rearing and organization for the larger group. One man and one woman were together for purposes of procreation, and then it behooved them to stay together to protect their offspring and the larger group from predators. Over time, people signed a legal document of “marriage” in an effort to form alliances, to produce legitimate heirs or for purely economic reasons.

In western cultures, the Christian religion did not get involved in defining or even “blessing” marriages until the fifth century AD, and it was not until the 13th century that the Catholic Church declared marriage to be a Holy Sacrament, thus needing to be a ceremony involving a priest, and also involving only one man and one woman.

[W]e all agree: Committed relationships between two people are the “gold standard.” Is it any surprise to discover that most of us want this very thing — to have the state “bless” our commitment to another person?

I gather from this that Charlotte believes:

  • Until “over time” began, pair-bonds for stability in child-rearing included procreative pairs but wasn’t limited to them.
  • From the beginning of “over time” until the 5th century, marriage was whatever people’s private legal documents said.
  • In the 5th century, the  Christian religion defined marriage, but as something other than involving only one man and one woman, since only in the 13th century did the Catholic Church narrow marriage to one man and one woman (and inject Priestcraft – boo! hiss! – into it).
  • That Baptist Viars maybe is in mental slavery to medieval Roman Catholic Priestcraft.
  • That Charlotte is liberated from slavery to religious dogma; he wants the state to bless hiss commitment to another person.
  • That Charlotte has seen into my heart (and yours) and knows that I want the state’s blessing, too. We all do.

I suspect that Charlotte’s confusion is a mere rhetorical launching pad into his gauzy plea that we all all gather on his proprietary “bridge of understanding” where, over coffee, we’ll eventually decide to compromise his way. He sure didn’t step onto Viars bridge to answer the questions Viars pointedly posed.

Sometimes “confusion,” the inability to comprehend even fairly elementary stuff, is the real refuge of scoundrels.

But I’ll not let Charlotte set the rules for what contributes to understanding.  My contribution du jour is to suggest, as I think I have above, that Charlotte’s invitation isn’t bona fide, that his notion of understanding is oriented to achieving his own pre-ordained conclusions.

UPDATE: I’m informed that Gale Charlotte is a woman. It would be sexist for me to withdraw what I wrote under a false impression from the spelling of her first name.

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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.

Church unity

This started as a “share” with an Orthodox group on Facebook, but outgrew it.

Frederica Mathewes-Green’s podcast thoughts on ecumenical Church unity, though gentle and irenic, amplify my own skepticism on the topic. Her primary focus is the desired unity between Roman Catholicism (the 800 pound gorilla) and Orthodoxy (America’s best-kept religious secret) — or at least the mutual recognition that disunity is a scandal.

So far, so good: disunity is a scandal; real unity would remove that scandal.

But the proposed terms of unity coming from Rome provoke not so much hostility – “Take this Olive branch and shove it!” – as indifference because Rome seems to desire a “unity” that’s strained, synthetic, and in many ways superficial compared to the unity of Orthodoxy.

Frederica nailed that one when she noted that we’re much more comfortable with the Oriental Orthodox than we are with Rome, which went into schism much more recently. The Oriental Orthodox could not agree with the Council of Chalcedon’s verbal formulation of how the two natures of Christ are united.

The Council of Chalcedon issued the ‘Chalcedonian Definition,’ which repudiated the notion of a single nature in Christ, and declared that he has two natures in one person and hypostasis; it also insisted on the completeness of his two natures: Godhead and manhood.

The Oriental Orthodox teach ‘one nature’ in Christ, “Jesus Christ, who is identical with the Son, is one person and one hypostasis in one nature: divine.”

(Wikipedia) But the Oriental Orthodox seem nonetheless to have “kept the same faith,” and I understand they feel the same toward us. It’s fair to say we long for a solution to the Chalcedonian conundrum.

Not so Rome. Their schism was more recent, but their drift after schism much greater. The Roman Catholic reflex seems to be that,

well, of course, being in communion with the Bishop of Rome is essential, and of course it must be on essentially Roman terms. After all, everyone knows you other guys are at fault. But we’re magnanimous, and we’ll let you keep your signature theological perspectives. That’s what “catholic” means: big tent.

That just leaves us cold. On the one hand, we don’t think we, the heirs of four of five pentarchs who remained in communion, are the schismatics. We think the fifth pentarch went into schism when, after we ignored his pretensions and affectation, he started getting too pushy to ignore.

Of course unity will bring us all into communion with one another, but it’s unlikely to happen on terms that signal even tacitly Orthodoxy’s admission of error on the filioque, universal direct jurisdiction of the Pope, infallibility and the other illicit dogmas of the West.

This is not for lack of considerable affection, at least on my own part. Rome has had a great run of Popes lately. John Paul II will be in my thoughts again today, as he was “dying on NPR” as we returned eastward across I74 from a visit to some friends Mrs. Tipsy and I are visiting again.

But even when John Paul II tried to reach out, he proved tone-deaf to a very fundamental matter, our different views of what salvation is:

The teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by Saint Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God. This theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought.

(Orientale Lumen, italics added) That is a bad misquote, a demotion of the doctrine’s importance in the East, and as tone-deaf as a Protestant, courting Catholics or Orthodox, saying:

The teaching of the Early Fathers on communion passed into the tradition of all the “traditional” Churches as part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the words of Jesus in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat bread symbolizing the flesh of the Son of man, and drink wine symbolizing his blood, ye have lowered your odds of having life in you.” This theology of transubstantiation remains one of the achievements particularly dear to “traditional” Christian thought.

The dogmatic differences are deep and perhaps intractable. But suppose we achieve agreement in principle. Having cleared away those stone cold deal killers, how would the rest of the deal look? It would be an awfully big tent that would accommodate the remaining, non-dogmatic differences.

But the Roman Catholic Church already looks to me (and I think to many other Orthodox) like multiple Christian traditions synthetically united though communion with the Pope.

Maybe I misunderstand “catholicity.” I mean that. I lived nearly 50 years where we didn’t give a hoot about that idea, and even now my view is colored by the seemingly intractable dogmatic differences. It’s hard to see clearly. Perhaps with the dogmatic differences out of the way, I could see a path to one big happy family.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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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.


Health, Education — and Welfare?

If you want to give your mind a workout today, pour a cup of coffee and read Patrick Deneen’s Health, Education—and Welfare?

His launching point is that

the twin crises of health care and higher education are extraordinary in their similarities. Both are regarded as necessary goods for human flourishing whose costs are spiraling out of control. Both rely on a professional class that is becoming more specialized, losing the generalist who once cared for the “whole person.” Both have seen expanding intervention by the central government which has sought to provide access to the lower and middle classes. Both are believed by many conservatives to be properly reformed by means of market-based solutions. Both are the subject of intense contemporary political debate.

And both were once almost exclusively the province of the Church, and, indeed, can trace their institutional origins—hospitals and universities—as part of the Church’s charitable ministry.

The “intense political debate” falls into fairly predictable patterns, with one side arguing for free market solutions and the other arguing for regulation and price control/subsidy combinations to assure equal access. Deneen questions both effectively, though his questioning of The Right seems more devastating to me (maybe because I’ve tended to invest in that side). Summary introduction:

[T]here is something fundamentally amiss with making provision of health and higher education contingent on market models and profit calculus, as both seem to be goods that are not subject to the same kind of calculus as automobiles and bubble gum. The very idea that doctors and teachers are or ought to act out of the motivations of self-interest, and provide services to their “consumers,” seems fundamentally contradictory to the kind of work and social role performed by each. The decline of the “generalist” in each sphere is indicative of a deeper crisis of the willingness to act on behalf of a broader conception of the good intrinsic to each profession and on behalf of the person being served, in favor of the specialization encouraged by modern canons of efficiency, productivity, profit, and rationalization.

Summary introduction to his critique of The Left view:

At the same time, the State is rightly suspected of being unable to fundamentally improve or even maintain the quality of either sphere. It is doubtless the case that it can assure access by the heavy hand of threats, but many rightly worry that, as a consequence, the quality of care and education will deteriorate as a result. The State takes on the ersatz role of “generalist,” seemingly concerned for the good of the whole. It can only pursue that good by seeking to control pricing and access while influencing the ways “care” is provided, but it fails necessarily in caring for the vision of the whole that the actors of the professions are no longer willing or able to perform.


The debate as currently constituted represents a pincer movement aimed ultimately at the re-definition of each area—as we have seen in so many areas of contemporary life. While superficially opposites, proponents of each position in fact share a fundamental hostility to the original presuppositions that had informed the foundation of both institutions—the corporal works of charity central to the Church’s earthly mission.

I wish I could say “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking; Deneen just had the time to think it through and to say it better.” But that would be a big ole lie. I wasn’t thinking in these terms at all. They go to my head and make me kind of, well, Tipsy.

I don’t know where to stop quoting. In my own re-reading, I didn’t know where to stop highlighting. Deneen could have the makings of a serious book on his hands as he fleshes out this dense piece. That one would surely go on my wish list.

* * * * *

“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.

Tuesday, 10/22/13

  1. Equivocation update
  2. Gospel of Ghoul
  3. The last thing I need is “anything I want”
  4. Attorney General Roper loses his license


I awoke Monday to an NPR story about same-sex couples in New Jersey starting to get married at Midnight. One newlywed man (I’m resisting scare quotes) remarked that he’d grown up when “it was illegal to be gay.”

I would be astonished if that is true, but it illustrates continued equivocation about the meaning of “gay.” “Equivocation” does not necessarily imply deception, though it is sometimes used for that purpose — including, I suspect, on the topic of gayness. But there’s a wide, wide range of “gay.” And I’m talking about the logical error of equivocation that can muddy up discussions of homosexualities.

Anyway, it’s far likelier that it was illegal in New Jersey to do certain acts with a member of the same sex. In many states, it was illegal to do those acts with a member of the opposite sex as well. It’s hard for most people today to apprehend that the alimentary canal is for food, not eroticism. It wasn’t easy for me to recover that conviction. I still can’t agree that it should be a crime for consenting adults to misuse it.

Meanwhile, one of the admirable people at the Spiritual Friendship site, writing this time for Ethika Politika, says that “For most young people, ‘gay’ is simply a word that designates attraction to the same sex. It is not per se morally evaluative of that experience.” (Whose Gayness? Which Homosexuality?)

It does turn conversation into a bit of a minefield for those who aren’t yet fully on board with the sexual revolution, or at least with the homosexual portion of it.


As awkward and tentative as those conversations might be, I’d much prefer them to spending time being “evangelized” at a Hell House Halloween show at one of my local fundy cherches:

Shake your city with the most “in-your-face, high-flyin’, no denyin’, death-defyin’, Satan-be-cryin’, keep-ya-from-fryin’, theatrical stylin’, no holds barred, cutting-edge” evangelism tool of the new millennium!

(Ad for Keenan Roberts’s Hell House Outreach Kit) Roberts apparently has never heard that the medium is the message:

The method is timely! The message is timeless! Desperate times call for drastic measures! If your church or ministry is determined to take a stand against sin and the kingdom of darkness and to reach people for Jesus like never before, then this outreach is for you! Get prayed up and powered up and be prepared for the ride of your ministry life!”

(Emphasis added) Timothy George comments on this sort of thing in The Gospel of Ghoul:

C. S. Lewis famously described two equal and opposite errors into which people fall when thinking about things infernal. The first is disbelief and denial, a familiar pattern in forms of rationalist religion. The other is to cultivate “an excessive and unhealthy interest” in Satan and his pomp. The latter is on full display in what has become a thriving phenomenon within the subculture of American fundamentalist and evangelical churches: the seasonal appearance of a Halloween alternative known as Hell House or Judgment House.

Hell Houses can be found from New England to the Northwest, though they thrive in those red states where Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches are strongest. Hundreds of thousands of teens and tweens will stand in line for hours and pay good money (about the price of a premium movie ticket) in order to be scared out of their wits by this bizarre form of entertainment evangelism.

There are many variations on this theme: a hayride through hell, a demon-guided stroll in a cemetery, a train trip of terror, and so on ….

Our local public high school had an annual “Haunted House” fundraiser for the Show Choir (an excuse for tarting up adolescent girls and putting them on display – yes, I’m ambivalent about Show Choirs and show biz generally) when my son was there. I played a role scaring people inside one year, then declared conscientious objector status and volunteered as a traffic cop outside thereafter. I didn’t like the ghoulishness, even as a secular fundraiser, and one major religious epiphany later, I like them even less.

But to use ghoul as “evangelism”!? Is escaping hell the “the chief and highest end of man?” If this be Christianity, no wonder there be atheists.


Speaking of evading hell, NPR had a recent series, What Comes Next?, where people from different traditions commented on the afterlife.

The Orthodox Rabbi, apropos of the preceding item if only in my mind, notes that the “the sort of people who have vivid depictions of hell in their minds, often ended up making life hell for people down here.” Touché!

I was favorably impressed, to my surprise, with the answers from Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a pastor of The Lamb’s Church in New York City and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. I can’t endorse them fully, but I was ready to cringe and didn’t need to.

Philosopher Samuel Scheffler doesn’t believe in a traditional afterlife — that is, he doesn’t think that a spirit or soul survives the body’s physical death. But he does believe in another kind of afterlife: Regardless of what we think about our own life after death, Scheffler tells NPR’s Robert Siegel, we all trust that others will continue to live after us. And, much like faith in a spiritual afterlife, that belief changes what we choose to do with our days on earth.

This philosopher’s non-eternal “afterlife” was pretty stimulating listening, too. Should you do your homework if the world were ending in 20 years?

Not surprisingly, Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, a Catholic Theologian and nun, had some sensible things to say although she’s a bit on the wishy-washy side for my tastes. It sounds so attractive that I might want to go even if the alternative was obliteration, not the Hell House vivid depiction.

The Imam said the kinds of cringe-inducing things I feared I’d hear from Rev. Salguero — and a revealing something more:

And one of the pleasures of paradise is maidservants, and … any type of desire that one wants to fulfill in paradise, one will get to enjoy. And this is what God has mentioned in the Quran.

That includes, by the way, endless Cardinals games.

The only sin that Muslims believe is not forgivable by God,” saith the Imam opaquely, “is the sin of associating partners with him.” Huh?!

The interviewer, being less religiously literate than he should have been, didn’t follow up, but this reference is to what the Muslims contemptuously refer to as God’s “consort” – i.e., the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the birthgiver of God:

Muslims believe in one, unique, incomparable God, Who has no son nor partner

(Islam Guide, emphasis added)

Ya’ learn something new every day, and today I learned that basic Christian belief, enshrined in the creeds and Ecumenical Councils, is not just considered error, but unforgivable sin in Islam. So we Christians, who worship one “conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” can be damned sure that we’re not going to get to the Imam’s carnal heaven.

He can keep it. The last thing I need is anything I want. If this be Islam, no wonder there be Islamophobes.


Former Kansas Attorney General Phillip “Roper” Kline has been suspended indefinitely from practicing law in Kansas.

Kline’s ostensible objective was ferreting out cases of child sexual abuse, which he undertook by means such as opining that “As a matter of law [any pregnant child under age 16] has been the victim of rape or one of the other sexual abuse crimes and such crimes are inherently injurious.” The suspicion of pro-life people, which I share for reasons that have been fairly well documented by whats-their-names, the young guerilla film-makers, was that perverts were covering up their crimes by taking their pregnant young victims to abortuaries, which obligingly presumed a Romeo & Juliet backstory instead of “Roman Polanski and yet another Lolita.”

The Kansas Supreme Court, in a 154 page opinion, said that his over-zealous pursuit of his goal and his failure to acknowledge wrongdoing was a bit too much to take. Kline, sitting in Virginia at Jerry Falwell’s law school, responded with “Neener, neener, neener” — or something like that.

This is at least the second case I know where a putatively Christian lawyer thought the noble pro-life end justified any means necessary. In my demurral from that view, I seem to stand in a small minority, but I’m heartened to suspend disbelief, credit the movie version of his life, and count St. Thomas More among that minority.

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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.