Saturday Full House 1/4/14

    1. A matter of definition, not of “rights”
    2. Populist de Blasio and the Bad Old Days
    3. David Brooks: Fiend or Mere Villain?
    4. Larison on Ukraine
    5. Controversy, c’est moi!
    6. Diametrically opposed, equally impious
    7. Bored by Paradise
    8. Snowden’s Jig


Despite the mantra of “right to marry,” the real question is and always has been how “marriage” is defined. Peter Sprigg (Marriage Is A Matter of Definition) has a very adept and succinct reminder of that, based on a surprising, seminal source: the majority opinion when Massachusetts’ Supreme Court, concerned only that it had 4 out of 7 votes to enact its will, unguardedly admitted:

Certainly our decision today marks a significant change in the definition of marriage as it has been inherited from the common law, and understood by many societies for centuries.

The meaning of something can be, and in the case of “marriage” is, antecedent to who has a “right” to it. And you should remember that every time major media prattle about “ban on same-sex marriage” or “marriage rights advocates.”

The summaries of the three dissenting opinions are powerful reminders of what we’re discarding, and how recklessly we’re discarding it, as well.


Why did New York swerve from that path instead of continuing on it? A lot of reasons. You have to have some years on you to remember New York when it didn’t work—to even know that it’s not magically ordained that it will. You have to be older than 30 or so to remember when it wasn’t safe.

(Peggy Noonan on the election of Bill de Blasio) I’m not sure he’s as far left (except relative to today’s rightward-skewed spectrum on many issues; yes, you read that accurately) as Noonan seems to think, but we’ll see if his giddy populism goes beyond rhetoric that places him outside these gates, Michael Bloomberg inside:


Noonan chronicles several ways his inaugural portends “turning back the clock” to the bad old days when reflexively liberal policies had nearly destroyed the great city.


David Brooks, the pleasant man who fills the “sort of conservative” affirmative action quota alongside Ross Douthat at the New York Times, wrote a thoughtful “are you really certain this is a good idea” piece about Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational marijuana use. For his trouble, I understand he’s been savaged around the internet, and I join Rod Dreher is saying that’s a damned shame.

I have no horse in this race. Unlike Brooks, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and all the other cool kids, I never once toked, no even “not inhaling.” When it was offered, I declined, and it wasn’t offered much because that’s not the kind of place I hung out.

That said, a via media, ceasing incarceration for simple possession or use while imposing salty fines (and perhaps the prospect of jail for dealing, or repeat dealing, or big-time dealing) seems like the right course.

What Brooks is lamenting, I think, is not that nobody’s going to jail, or that racial sentencing disparities for marijuana will go away, in two states, but that the cultural left has shreiked “Woohoo! Party Time!” in those two states.


Tjohncowan, a reader who stays focused on foreign affairs better – and travels abroad more often – than I commented on my uncertainty about Ukraine and Russia by commending Daniel Larison‘s thoughts. And he was right.

  • 11/22/13: Russia is not especially adroit or genius, and the then-recent move of Ukraine back toward Russian embrace was more an EU failure (overreach brought about by relative indifference toward Ukraine) as a Putin success (though Putin is anything but indifferent).
  • 12/16/13: John McCain, seeking to embroil the U.S. in another quarrel, ends up photographed with a most unsavory leader of the Ukrainian protestors, a man who arguably is a neo-Nazi anti-semite. “That raises the question of whether it makes sense for U.S. politicians to insert themselves into a foreign protest movement when a significant part of that movement represents things that most Americans wouldn’t want to endorse.”
  • 12/17/13: We should hesitate before backing opposition to a democratically elected government, and shouldn’t impose our facile script wherein the opponents of a dubious or corruption-laden government always represent a majority of the country.
  • 12/19/13: The U.S. interest in a stable Ukraine is at least as weighty as our interest in seeing Yanukovych unseated with early elections that might bring to power protesters who don’t know how to govern and require lots of western aid.
  • 12/19/13: Michael Hirsch asks “is it just a coincidence” that various bad things, all supposedly caused by Obama’s pusilanimous policy, have happened. Larison affirms that it is just coincidence indeed.
  • 12/20/13: “‘[W]hile Western officials may feel an affinity for the views embodied by the 500,000 protesters in Kiev, they should remember that 12.5 million Ukrainians voted for Mr. Yanukovich in 2010 on a platform of restoring ties with Russia’ … As soon as the opposition in another country takes to the streets in sufficiently large numbers, quite a few Westerners will jump to the conclusion that “the people” have spoken and must be heeded. No matter how unrepresentative a protest movement may actually be, it will tend to be treated as the embodiment of an entire nation. Part of this is to provide an alibi for the desire to meddle in another country’s politics: we’re not really meddling, you see, we’re just supporting the aspirations of “the people.” This requires ignoring large sections of the other country, and in some cases flatly rejecting the preferences of the majority in favor of what some Westerners want for a given country, but standing with “the people” sounds much better than taking sides in a political contest that is none of our business.”
  • 12/23/13: “No bad hawkish argument about Ukraine would be complete without the obligatory derisive reference to George H.W. Bush’s [“Chicken Kiev”] speech …, and DeMint delivers….”
  • 12/27/13: “[T]he last twenty years have left many Westerners unprepared for the fact that the other major powers in the world don’t accept the roles that many in the West expect them to play, and we are so accustomed to getting our way in international politics that we don’t know how to respond when that doesn’t happen.”
  • 1/3/14: Larison warns that crying wolf over minor issues like Ukraine are … well, surely you know The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Thanks, John. I’m adding a Larison tab next to the Dreher tab for my daily reading.


Spiritual Friendship suspends normal protocol to publish anonymous commentary by a Christian college student. The introduction:

I lead the normal life of a liberal arts college student: I’m too over-committed to do any one thing completely effectively. I wake up 10 minutes before class (and make it on time!). I am involved with a social fraternity, work two on-campus jobs. I live a busy life filled with laughter, late nights up talking to friends, and unappetizing cafeteria food. Most days are normal.

Some days, though, it feels like my existence is synonymous with controversy. I say this because I’m a Christian who is predominately, but not exclusively, attracted to the same sex. I am a bisexual Christian who believes in the “traditional” (side B) Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. I have seen at a distance and personally how controversial the existence of a person like me can become on a Christian college campus like my own.

In my school newspaper, we have had various writers from the campus gay student organization spouting the popular, “You believe homosexuality is a sin? Well, the Bible says not to eat shellfish too” line (which screams a pop-ideology of someone who is more familiar with Glee or The West Wing than with St. Paul or Jesus’ teachings).

Or, probably more damaging, I’ve heard random verse mining from a few fringe Christians who can be utterly dismissive of the struggles and experiences of gay folk. They offer no alternative community to these people whose “lifestyle” they disagree with (save to “define the gay away” and pretend Christian gay people don’t actually exist). Not to mention I hear the pervasive, though quickly diminishing, slurs of “queer” and “fag” dropped by people who have no idea about my sexuality and even seem a little stunned when I ask them not to use hateful language.

I’m aware that this is of no concern to some readers. I’m aware that my frequent comment on the subject may strike some as fishy (he’s been married how long? and he’s interested in literature, music, poetry and the arts generally?).

Put that all aside: all you need to know is that I know Christians who [insert your favored description of the kinds of people I keep quoting and commenting about], believe they’re in good faith, and seek their authentic thriving. I want at least not to be a hindrance even if I can’t be much of a help, and that starts with a measure of understanding. Call me a “culture warrior” on marriage if you like, but I’m not “against” [insert your favored description of the kinds of people I keep quoting and commenting about].

Back to the anonymous commentator. Overall, I’m more concerned about the “friends who simply cannot comprehend why I ‘torture myself’ by refusing to go find myself a boyfriend” than I am at the “quickly diminishing” slurs.

After the film, there was a question and answer session. A professor was asked about homosexuality and “unrepentant sins” by a friend of mine. As she reported to me, the professor responded that same sex sexual acts are “not a sin, we have to think critically and decide what is sin keeping in mind the ancient context in which these passages were written.”

The message from the event was clear: scripture or the testament of the Church were either interpreted incorrectly for the majority of church history or irrelevant.

How firm a foundation“? Balderdash! (I say that because that fine hymn is usually reduced to its first two lines, which in turn are reduced to “the Bible is our foundation”)


St. John Damascene, ca. 676-749, describes some heretics of the mid-first millennium:

They seek after their own glory and submit neither to the law of God nor to His priests…although they are neither bishops nor presidents of the people, but only members of the common herd, they separate themselves from the Catholic Church… They differ among themselves and are in a state of utter confusion, because their falsehood is split into many factions. They have separated from the communion of the Church and pretend to a great severity of discipline, with each one vying to prove himself better than the next. Some of them do not admit Holy Baptism and do not receive Holy Communion, whereas others will kiss neither a newly made figure of the venerable Cross nor a holy image. What is worst of all, since they consider themselves to be superior to all men they will accept no priest, but ‘speaking lies in hypocrisy and having their consciences seared’ (1 Tim. 4:2) they contend in words of no profit and lay up for themselves wood, hay and stubble (2 Tim. 2:141 Cor. 3:12) as most inflammable fuel for the eternal fire. May we be delivered both from the frenzy of the Iconoclasts and from the madness of the Aposchistae, which, although they are diametrically opposed evils, are equal in their impiety. (ibid., 103)

(Emphasis added, probably superfluously)


The voices of the choir rise in wonderful harmonies, the light reflects on the icons, incense wafts into the ceiling – it is a wonderful liturgy on a feast day. We stand in the Church and begin to notice, with some guilt, that our mind has wandered. Worse, still, we are bored.

This is perhaps the most common experience in the Orthodox liturgy. Not often discussed outside of confession, it is a reflection of the modern soul. It is not the fault of the liturgy itself – but a symptom of the disease that infects our lives. It reveals the terrible truth that were we to be this moment in paradise, we would be distinctly uncomfortable, even miserable.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Difficulties of Paradise)


With a tip of the hat to Kenneth Anderson at Volokh Conspiracy, I offer you Snowden’s Jig:

* * * * *

“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.