Tuesday, 1/28/14

    1. The one who dies with the most toys …
    2. Destroying Democracy
    3. Sanctionining Kiev
    4. Farmed and Dangerous
    5. Trusting science

1

[S]ecularism weakens faith by diminishing the social supports and distracting us from hard existential questions about our souls. But it doesn’t work against piety in an active way … Debilitating as it may be for Christendom, secularism doesn’t itself drive people away from piety.

What does drive us away is a rival vision of human flourishing.

… A child from a conservative Evangelical household doesn’t encounter teachers who want to convert him to Catholicism. Or Judaism. Or Islam. Or even to the high humanism of someone like Immanuel Kant. Instead, teachers encourage tolerance and a spirit of “critical questioning.” … This approach isn’t meant to change beliefs but instead to weaken them, making room for the sovereignty of desire … They … inculcate a weak belief that doesn’t get in the way of desires.

This disenchanting work on behalf of sovereign desire, a work that defines postmodern culture as postmodern, is an enemy of piety. The Latin root means dutifulness. A pious person sees life as best lived by serving or being devoted to something higher. Put simply, piety requires us to subordinate our many desires—for food, for sex, for wealth, for comfort, for dominion.

In many and various ways, then, today’s culture in the West teaches us that we’re happiest and our society is most just when we’re free to satisfy our desires … The core commitment is to sovereign desire.

… Donald Mackinnon … wrote: “The philosopher of religion easily tends to think that the greatest obstacles today in the way of religious belief are to be found in the unintelligibility and inadmissibility of such fundamental concepts as the creator God, an immaterial soul, etc. But it may be that as a matter of empirical fact, the most deep-seated unwillingness to take seriously the claims of the Christian religion has its roots in a sharp criticism of Christian ethics, of the Christian image of the good life.”

I have come to see that Mackinnon was right. Our age proposes an antithetical vision of the good life: sovereign desire. This is the sleepless enemy of piety.

(R.R. Reno, Piety’s Enemy: Sovereign Desire) I’ve clipped out a lot of good stuff with those ellipses. If this excerpt resonates, or ticks you off, do read the original. It’s not all that long.

This train of thought logically raises the question “why would teachers want to weaken belief to make room for sovereign desire?”

I’m sure in some, and probably most, cases, they don’t. There are good people teaching in public schools. But they have curricula, and textbooks, and “measurables” to deliver, a schedules that may be too crowded for reflection on the meaning of it all – especially the eventuality of so greatly emphasizing “tolerance” and “critical questioning.”

And atop it all is consumer capitalism, in every breath we take:

In the late nineteenth century, argues Leach, advances in industrial technology, the availability of electricity, and the newly available means to pool vast amounts of capital made production much cheaper and hence threatened to flood the market with goods. This worried capitalists greatly. Marketing consequently acquired the purpose not merely of informing potential customers how a given product might fulfill their existing needs, but of creating new desires. As one proponent of the new culture, Emily Fogg Mead, wrote, it was imperative that Americans be awakened to “the ability to want and choose.” What was needed was a moral reeducation, the replacement of traditionally religious values with consumer values.

(Jeremy Beer, who assisted my anamnesis a week ago) The masters who issued this diktat must be, and have been, obeyed.

This is how we learned that the one who dies with the most toys wins.

But the fact is, the one who dies with the most toys … dies — and leaves every damned one of them behind.

2

While not giving up his churchly concerns, [Richard John] Neuhaus became a leader in the movements for social reform and political change that convulsed America during the sixties. Deeply committed to civil rights, he marched in Selma with his friend Martin Luther King Jr. A peace activist, he co-founded Clergy and Laity Concern about Vietnam with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Fr. Daniel Berrigan. As a Eugene McCarthy delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, he was arrested in the tumult of that event.

How did the radical Neuhaus of the 1960s become the conservative icon of the 1990s and beyond? While there were important breaks along the way, Neuhaus never conceded any major upheaval in his own thinking. Rather, he argued, the rise of a militant secularism among cultured elites and the evacuation of religious belief from public life and civil debate had conspired to create a “naked public square,” the title of his 1984 bestseller.

While never accepting the premise of a “Christian America,” Neuhaus argued that the constitutional separation of church and state was meant to enhance, not prohibit, the “free exercise” of religion in public life as well as private practice. The gravest moral and legal issues in American history, he maintained, from slavery to abortion, required the kind of conscientious engagement sanctioned by the church’s understanding of itself as a community of witness. Moreover, our most cherished political principles, including the irreducible value of persons, free speech and religious liberty, resistance to tyranny and respect for the rule of law—are all grounded in religiously informed beliefs. He came to see that the “moratorium on God” pushed by the secular left would undermine, and eventually destroy, the American experiment in democracy. At the same time, Neuhaus believed in a public church, not a partisan church. As Abraham Lincoln often said, the question is not whether God is on our side but whether we are on his.

(Timothy George, We Travel Together Still)

3

Complaining that “slogans just aren’t good enough,” Applebaum rattles of quite a few, several of which can be reduced to “we need to fight fire with fire.” “A trade boycott must be met with a trade boycott.” …

She recommends that Western governments interfere in a way that is more likely to exacerbate the crisis while failing to resolve any of the problems that this interference is supposed to remedy.

(Daniel Larison on Anne Applebaum’s call for economic sanctions against Kiev – and Moscow)

4

I like Chipotle’s food. I like their sourcing of as much meat as possible from humane sources. I think I’m going to love their made-for-internet series Farmed and Dangerous.

5

Whenever a partisan says, “We should trust science” as a guide to how politicians should vote, I want to say: “Oh? Should we have trusted science 100 years ago, when the scientific consensus favored eugenics?” As I’ve written here in the past, one of the best lectures I ever heard was Dame Gillian Beer’s presentation at Cambridge University several years ago in which she discussed how various factions in Victorian England took up Darwin’s findings as support for their political cause. Abolitionists said that science clearly showed that we were all brothers under the skin, and slavery should end. Imperialists said that science made obvious that some races were fit to dominate others. And so forth. Science holds authority today that the Church did in ages past, and can be invoked to support good causes and bad.

I am quite certain that if Science were able to demonstrate conclusively that there are measurable differences in cognitive abilities between the races, that no liberal would support making public policy on the basis of this research. And you know what? Neither would I. Science cannot be the final arbiter in deciding what is right and what is wrong. It is an important source of knowledge, but to say that it is the exclusive source of knowledge in all things is scientism, which is a form of idolatry.

(Rod Dreher, who Monday, in Evolution & The Culture War, had occasion to quote himself) He eventually winds his way to a point with which I fervently agree:

Again, for me, moral and spiritual equality is a fact, but it’s not one that can be grounded in science.

Indeed, if you try to ground it in science, you’ll keep getting smacked in the face with “lean East Africans outdistancing the world’s runners, massive Samoans flattening quarterbacks, lithe Chinese diving and tumbling for gold medals, or muscular athletes of West African descent out-sprinting, out-jumping, and out-hitting all comers” (Dreher). Then whatcha gonna do? Whatever else it is, the Creationist story is egalitarian, the Evolutionist story not so much.

When it comes to the classroom instruction of my children, I am on the side of the evolutionists, not the creationists. The evolutionists have the better case by far. This should be sufficient to make the case for privileging the teaching of evolution in public schools (or in any school, frankly); one doesn’t have to buy into the progressive, scientistic narrative to support teaching science in science class. We must not … be subject to the illusion that the culture war over evolution is a matter of the forces of Enlightenment fighting the forces of Darkness And Ignorance.

* * * * *

“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.