Estimable Potpourri, Monday, 2/3/14

    1. Protesting overmuch
    2. The Identity Market
    3. Letting go after a long wait
    4. No data mining? No problem!
    5. Accidental Protestant
    6. The Thing That Used To Be Liberalism


Methinks First Things protesteth overmuch:

It’s tempting to dismiss this focus as just another case of the secular world fixing on its own preoccupations, as it has done by talking endlessly about how Francis doesn’t want the Church to talk endlessly about sex. But that’s a mistake. Francis composes particularly strong denunciations of what he regards as false thinking about economics.

And then there’s the mother of all questions, the one Francis brings to the fore: How can we include as many people as possible in the prosperity being created by the capitalist revolution sweeping the globe?
Good questions, but unfortunately Francis’ sweeping generalizations about economics are inaccurate, and even irresponsible. He ignores the ways in which state-dominated economies encourage corruption and often deepen rather than alleviate poverty while singling out trickle-down theories for harsh criticism. He effectively demonizes economic conservatives as moral cretins “in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent, and self-centered mentality.

I remember when First Things was, to my surprise (and disagreement, though I later came to see the point) referred to as a Roman Catholic magazine. Cafeteria Catholic, maybe?


Today’s liberalism explodes gender roles, marriage, and the family in order to create a free marketplace of “identity.” Liberals work for a future in which individuals will be able to craft bespoke lives for themselves, and thus maximize happiness by maximizing the satisfaction of desires. Given this vision of the common good, same-sex marriage is to lifestyle liberalism what the repeal of the Corn Laws was to economic liberalism: a decisive victory that signals political and cultural ascendancy.

(First Things, The Paradox of Liberalism)


I should have thought twice before going through with the baptism. She is no longer mine.

After 13 years of marriage, one miscarriage and a trip to a Greek Monastery where the reluctant Protestant couple prayed before an icon for a child, there finally came a girl, after a difficult labor to top off all the rest. That closing line is that of her adoring father, who writes (I think) tongue-in-cheek.


Daniel Patrick Moynihan thought that… proactivity was the defining characteristic of modern social scientists, and he saw it as the driving force behind the transformation in American political culture between the 1930s and the 1960s. During the Depression, the problems that government sought to address had mostly been brought to its attention by cries from below, expressed by people who could see the problem with their own eyes. From Kennedy’s presidency onward, bureaucrats armed with national statistics—then a fairly new phenomenon, not coincidentally—began searching their data for problems to solve, whether popular demand for such solutions existed or not. Moynihan’s term for this phenomenon was “the professionalization of reform,” and although a social scientist himself, he was intensely ambivalent about it.

Bernard Lewis, speaking from outside the discipline, put the case more mordantly: “In the history of human thought, science has often come out of superstition. Astronomy came out of astrology. Chemistry came out of alchemy. What will come out of economics?”

(Bloodless Moralism)


I knew the name G.C. Berkouwer, but knew (or remembered) very little about him. Eduardo Echeverria writes a longish outline of “the ecumenical legacy” of this Reformed “Accidental Protestant.” It gave me a new appreciation for how a Reformation Church can (and should) maintain an attitude of catholicity.

In 1958 he wrote: “Every kind of Protestantism that stands merely in a protest-relationship [with Catholicism] is stricken with unfruitfulness. That is why the name Reformation signifies far more than Protestantism.

Using the categories coined by Catholic theologian Reinhard Hütter, I suggest that Berkouwer is an “accidental Protestant” rather than an “essential Protestant.” The latter “requires for its identity Catholicism as the ‘other,’” Hütter writes. It assumes that the Reformation rediscovered “the true Gospel” lost after Paul and that “virtually everything in-between, the few exceptions only affirming the rule, pertains to the aberration of Roman Catholicism. Essential Protestantism, therefore, in a large measure needs Roman Catholicism and especially the papacy to know itself, to have a hold of its identity as Protestantism.
In contrast, accidental Protestantism “sees itself as the result of a particular, specific protestation,” and thus “to a large degree as a reform movement in the Church catholic.

These Protestants tend to have “one fundamental difference—and it can be the Petrine office itself—that prevents them from being Catholic. This difference cannot be just any but must be one without which the truth of the Gospel is decisively distorted or even abandoned. Being Protestant in this vein amounts to an emergency position necessary for the sake of the Gospel’s truth and the Church’s faithfulness; in short, accidental Protestantism does not understand itself as ecclesial normalcy.

I have too many more highlights to cut-and-paste in “fair use,” and doing so might divert you from the delight of reading the whole thing, which is (I believe) not behind a paywall any more (though I do pay and get confused about what’s free and what’s not).


I’ve often lamented the sorry state of Conservatism today. Liberalism is just as decadent:

The political left “is so taken over by sexual issues, sexual questions, that we have forgotten the traditional concern of the left was always social class and those at the bottom,” the writer Richard Rodriguez explained to Salon. And the rejection of religion reflects this. “We have forgotten just how disruptive religion can be to the status quo,” leaving it to Fox News and Islamic fundamentalists, and this has made the left “really empty.”

Without the language of religion—he compares Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech with its ­religious support and drive with the president’s forgettable secular one fifty years later—“we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history.”

People on the left still believe, though, in the dream of what he calls a “green” world, a world of continuous renewal. That hope “is still very much alive in the secular imagination, and when Oprah Winfrey and Bono go on TV to tell us all about the green and they get on their private jets and go on to another location, to tell those people to be green. What we’re watching is a secular dream of Eden. So many of my friends tell me they’re not religious. I’m like, Of course you’re religious. You watch Oprah Winfrey, don’t you?

(While We’re At It, First Things)

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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.