Tuesday 2/4/14

    1. Render to Caesar
    2. Sublimate, don’t eradicate
    3. Are Greens the real “deniers”?
    4. Drawing a professional line in the sand
    5. Virtue and Meritocracy


“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” (No, I’m not going back to the “pinch of incense” refusal.)

The question posed by the Pharisees and Herodians appears to concern Caesar and taxation, but its purpose is to force the Lord Jesus to choose between loyalty to God and obedience to worldly government. Christ, in turn, exposes the deep error involved in making God an alternative to Caesar. Such gross oversimplification distorts theology into manageable human concepts – an impossible task. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “every concept relative to God is a simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol.” …

The Pharisees and Herodians engage in reductionism, which attempts to minimize a complex reality by obscuring or distorting it. As rational creatures, we are incapable of speaking definitively about God’s essence. The Church Fathers use negative or superlative statements such as “uncontainable,” “incomprehensible,” “all-wise,” “almighty.” Saint Gregory the Theologian states flatly, “To define Him in words is impossible” (Lossky, p. 34). God is not some thing capable of being compared to other things; He exists beyond all categories of thought.

The motive behind theological reductionism is our vain attempt to manage God. If we could reduce God to mere ideas and principles, then we could eliminate the essential unknowability of God. Such simplistic thinking keeps God conveniently in hand, using Him however it wills .…

(Excerpts from an uncommonly good devotional for Monday)


Sexual and social libertines have little interest in discrediting Christianity. They’re far more interested in refashioning it—in claiming Christ, and his vicar, as their supporters. The secularist social agenda is more palatable to impressionable teenagers if it complements, rather than competes with, the residual Christianity of their families. The enemy has no interest in eradicating Christianity if he can sublimate it to his own purposes.

The greatest trick of the devil isn’t convincing the world he doesn’t exist—it’s convincing the world that Jesus Christ is the champion of his causes.

(Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL, the Catholic bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, on the gist of Rolling Stone’s cover profile of Pope Francis)


I offer this with a grain of salt.

In 2013, thanks largely to the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in shale formations, U.S. natural-gas production averaged 70 billion cubic feet a day, a record, and a 41% increase over 2005 levels. Lower-cost gas is reducing the domestic use of coal, which is cutting emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that natural-gas-fired power plants emit about half as much carbon dioxide as comparable coal-fired ones.

Thanks to the shale revolution, the U.S. is also reducing emissions faster, at far lower cost, than the EU. Between 2005 and 2012, U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions fell by 10.9%, according to the widely cited “BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013.” During the same period the EU’s emissions fell by 9.9%, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

(Robert Bryce, The Real Climate Deniers are The Greens) I suspect that Bryce is ignoring some externalities (e.g., horizontal drilling and fracking take a lot of energy) or that the glut of natural gas being produced by the new technologies will taper off rapidly, after we’ve decommissioned our coal plants and “laid off” much of Appalachia. Most fundamentally, I suspect that we’re in for much more expensive energy and that hydrocarbon fuels remain a kind of economic snake oil, apart from mostly-settled questions like “is global warming real and is it anthropogenic?”

But Bryce’s claim is bold. I await the onslaught of trenchant critique, here or elsewhere.


The physician-patient relationship, like so many other human relationships, requires an element of trust. I certainly neither want nor expect a return to the paternalistic “doctor knows best” mindset of bygone years, but I do need to know that patient’s parents respect my training and expertise. Refusing an intervention I desperately want all children to receive makes that respect untenably dubious.

(Russell Sanders, Pediatrician: Vaccinate Your Kids—Or Get Out of My Office; H/T Natasha Phillips on Facebook) Don’t mistake this for bullying. Part of the meaning of “Professional,” a title people get after a lot of education, is that the function differs from “Order-taker.” No doctor, lawyer or other “learned professional” who respects the learning of the profession will tolerate patients/clients who habitually think something they saw on TV or read on the internet is more valid than what we painstakingly learn through education and experience.

And that’s true even if you think vaccines are dangerous.

The rules of legal ethics, by the way, allow a lawyer to “fire” a client who insists on a course that would make the lawyer look like a whore or a jackass. I can’t begrudge that same privilege to doctors.


The SAT and the ACT are modified versions of IQ tests, and are effective in predicting whether a student will or will not graduate from college. The underlying fallacy, or legitimating falsehood, of an aristocracy of intelligence is that anyone can with proper instruction, good nutrition, positive home environment, encouragement from authority figures, etc. can become successful in a society that values intelligence as the most important quality (this still being a democracy of sorts). But aristocracies of intelligence overvalue and misconceive intelligence, and may in the end not be so intelligent after all. For not everyone has an equal shot at being intelligent, regardless of how encouraging and optimal their social environment might be.

On the other hand, it is far easier for people to be virtuous and good than it is for them to excel in quantitative and scientific disciplines for which IQ can serve as a critical measure. Indeed, one does not need to have outstanding test scores to be kind, decent, humane, sober, moral, or to have profound insights into the lives of others. I would even say that practicing the virtues can make a person of a lesser IQ more intelligent and more wise than a self-flattering member of the cultural elite.

(Political Atheist’s commentary picked up and featured by Rod Dreher in Aristocracy Of Virtue & Sorry Sapsuckers)

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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.