Potpourri, 2/18/14

    1. Periodic Mars Hill plug
    2. Present Shock
    3. Traditional ideas about sanctity
    4. Tendentious Title of the Year
    5. Free Exercise violates the Establishment Clause
    6. John McCain plays a testy Senator very well
    7. Your Demigods At Work
    8. Prooftext Smackdown


The new issue of the Mars Hill Audio Journal is quite good. If you don’t  subscribe, well, what is wrong with you, anyway? If you are a Christian interested in an uncompromisingly intelligent exploration of ideas and culture, you can’t afford to do without Ken Myers’ quarterly collection of interviews. I find there are two kinds of intellectual Christians in the world: those who have heard the Journal and are subscribers, and those who have not heard theJournal. If you’ve ever given an entire issue a listen, it’s hard not to become a subscriber. For more information about what the Journal is about, click here.

(Rod Dreher, who I quote only because I cut-and-pasted rather than write my own commendation.)

I agree with every word. What surprises me, though, is how many intelligent (if not intellectual), financially successful Christians do not give a rip (or cruder expression of your choice) about ideas and culture, and greeted a gift subscription with yawns and no subsequent “Oh, wow! Thanks so much! I had no idea!”


Dreher goes on to explore in some depth the lead interview on the current issue of Mars Hill Audio Journal, on “present shock” a/k/a “narrative collapse”:

That sounds and feels quite familiar, doesn’t it? I think the concept of “narrative collapse” — Rushkoff’s insightful term for the idea that the experience of living in this fast-moving, chaotic information environment destroys our capacity to conceive of our lives as stories, with a beginning, middle, and end.

That’s a surprisingly big deal:

This has political implications. Rushkoff said that both the Tea Party, which unrealistically demands instant results, and the Occupy movement, which unrealistically had no demands at all, but rather behaved as if the experience of protest was the end of the protest.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, according to Rushkoff. He thinks there are bad things about present shock and narrative collapse, but it can be fruitful. In fact, he thinks it’s a good thing, because, living according to a story given to us by culture (including the church, the tribe, and so forth) compels us to be manipulated by others. Narrative collapse can give us a way of living that is more organic and honest, because it is more instinctive. You don’t think your way through life; you just react according to emotional impulse. Rushkoff tellsJournal host Ken Myers that abandoning the illusion that life is meant to progress toward a certain pre-defined goal or set of goals is a more truthful and creative way to live, and certainly more faithful to the way we actually live today.

Myers responds that he finds Rushkoff’s model more interesting for what it says about the way we live today than how we ought to live ….


It appears that a case for canonization of G.K. Chesterton may be under investigation:

In recent years, the Chesterton revival has taken on new dimensions, with calls to explore his possible sainthood. Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, the diocese in which Chestertion lived, recently appointed a priest to investigate Chesterton’s holiness, which could lead to the opening of his official cause for canonization.

The move has caused quite a stir, not least because the image of Chesterton—as a wise-cracking, cigar-smoking witticist—is so contrary to traditional ideas about sanctity. Yet, as Dale Ahlquist told me, “we need to expand our ideas about sanctity, and recognize the saints among us in the ordinary world”—not just mystics and martyrs from centuries past.

To “wise-cracking, cigar-smoking witticist” I would add “a man of notable girth,” which ought also to be “contrary to traditional ideas about sanctity” – even if that cuts against the already-overwhelming case against my own canonization.


My nominee for tendentious book title of the year: “Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do.” The synopsis sounds just as clueless:

Increasingly, conservative religious groups are using religious liberty as a sword to lash out at others. In this forcefully argued defense of the separation of church and state, Robert Boston makes it clear that the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment is an individual right, the right of personal conscience, not a license allowing religious organizations to discriminate against and control others. The book examines the controversy over birth control, same-sex marriage, religion in public schools, the intersection of faith and politics, and the “war on Christmas,” among other topics.

Boston concludes with a series of recommendations for resolving clashes between religious liberty claims and individual rights.

If you think that sounds really good and insightful, please don’t tell me.

Proof positive that conservatives aren’t the only ones who’ve found there’s gold in them thar hills of preachin’ to the choir.


I don’t recall if I’d seen and commented on it before, but “church-state scholars” have filed a brief amicus curiae in the abortifacient mandate case, arguing that religious exemptions to the mandate violate the constitution’s establishment clause:

This brief argues that permissive religious accommodations violate the Establishment Clause and conflict with Free Exercise Clause and Title VII accommodation decisions when they impose significant costs of practicing the accommodated religion on those who do not believe or participate in it. For-profit employer exemptions from the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would constitute congressional and federal judicial action that violates the Establishment Clause, by shifting significant costs of observing religious beliefs against contraception from the employers who hold them to employees who don’t. The brief concludes that keeping federal government action within the structural limits set by the Establishment Clause is a compelling interest that justifies denial of for-profit employer exemptions from the mandate under RFRA.

I don’t expect to resolve the matter here with some bon mot. I’m less inclined to ridicule this argument than I would have been a week ago. But instead of striking down the exemptions, or striking the mandate (which I don’t think anyone has risked requesting), I’d kind of like the court to say “we will not stretch the concept ‘compelling interest’ to just any bit of political pandering, and making employers pay for abortifacients (even contraceptives) is decidedly not a compelling interest.”


Interesting story on Monday’s PBS News Hour about POTUS’s sale of Ambassadorships to unqualified airheads.

It’s the first time in a long time I’ve felt a debt of gratitude to Sen. John McCain, whose dogged questioning and contemptuous dismissal of these featherweights was a thing of beauty and a joy for … at least a few minutes.

“What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”, he asked the soap-opera producer who’d contributed or “bundled” $X hundred thousand.

[Trade. Law enforcement. Stammer, stumble, temporize.]

“What are our strategic interests in Hungary?” he repeated, testily.

He does testy most convincingly.

The guest experts assured us that (1) everybody does it and (2) only the plum posts are for sale; the world’s hot spots get real diplomats.

I feel better already.


Not only did Walter Russell Mead make a cameo appearance on the foregoing Ambassador roast, but he’s been busy elsewhere:

Walter Russell Mead has a strange definition of what makes a great power:

Post-Soviet Russia is a weak state. Take away its gas and oil resources, nuclear arsenal and Cold War-era intelligence networks, and there is not much of a there there [bold mine-DL]. With an economy the size of Italy’s, an ethnic Russian population in decline, a booming China rising nearby and serious and sustained unrest in the Caucasus, Russia hardly has the look of a great power.

In other words, if we judge Russian power solely by the country’s problems and ignore the things that do make it a great power, then it isn’t really a great power.

(Daniel Larison) Kind of reminds me of this:

The court found implicit in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), the view that “abortion and childbirth, when stripped of the sensitive moral arguments surrounding the abortion controversy, are simply two alternative medical methods of dealing with pregnancy . . . .” 408 F. Supp., at 663 n. 3.

(Maher v. Roe) In other words, if we judge abortion solely by non-moral criteria, we can’t reach a moral objection to it.

Such is the stupidity of the 9 robed demigods when they choose to defend the indefensible.


I’m gonna do something stupid here.

It may not be as stupid as turning rattle-snakes into a sacrament, but it’s a game nobody ever really wins. On the other hand, nobody in the USA really ever loses playing this game, either.

Proof-Text Smackdown seems to be the way we sublimate our religious differences. 30-60 minutes of vigorous “he said, she said,” and then we smile, give each other high-fives for a good game, go home, and tell the world we all really believe the same God in the end: the God who speaks with forked tongue, or unintelligibly, in His holy, pure and (above all) crystal-clear written word.

A Kentucky pastor who starred in a reality show about snake-handling in church has died — of a snakebite.

Jamie Coots died Saturday evening after refusing to be treated, Middleborough police said.

On “Snake Salvation,” the ardent Pentecostal believer said that he believed that a passage in the Bible suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God.


And these signs shall follow them that believe; … They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them ….

(Mark 16:17-18)

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

(Matthew 4:5-7)

God helps them that helps themselves.

(Well, I can’t find the citation on that one)

Okay. I’m not a biblicist and don’t claim to be. But let me ask this: How in heaven’s name can anyone build a virtual sacrament around on Mark 16:17-18 (okay, add Acts 28:3-6 if you insist, though it looks to me like Paul was got bit accidentally; he didn’t volunteer) and totally miss the long, dramatic narrative taking up almost half the 6th Chapter of the Gospel according to John?

Just sayin’.

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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.