Hagios Podrig (St. Patrick) 2014

    1. The New White Man’s Burden
    2. Picking pockets, breaking legs
    3. Evangelizing neo-pagan post-Christians
    4. Abusing “literally”


Reproductive Rights, gay rights — they’re the new White Man’s Burden …

The Ugandan legislature passed draconian antihomosexual legislation. Recently, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed a law criminalizing homosexuality. Whatever one thinks of the morality or wisdom of these laws, they’re not coming forward in a vacuum. They represent calculated counter-responses to Western pressure. They win praise from those in Africa who see the West as representing unalloyed libertinism. The same is true in the Middle East and elsewhere.

And who can blame them? In early February, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power joined forces with two members of the rock band Pussy Riot to discuss “disturbing trends” in Russia …

In itself, the episode at the U.N. was unexceptional. Power is the sort of person who likes to compliment herself for being a progressive among progressives. But an astute foreign observer notes the context. American foreign policy is at present trying to domesticate Iran and salvage democracy in Ukraine, neither of which is possible without Russian cooperation. Thus the message is clear: When it comes to American foreign policy, our cultural imperialism takes precedence over our geopolitical goals. Power is so confident in the triumph and rectitude of her moral sentiments that she doesn’t think twice about the diplomatic costs of promoting the cause of Pussy Riot.

Were I a political leader in Iran, Pakistan, Kenya or any other country worried about the ways in which rapid economic development dissolves traditional societies, I’d read this episode as yet another sign of the West’s declaration of cultural war. And I’d be on the lookout for a leader of global resistance.

… Fidel Castro  is a hero throughout Latin America — welcome in nearly every presidential palace — not because of his communism, but because for more than half a century he’s given the finger to the United States …

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Because it claims to serve the common good and at the same time to sustain authenticity with exemplary nonjudgmentalism, liberalism cannot recognize itself as merely one view among others. It must see itself as transcending the worldviews competing for control over American society (and increasingly over world culture) … Thus, NGOs aren’t imposing ideological views of gender, family, and sex; they’re defending “human rights.”

[P]resent-day liberals are very unlikely to convert to principled pluralism. Doing so would require them to admit that theirs is a worldview on a par with those of devout Catholics, ardent Protestants, and observant Jews. That’s a galling proposition for consensus liberals … The consensus of consensus liberalism is the consensus of the powerful, and so it’s essential that liberalism should rule. That’s why it so loudly announces itself as the arbiter and manager of pluralism without even allowing itself to be a constituent. Unlike Christianity or Judaism (or, for that matter, Platonism or Epicureanism), consensus liberalism can’t exist as a self-conscious minority, which is what … principled pluralism requires.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, as for consensus liberals, the secular state (along with the university) is their church.

(R. R. Reno in the April First Things, pp. 3-7; bold added, italics in original. The big break, as opposed to the ellipses, is an ostensible change of topic, but I saw a continuing thread. Not available online yet.)

I add:

  1. Vladimir Putin is positioning Russia as the “leader of global resistance,” and not without a measure of plausibility – although in no serious sense is post-Communist Russia yet again a traditional society as it was before 1917. Still, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king;
  2. Anyone who is unequivocally “proud to be an American” after reading this is illiterate or not a nice person;
  3. I’m heartened at what seems to me to be a surge of fairly audible prophetic voices like Reno’s here. Maybe the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. (“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” I Kings 19:18, King James Bible. Or the whole Lord of the Rings, if you prefer.)
  4. On the other hand, maybe this is the cadenza before her last verse; I may end up in the not-too-distant-future visiting my progeny in Russia as the safest place for Orthodox Christians.


We conceive of marriage as a public reality only to the degree that it is recognized by society, and a freedom not to recognize others’ state-sanctioned marriages seems counterintuitive. But surely such a civil-libertarian argument does not overtax the legal imagination. Our legal elites are presently convinced of a “right to marry,” which suggests nothing if not creativity. If the state redefines marriage, the least it can do is neither pick my pocket nor break my leg by forcing me to go along with the redefinition.

(Matthew J. Franck, Escaping the Exemptions Ghetto, First Things, March 2014, emphasis added)


Re-evangelizing is not evangelizing as though for the first time again; the very fact of past proclamation makes re-proclamation different. For we proclaim the Gospel to a neo-pagan, post-Christian people to whom it does not come as new. The old world had not yet felt the caress of grace; our world, once brushed, now flinches from its touch.

Is re-evangelization completely and radically different from evangelization? No. The same Christ knocks at the door of the same human heart, though a heart with a different history. Is it more difficult? In some ways. Easier? In some ways. But different.

The pagan wanted to be forgiven, but he did not know how to find absolution. To him the Gospel came as a message of release. But the neo-pagan does not want to hear that he needs to be forgiven, and so to him the Gospel comes as a message of guilt.

This inversion seems incredible, because the neo-pagan certainly feels the weight of his sins. But he thinks the way to have peace is not to have the weight lifted but to learn not to take it seriously.

One thing may seem to be unchanged: Now as then, the nonbeliever hails Caesar, not Christ, as Lord. But whereas the pagan reproached Christians for doubting distinctively ancient illusions, for example the eternal destiny of the Empire of Rome, the neo-pagan is more likely to reproach them for doubting distinctively modern illusions, for example the idea that by technology and social engineering we can devise a world in which nobody needs to be good.

(J. Budziszewski, This Time Will Not Be The Same, First Things, March 2014) One of the great pleasures of re-subscribing to First Things after a few years’ absence is to read Budziszewski again. On matters of natural law and culture, he is exceedingly perceptive. You might want to peruse his website.


Writing in the New Republic, John McWhorter grouses at those (this would be us) who reject the “misuse” (his ironic quotes) of literally to make a point more emphatically. His short piece follows the usual pattern: Some people get way too upset about this, words change their meaning, people know what the new use means, and sometimes the new use is creative, plus people in the past sometimes used it this way, here are some examples to show how silly resistance is, and anyway would you want to talk the language of Shakespeare?, so stop complaining. He finishes his caricature of the objections with “the grammar snobs bleat.”

It seems to us that the misuse of literally is a particularly bad example to choose, since the misused word has changed from one with a specific and useful meaning to a lazy way of emphasizing a point. The new use doesn’t gain us anything.

McWhorter himself gives an example from the vice president: “The American people literally stood on the brink of a new depression.” Biden’s literally doesn’t add anything to the sentence, even as emphasis, and worse, using the word this way makes the use of it temporarily ambiguous, until the reader figures out whether the writer meant literally literally, which he should not have to do.

It’s no more grammar snobbery to object to the sloppy and pointless mixing of meanings than it would be woodworking snobbery for a carpenter to object to an awl being used as a plane. We just like our tools to work right.

(While We’re At It, First Things, March 2014)

Yeah. What First Things said. McWhorter literally made my head explode with his wrong-headed defense.

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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.