Thursday 3/27/14

    1. Reverse Alchemy
    2. Hobby Lobby the day after the day after
    3. Crisis Fatigue
    4. Human nature, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law
    5. How not to win a Senate seat in Iowa


Ted Olsen at Christianity Today wonders aloud why Protestants don’t observe the Annunciation:

For starters, it focuses on two issues that theologically conservative Protestants have long defended against theological liberals: the historicity of the Virgin Birth, and Christ’s unique divinity. In a theological sense, the Annunciation could be of greater significance than Christmas.

“It connects directly to the incarnation, while Christmas (whatever the true date) falls around nine months after the incarnation,” says pro-life writer Randy Alcorn. “It is basic Christian doctrine that Christ became flesh at the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, ….

So far, so good. Maybe 100% good, even, at least in what it affirms. My hopes rise, but then are dashed. Once again, Evangelicals (that’s mostly what CT means by “theologically conservative Protestants”) take gold and turn it into lead:

[“It is basic Christian doctrine that Christ became flesh at the moment the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary,] at the moment of fertilization. He became human at the exact point all others become human, the point of conception.”

And so the Annunciation’s implications are intensely political as well as theological. Few days on the Christian calendar, and few passages in Scripture, are so relevant to the abortion debate. For example, Alcorn notes that since Mary “hurried” to see Elizabeth (Luke 1:39) after Gabriel’s visit, it’s likely that Jesus was not yet fully implanted in Mary’s womb when Elizabeth’s unborn son, John, “leaped for joy” (1:41-44). That, he suggests, helps to eliminate hairsplitting over when personhood begins.

Some Protestants have attempted to draw out the pro-life implications of the Annunciation. The group Lutherans for Life, for example, offers bulletin inserts, sample sermons, and other resources to make March 25 a catalyst for fighting abortion.

Argghhh! If the Annuniciation is just a useful political bludgeon, which is the thrust of remainder of Olsen’s article, then to hell with it. I’d just as soon Evangelicals resumed taking their Lectionary from events like 9/11, the 4th of July and the date of Roe v. Wade (which date Olsen’s article gets wrong by 9 days, by the way), since they’re functioning as an alternative civil religion anyway.

Why not stand in awe? Of Christ’s kenosis? Of the virgin’s willing cooperation in God the Son taking on our flesh of her, without which incarnation we would not be saved?

The Annunciation has a lot more to do with soteriological synergy (think fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum) than with prooftexting for any political point.

The Word became flesh of the Virgin Mary. The flesh of the Virgin is also the flesh that is nailed to the Cross (when her soul was itself mysteriously pierced). The flesh which we eat in the Eucharist is also the flesh of the Virgin – for there is no flesh of God that is not the flesh of the Virgin.

And it does no good to protest that the Word merely “took flesh” of the Virgin. For Adam cried out concerning Eve, “This is truly bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” And St. Paul noted concerning the wife of a man that a man should love her, “For no one ever yet hated his own flesh.”

I puzzle at how Christians who understand that it is wrong for a woman to say, “It’s my body and I can do with it what I want,” when she is carrying a child, can at the same time treat the Mother of God as though she had merely lent her womb to God for a period of time.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, emphasis added)


From reporting on Tuesday’s oral arguments in Hobby Lobby:

Justice Kagan said the companies’ interpretation of the 1993 law could transform the legal system.

“Your understanding of this law, your interpretation of it, would essentially subject the entire U.S. Code to the highest test in constitutional law,” she said. It would allow, she continued, employers to object on religious grounds to laws banning sexual discrimination and child labor and to laws requiring a minimum wage and family leave.

(Adam Liptak, New York Times) Either Justice Kagan or I is missing something. I believe that subjecting all law in the country to the highest test in constitutional law was exactly the purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed almost unanimously, though a subsequent SCOTUS decision said Congress couldn’t constitutionally do that to state law.

Much of the argument concerned whether the coverage requirement imposed a serious burden on the companies, a threshold question under the 1993 law. The companies remained free, some justices said, not to offer health insurance at all, pay a tax and emerge financially better off. On that point, the court’s liberal wing seemed to have Justice Kennedy’s support.

“How is the employer hurt?” he asked.

But Chief Justice Roberts said that approach ignored another problem. “I thought that part of the religious commitment of the owners was to provide health care for its employees,” he said.

… Justice Kennedy also had significant and possibly crucial reservations about the Obama administration’s carrying out of the contraceptive coverage requirement. It was hard to see, he suggested, how the requirement could simultaneously be a compelling government interest and yet be subject to a web of exemptions and accommodations for religious groups and others.

(Id.) I would not be surprised at a decision based on Justice Kennedy’s point: the interest isn’t compelling or there wouldn’t be so many exceptions. Another way of viewing that is that the law is not truly neutral and “of general application.” It’s hard to pass laws without exceptions in many areas, and part of the point of RFRA is that religion gets a pass, too, if other interests get them.


Gates points to a recurring problem in our foreign policy debates, which is the large and increasing gap between the public and our political leaders on what the U.S. should be doing in the world. It may be true that most Americans don’t know and don’t care very much about the crisis in Ukraine, but to date no one has given them much of a reason to think they are mistaken in thinking that the U.S. shouldn’t get too involved. The burden of explaining why it should does fall on our leaders, but for decades our politicians and supporters of an activist foreign policy have acted as if the burden is on the skeptics and opponents to explain why the U.S. should mind its own business. Now that supporters of an activist U.S. role in the world are forced to make their case to a skeptical audience, they prove to be not very good at it. This is perhaps because the arguments in support of this view are so much weaker than the activists think they are. Gates likewise fails to make the case for the “need to act forcefully,” but this is not entirely his fault. The case isn’t very strong, and it is fairly easily rebutted, so it’s no wonder that it isn’t changing public opinion very much.

(Daniel Larison: Crisis Fatigue and the Elite-Public Gap, emphasis added)


I don’t often read Thomas Friedman, but his thoughts on Putin’s Russia are interesting and avoid the bellicosity of much recent commentary.

He thinks Putin is screwing up Russia’s future because he’s “challenging three of the most powerful forces on the planet all at once: human nature, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law,” and makes what strikes me as a plausible case.


You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(Rep. Bruce Braley, speaking to a “closed door meeting” of Texas trial lawyers.)

Braley, an Iowa Democrat, hopes to replace Tom Harkin, who is retiring. Iowa has a lot of farmers. Chuck Grassley probably got a lot of their votes.

“Give generously to beat the farmers” doesn’t sound like a winning theme in Iowa, methinks.

* * * * *

“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.