Sunday, 7/6/14

  1. Why he wrote
  2. Must we go along to get along?
  3. Honey instead of vinegar
  4. Introducing The Ratchet
  5. Butt out (but give me my license first)
  6. A new tack on accommodation


[W]riting lines can order my unmetered mind…

… Third  —
And if this just sounds petty let me know — I write
To win the current battle which we wage with words;
Where each side seeks through books, linguistic victory.
(I speak of language that partakes in beauty, though
Supremest Beauty is through contemplation reached.)

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, On the Metered (Eis Ta Emmetra), Timothy Bartel, trans., published in Saint Katherine Review Volume 4, Number 2.


If it were simply a matter of both sides being tolerant, I would have faith that we could work it out. But at this point, that does not look like the deal we are being offered, or are ever going to be offered. If it were simply a matter of telling Christians not to behave like assholes toward gay folks, well yeah, I agree with that. But that’s not what this is about. Anything short of total approval is going to be treated as bigotry. I don’t see how anybody can deny that this is coming, and that in many places it’s already here.

(Rod Dreher) Dreher is responding to his non-Christian colleague Noah Millman, who ventured into Christian theology, as he imagined it, to say “You can’t withdraw from society! You’ll be consigning generations to hell if you’re not there to be ‘salt and light’!”

I find that kind of tutelage condescending. I think what he’s really saying is “conservatism can’t survive succeed without Christians; and the economy will tank if too many of you go truly counter-cultural.”

Dreher’s response is pretty spot-on, I think: paraphrasing, “If the price of Christian admission to the public square is a pinch of incense, then we really have no choice. We can’t excise pieces from the Christian faith to be more winsome without losing the integrity of the faith. The Churches who’ve taken that bargain are losing their kids and forfeiting converts even faster than the ones maintaining the faith intact. We’re just in for rough times no matter what we do.”

Read it all.

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.

(Flannery O’Connor)

If Huxley is right, sexual freedom is the Last Freedom, the one that remains when all others are taken away. Perhaps family breakdown and mass distraction by lust is as much the health of the state as is war.


My parish yesterday baptized a man from a non-Christian religious tradition. That’s too rare, and for my parish, perhaps a first.

I’m struck by the way Orthodox from non-Christian religious traditions tend to speak little or no ill of the tradition from which they came. Rather, they speak of Orthodoxy as the fulfillment of what was best and the provision of what was missing. I’ve heard it from Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers and even from a former Wiccan.

In contrast, we converts from other Christian traditions can tend to be a bit harsh. In my own case at least, that’s motivated by the conviction that Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of what is best and the provision of what is missing from Evangelicalism and Calvinism, my two waystations, and trying to shock people into recognition of that (as I was shocked into recognition by this tough love and by an epiphany about what the Creed professed about the Church).

So let me find some kind words to say, for a change, about my two former traditions.

Evangelicalism was very enthusiastic. In ancient times – entire decades ago, when I was unequivocally Evangelical (and so was Evangelicalism) – it had a faint recollection that something called “sanctification” was part of salvation and was supposed to followed “justification.”

I’m sorry, but that’s about all I can think of, and the second point was something Evangelicalism only seemed to know by borrowing from Calvinists. (As always, I’m not referring to my home life but to my time in an evangelical boarding high school.) I note that the boundaries of Evangelicalism have been somewhat in dispute, so I’ll offer one of their own “defining” the concept:

What is an evangelical

Of Calvinism, I can think of many more kind things to say.

  • Negatively, sound Calvinism was having nothing to do with the dispensationalist end-times mania that has characterized Evangelicalism since my teenage years at least. In its place, if held to a much more historic and apophatic view about what the future holds (though it was innocent of the word “apophatic”).
  • Calvinism insisted on real repentance, and not just on the ritual recitation of some “Sinner’s Prayer.”
  • Calvinists used a version of the Nicene Creed and talked about “Ecumenical Creeds.”
  • Calvinists took academic theology seriously and not just as a playground.
  • Calvinism tended to produce outstanding, world-class philosophers.
  • Calvinism tended to manifest a sobriety that struck me, then and even more now, as more in keeping with the realities of the world than Evangelicalism’s boosterist approach.
  • Above all, Calvinism upheld the vision of God that was not consistent with “Jesus is my buddy.”


I really hoped that the Reformed accordingly could be cajoled into hymnody without frequent relapse into Praise Songs and Gospel Songs.

We will return, no doubt, to our regularly scheduled programming in due course, but today is for saying what was good.


I’ve long had the image of a ratchet wrench in my mind as a metaphor for progressivism’s self-concept.

Witness the doings in Indiana in the last two weeks. A Federal Judge struck down its marriage law. Gay couples rushed to the Courthouse, including one prominent long-term male couple, retired from their popular yuppie-oriented retail business, and tied the knot did something or other that purported to be marriage. Then the Seventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals stayed the trial court’s decision pending appeal.

Maybe it was ginned up by the local media – as I say, this pair was prominent, and the media duly noted their rush to the Courthouse on day one – but this couple was featured lamenting that they don’t know now whether they can call themselves “married” or not. The implication (I hope I wasn’t reading this into the story) was that their new uncertainty, hard on the heels of a controversial victory, was itself some kind of injustice to them.

That’s the ratchet. If progressives win something from a judicial referee’s call, Oh, the horror! if the Attorney General demands an instant replay.

What did they (the couple or the media who hyped the story) think? That (a) a controversial decision by an (b) unelected (c) trial judge (d) in contravention of controlling Supreme Court precedent must be the last word? That you can make it the last word by lamenting “We relied on it!”?

Or, more generally (i.e., not just SSM) that your assessment of what is progressive and healthy for society cannot be controverted, or that the forward  movement of the proverbial clock hands must never be associated with setbacks or outright reversals of your victories?

I have trouble taking that seriously. Some day, I’ll see some of my own wisdom as true foolishness, welcoming its reversal, and I don’t think they’re any different.


Am I the only one who sees the irony absurdity hypocrisy  utter befuddled sloganeering of someone saying “The government has no business telling me who I can love! Now give me my marriage license!”?

I’m pretty certain that the government has never told anybody who  they can love. I’m quite confident that I am at liberty, even now as a man married for more than 42 years, to love whoever I like.

But even if “love” is a euphemism for sex, my state’s criminal laws against fornication, adultery, sodomy, and just about any other type of consensual adult sexual expression were abolished decades ago, when the American Law Institute thought that was the progressive thing to do. There has been no move to reverse those repeals to my knowledge, and SCOTUS wrote it into Constitutional Law to bring a few holdout states into line in a Texas homosexual sodomy case (my state had forbidden all sodomy, even marital, as I recall the story).

Of course, the notion that the state has no business telling anyone who they can marry is what really is at stake when people make that lament. But what they imply, and what erodes clear thought, is that love = sex = the right to marry.

One of what I found is to be many rich insights in the book What Is Marriage?, was how this kind of talk erodes the possibility of friendships and rich relationships other than the conjugal one of marriage.

Misunderstandings about marriage will also speed our society’s drought of deep friendship, with special harm to the unmarried. The state will have defined marriage mainly by degree or intensity—as offering the most of what makes any relationship valuable: shared emotion and experience. It will thus become less acceptable to seek (and harder to find) emotional and spiritual intimacy in nonmarital friendships.

(Kindle edition at location 182) “One law for the ox and the lion is oppression.” (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

And if we take the slogan seriously, the state has no right telling three or more people that they can’t love (i.e., “marry”) each other. I’m too far away from the legal academy to predict with confidence that the courts will decree les menages a trois as law of the land, though it seems quite plausible given the extremity of its reasoning on some of the many cases over the last four decades involving various expressions of sexual autonomy. But if that happens, I can only say “be careful what you wish for,” because I think the political processes will kick in at that point and say “Hell, if that’s all marriage is, we’re not provided any benefits any more!” and get out of the “marriage business” entirely. We’ll be poorer for that, too.


I’m not usually inclined to help the Current Regime, though I’ve been circumspect about criticizing it except for its disregard of religious freedom and its continuation of our bipartisan “democracy”-crazed foreign policy.

But let me suggest a tweak to its “accommodation” on employer contraceptive coverage.

Heretofore, it has told religionists and the courts that “religious freedom” doesn’t mean what they think. All the wind has gone of of the sails on that tack now.

Why not now tell HHS that “medically necessary” doesn’t mean what it thinks? All it takes is an Imperial Executive Order.

I think that wold be a fine accommodation.

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Sorry for all the “mistakes” today. I introduced fully three new categories – Pinch of Incense, The Ratchet, and Rhetorical fallacies – and really did find myself grasping for le mot juste at times. Other times, I was just being snarky.

* * * * *

“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.