Saturday, 7/26/14

  1. “Traditional Christianity” in public parlance
  2. Damon Linker commits facile moral equivalence
  3. How Nominalism mutes us
  4. Oregonians for Kids Because Science
  5. Neocons for Belligerence Because Russia
  6. Elder Epiphanios’ words to live by (especially today)


Rod Dreher points out something that I don’t recall noticing before – and don’t think I’d have forgotten it if I had noticed.

I think it’s worth asking … what we mean when we say “traditional Christianity.” I use the phrase too, interchangeably with “small-o orthodox Christianity,” or just “orthodox Christianity.” What I mean is Christians of whatever tradition who adhere to, um, tradition. You see the problem.

When I push further, I say, in a Kierkegaardian vein, “Well, it means Christians who think that religion deals in objective truths, subjectively appropriated. Christians who believe that truth is something that exists outside of ourselves, as opposed to being something we can bend to suit our time-bound desires.”

But this still doesn’t get us very far…

It seems to me that “traditional Christian” is political code for “Christians who adhere to traditional teaching about sex and sexuality.” After all, it is possible to be a traditional Christian and a socialist on economics. It is possible to be an archtraditionalist on liturgy and sacred music, but an archliberal on morals and politics — and vice versa … When I deploy the phrase “traditional Christians” in my writing, I’m not thinking about ecclesiology, sacramental theology, or any other thing that separates Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy.

What I’m thinking about — what we are all thinking about — is this: what separates “traditional Christians” from “modern Christians” (or “progressive Christians”) in our common discourse is their beliefs about sex. Nothing else, or at least nothing else meaningful. Think about it — for purposes of general discussion these days, what would you say separates those you would call “traditional Christians” from other kinds of Christians? Take sex out of the picture, and what do you have? If we’re not talking about sex, what are we talking about?

(Emphasis added) As far as “common [i.e., public] discourse” goes, Rod may be right.

For instance, AIDS didn’t become the world’s first politically protected communicable disease because traditional Christians were in control of things. That happened because it was a disease acquired (mostly, though many denied it) from our society’s new sacrament, the universal solvent of all things traditional.

[T]he eminent sociologist Philip Rieff … writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.

(Rod Dreher) We’re really back to something close to pagan Rome now, except men aren’t all that keen on women producing children for them and women have bought, temporarily, the delusion that it’s freeing to be just as loutish as the most promiscuous Lothario.

There is a deep and unbridgeable gap between “traditional Christianity” and the sexual revolution, and traditional Christianity is losing not through the inferiority of its arguments, but because it’s arguments are ruled out of bounds before they’re even heard, while the sexual revolutionist code, which is anything but religiously neutral, dissolves every tradition in its path.

Thursday, Josh Barro of the New York Times tweeted:

Anti-LGBT attitudes are terrible for people in all sorts of communities. They linger and oppress, and we need to stamp them out, ruthlessly.

Friday, Rod Dreher, citing that tweet, posted:

Regarding The New York Times, as a longtime subscriber (almost 20 years), I’ve been like the put-upon Episcopalian who has said for years, with each passing outrage, “If they do just one more thing, I’m out of here” — but who never leaves.

This morning, I left. Cancelled my subscription. I don’t expect the Times to reflect my worldview, exactly, but I will not subsidize journalism put out by journalists who want to “stamp out, ruthlessly” the religious convictions of people like me.

Me, too, except “on and off for ten years or more” instead of “almost 20 years.” Thursday, it was on. Now, it’s off. I’m going to Google “faith and family left” to try to avoid ending up in an internet echo chamber – something I’ve tried to avoid, but which looms likelier with dropping the Grey Lady.

Any suggestions for truly liberal blogs (not neo-fascist)?

UPDATE: Contrast the treatment given Bob Eschliman in Iowa for the reverse mirror image offense of Barro:

Bob Eschliman is a Christian. He’s also a veteran news editor. And when he decided to write a column on his personal blog objecting to a gay-friendly version of the Bible, Bob was unceremoniously marched out of the Newton Daily News and shoved out the front door.

After a brief investigation, the Iowa newspaper fired Bob and then publicly castigated him in an editorial. They accused him of compromising the reputation of the newspaper. They said what he wrote resulted in the loss of public trust.


Damon Linker, always interesting even when he’s wrong, is interestingly wrong in drawing moral equivalency between the Right of his First Things days and today’s frighteningly intolerant Left.

I don’t think Richard John Neuhaus and company (Michael Novak, George Weigel, Robert P. George) “had something more radical in mind” when they tried to persuade people to give their kind majority control. They failed, so we’ll never really know. But my experience of them is that they tried to persuade. They didn’t distort. They didn’t relentlessly mock (though Neuhaus had a monthly “While we’re at it” column that tended toward rim-shot mockery). I often disagree with Michael Novak and George Weigel on policy, by the way; less often with Neuhaus (now deceased) and George.

Sure they “wanted to take control of the table, relegating secular liberals to minority status.” And liberals want to relegate conservatives to minority status. That’s called “politics.”

But Linker is absolutely right, and understates the threat, of the Left’s new intolerance.

That’s what I’ve been calling out in my recent controversial columns — about Brendan Eich, about Hobby Lobby, about stupid New York Times op-eds. When the theocons threatened to turn secular liberals into a persecuted minority, I objected. And now, with gay rights activists treating social conservatives like heretics and federal regulators threatening to force religious traditionalists to violate their consciences, I’m doing the same.

“But you’re saying we need to tolerate the intolerant!” — I see that objection every time I write something critical of liberal dogmatism and bigotry.

To which my stock response is: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying — because that’s what liberalism is, or should be, all about. Toleration is perfectly compatible with — indeed, it presupposes — disagreement. That’s why it’s called tolerance and not endorsement or affirmation.

(H/T Rod Dreher) Be it noted, too, that you cannot call these neo-fascists “liberals.” Liberals – Linker, for instance – have defended free speech and freedom of religion.


[T]he Christian perspective on culture comes to amount to little more than colonizing isolated “issues”, which are assessed in terms of a divine will that has already been abstracted from any larger sense of teleological and ontological order. Failure to recognize an inner-logic within the world (including human nature) leaves evangelical spokespersons unable to point to the normativity of Christian moral order, or the fittingness of God’s commands within any scheme larger than, and antecedent to, mere will. A result of this functional nominalism is that Christian contributions to the public discourse can become largely unintelligible to those in different ideological communities. Worse still, such unintelligibility is seen to be inevitable and unavoidable, thus disincentivizing Christians from exploring new and creative ways to communicate.

(Robin Phillips, The Abstraction of God and the Culture Wars)


We all agree that responsible parents should wait until a child is seven or eight years old before letting them pick their gender. Why can’t we agree that children should have to wait at least that long to pick whichever religion they’ll eventually leave for Buddhism during their junior year of college?

(Daphne Jacobson, president of Oregonians for Kids Because Science, quoted in The Dirty Business of Infant Baptism)


Charles Krauthammer’s logic eludes me sometimes.

A real U.S. president would give Kiev the weapons it needs, impose devastating sectoral sanctions on Moscow, reinstate our Central European missile-defense system, and make a Reaganesque speech explaining why.

I take this to mean that

  • because Russia apparently gave weapons to Ukrainian rebels who
  • used it to gun down an airliner they mistook for a military cargo plane,
  • we should give weapons to “Kiev,” so
  • we can have our fingerprints on its atrocities because
  • arming unreliable people in fights that are not ours to fight is what “real Presidents” do.

Have I got that right? (H/T Daniel Larison)


From my Priest’s current e-mail signature block:

Elder Epiphanios on current events:

“All these things which are going on now, as well as all subsequent things, God will come with His broom and sweep them away in a manner known to Him.  So, don’t worry.  Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Christ our God.”

* * * * *

“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.