- Intellectuals and Aesthetes
- Heinrich Himmler, family man
- Progressives gleefully knock down the bedroom door
- Diversity in the parish
- Marriage as another tool in the lawyerly kit
- Development quotables
- Porn, politics, and pro sports
- The Evangelical apostasy that, mercifully, wasn’t
An intellectual is a person who is mainly interested in ideas. I am an aesthete—a person who is mainly interested in beauty …
[A]esthetes have it over intellectuals in one important respect: You’ll rarely catch them hustling anyone off to the nearest guillotine. For all their frequent foolishness, their hands are stained with ink and paint, not blood.
It is perfectly possible to make great art that serves as the instrument of an exterior purpose. That is why Chartres Cathedral was built and the St. Matthew Passion composed.
But making reality over into art, while it necessarily entails a measure of simplification, also demands that the artist simultaneously acknowledge the proliferating complexity of human nature and experience. Therein lies the problem of political art: The artist whose chief goal is to enlist his audience in a cause, no matter what that cause may be, is rarely prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but. He replaces the true complexity of the real world with the false simplicity of the ideologue. He alters reality not to make everything more beautiful, but to stack the deck.
Considering this distinction, I’m not sure I ever was an intellectual, and given both this a Paul Johnson’t book on intellectuals, I take comfort in that (rather like the Pharisee took comfort in being unlike the Publican).
But if I was an intellectual – and there certainly was the element of ideology in how I viewed my former Christian tradition – I think I’ve transitioned to aesthete if only by disenthrallment with the thought that anybody really has this world all figured out or ever will.
Terry Teachout’s essay, by the way, offers delights well beyond my snippets.
Himmler is the guy who more or less successfully compartmentalizes his family life and the unlovely details of a demanding professional career. He reads an adoring letter from his daughter, Gudrun (known as Püppi) – who at one point seems mystified by the fact that her science teacher caught her cheating on a test but did not punish her – and later that day or the next reads a secret memo from an underling discussing technical problems with the “death wagons,” the rolling gas chambers then being used to asphyxiate Jews and Communists along the Eastern Front. (I don’t want to tell you what the memo was about; I wish I didn’t know.) I’m not suggesting that oil-company executives, corporate lobbyists or predatory venture capitalists are guilty of crimes on anywhere near Himmler’s scale, but the psychological mechanism involved is about the same.
There’s no indication that Himmler thought he was being a horrifying hypocrite when he recommended cabaret entertainment as therapy for mass murderers. Indeed, those were the worst parts of the film for me exactly because you can feel Himmler struggling with himself, just a little, and trying to find off the terrible cognitive dissonance of what he has done and what he claims to be. Whether she intends this or not, Lapa forces us to confront apparently incompatible truths: Himmler was a monstrous war criminal, one of history’s very worst, and he was also an apparently normal person who somehow screwed himself up to do these terrible things and suffered for it. I’m not saying he suffered enough, God knows, or that his suffering makes up for anything. But this realization forces us to recognize ourselves in him, just a little, and to recognize the small bad things each of us has done as the seeds of very big bad things.
I’m tempted to say “Well, duhhhh!” but don’t we all need reminders occasionally that evil usually comes without red skin, horns, pitchfork and tail?
It can even come in black robes and supreme honor.
[F]or years I’ve been railing and ranting about the ridiculous myth that liberalism is socially libertarian; that liberals are “live and let live” types simply defending themselves against judgmental conservatives, the real aggressors in the culture war.
That thinking runs counter to most everything liberals justifiably take pride in, as liberals. You can’t be “agents for change,” “forces for progress,” or whatever the current phrase, and claim that you’re not the aggressors in the culture war. Liberals have redefined a millenniums-old understanding of marriage while talking as if it were conservatives who wanted to “impose” their values on the nation.
Enter Gov. Jerry Brown, whose answer to the alleged “rape epidemic” on campuses was to sign the new “affirmative consent” law. It will require a verbal “yes” at every stage of amorous activity on college campuses.
(Jonah Goldberg on California’s absurd new campus sex law) I just love some of the justifications for the new law Goldberg passes along:
Ann Friedman of New York magazine rhapsodizes about the law’s positive cultural impact. It will help in “deprogramming the idea that nice girls don’t admit they like sex, let alone talk about how they like it.” She notes that the “law will force universities to talk to all students, female and male, about how enthusiastic consent is mandatory.” And that is great because “Confirming consent leads to much hotter sex.”
Maybe she’s right (though I will never hear complaints that conservatives want to invade the bedroom the same way again).
“Hotter sex” for those who do it right, the stigma of being a rapist for the poor Lothario who mistakes drunken non-verbal welcome messages for consent. Is this a great country or what!?
Sociologist Mark Regnerus at First Things writes of Diversity as Slogan and Reality in Churches.
I don’t doubt that he’s right about the diversity of the liberal Protestant mainstream. For instance, “Have you met an Episcopalian plumber? If you ever do, remember it, because it won’t happen twice.” But I’m skeptical about some of the numbers he uses to quantify it (e.g., only 88% of the population is “straight”?!).
But where I think he really goes off track is explaining how the Catholic parish promotes diversity:
An emphasis on a community of friends, a staple of many congregations, is a double-edged sword. Friendships, of course, are fabulous—one of life’s genuine joys and a source of social support (and occasional social control, I hope). But they’re also the stuff of homophily—birds of a feather tend to flock together. The Catholic parish system—in which congregations are located by geography and population density above all other considerations—is largely oblivious to existing communities of friends. The Church cannot afford homophily, so it doesn’t tacitly encourage it. The parish system—organized geographically—unwittingly fosters diversity by deemphasizing (without discouraging) the social aspects of parish life.
This strikes me as anachronistic, though it may be coming back. Who walks to Church? What Catholic reflexively goes to the nearest Roman Catholic Church. My Catholic acquaintances all get in their cars and drive to the Catholic Church that’s caught their fancy, which sometimes is the very furthest away from them in the greater community, just like my Protestant acquaintances.
As one of them put it recently, Catholics are much more Protestant now, and though she meant it as praise, I lament it.
I spent some time with a group of esteemed lawyer friends in the State Capital very recently. Conversation turned gleefully to how same-sex marriage could be used to, shall we say, make the tax code do things Congress didn’t intend, and how strategic use of religious services without marriage licenses something would be even more advantageous.
I made a note to review the estate plan of two men who were married in another state and whose marriage is now recognized in My Fair State. Maybe we’ve got some new opportunities. It might be malpractice not to do check; I sure wouldn’t feel right about not checking now that the thought occurred to me.
I guess that’s what civil marriage has come to now. And it didn’t happen overnight, nor did it start with gay rights.
Listening to podcasts while driving Thursday, I came across a couple of quotables.
First, reflecting on the increasing phenomenon of cities or states admitting that they cannot afford to maintainour roads and streets, the characterization of their development as “a Ponzi scheme without the nefarious intent.”
Second, in a related vein, opposition to “if we build it, they’ll come” roads, light rail, subways, stadiums and anything else, the problem being that we ought to service where “they” already have chosen to be.
I gave up sports for the same reason I gave up politics and pornography.
I was once in a political party, not because I felt any great affection for it, but because the aims of its chief opponent constitute a recipe for civilizational suicide. I still suspect as much, but I long ago became an Independent, because I concluded that associating myself with a political party was a moral act, or rather an immoral one, given the criminality, corruption, and prevarication engendered by its leaders.
This is also a reason I stopped watching porn—because viewing it not only corrodes one’s soul, it sustains the market for predation and debasement. The same, I’ve reluctantly concluded, can be said about viewing big-money sports.
Evangelicals are changing their minds on gay marriage. So argues the Log Cabin Republicans’ David Lampo in a recent op-ed in the Daily Caller. In defense of his thesis, Lampo trots out the examples of two prominent evolved evangelicals: David Blankenhorn and yours truly. The problem here is that Blankenhorn is not an Evangelical and I have not changed my mind on gay marriage. If David and I are the two best examples of an evangelical evolution, it ain’t happening.
I have been promised a correction of his characterization of my position. I hope for two larger corrections, though, ones that Lampo may be unable to provide. The first is of the now pervasive false suggestion that gay marriage skeptics are bigots. The second is of the suggestion that gay relationships—for all their loving aspiration and achievement—are appropriately described as marriages. In the end ours really is a dispute over facts, not all of which can be googled.
I think I’ve made clear that I’m not betting on Evangelicalism to hold the line on marriage. As another podcast suggested, a lot of people embraced the current American way of life and labeled it “Christian.” Odds are, that will repeat.
That “firm foundation” (generally taken to be the Bible, though that’s not what the hymn says) is surprisingly mushy – or perhaps “malleable” would be a better word.
* * * * *
“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)