Commemoration of John Chrysostom, 11/13/14

  1. Cheap Sex
  2. What you should get for $50k tuitions
  3. Keeping Up Appearances
  4. The Inevitability of Choice
  5. One Cheer for Disestablishmentarianism


I’ve said it before: The bottom line is that porn is cheap sex—meaning that it mimics real sex at no cost and no effort, and that many men will track in that direction unless prevented from doing so. And when sex becomes cheap, or alternatives are substituted (as in porn), women get put into a bind. They want to be in a relationship with men, but the men suddenly have more sexual options. Hence (many) women feel compelled to negotiate over things, like porn, that they would never have imagined in the past.

(Mark Regnerus, The Pornographic Double-Bind). We call this, with no sense of irony, “sexual liberation,” and would be most miffed if porn were restricted.

Regnerus also cites some shocking statistics about the prevalence of porn, among men and women, online these days.


Any rational parent footing the bill should actually think twice before spending $50,000 a year on an education whose main “outcome” is to relocate their children to large urban centers.

(Jeff Polet, Monday Morning Brass Spittoon: Roundtable on a Liberal Arts Education)

Liberal arts colleges ought to think of themselves as liberal arts colleges, the economy and culture be damned.  But instead they’re puckering at the hind end of both the economy and culture.  More than ever the culture needs an infusion of people educated in the liberal arts, maybe even a kind of clerisy.  But the colleges don’t seem to have the guts to say this.  I once heard a college president say that what colleges do is prepare students “to go out and participate in the economy.” That’s a sign of the apocalypse.

(Jason Peters at the same Roundtable)

There is much good, including some that gave me the giggles, in this roundable. Jeff Polet hit the bullseye oftener than the others, I think, with such as this:

Rather than thinking of themselves as producing leaders who will serve the world, and this on the basis of having been thoroughly schooled in sentimentalism, schools ought to see themselves in service of particular traditions, and enmesh students in the learning valued by that tradition. As I learned attending my daughter’s graduation from college: when a school disconnects itself from tradition, it soon gets swept into trendy multiculturalism, self-important upward advancement, and a fascination with “distinctives” so minor they aren’t worth attending to at all.

I’d agree with that, and (not to channel one of Dwight Eisenhower) I don’t care what tradition is is. But Wabash College has done awfully well, and I’m not sure what tradition they’re serving except to produce liberally educated gentlemen.

I also came across in a Rod Dreher article in the American Conservative (not one of their blogs):

John Adams is reputed to have said, “I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.”


An Evangelical struggles with a legitimately important issue:

When Evangelicals claim adultery as biblical grounds for divorce, they not only put words into Jesus’s mouth that the Gospels do not record him as actually saying, but they mutilate the essence of the uniqueness of the Christian witness to marriage. If we do not have a gospel that demands of us forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of marital unfaithfulness between two covenant-bound individuals, I am not sure we have a gospel that offers any real hope to a fallen world.

This point is not lost on those who seek to redefine marriage from its historic meaning. They recognize the blatant hypocrisy of the Evangelical position. They hear us saying, “for better or for worse,” “in sickness and in health,” and “till death do us part.” But they know we say it with a wink, as long as the worse does not include adultery, the sickness does not include emotional turmoil from infidelity, and unfaithfulness does not precede death. Except for these qualifiers, which we conveniently do not proclaim at the altar, we believe in the permanence of marriage. Marriage is permanent, until it is not. On Saturdays, we officiate weddings with unconditional vows, on Sundays we preach sermons on the sanctity of marriage, and then on Mondays we counsel our congregation that Jesus exempts them to do the hard work of remaining faithful in times of unfaithfulness and that ultimately marriage is not about Jesus and the church but their personal desires. And Evangelicals wonder why our pleas for the sanctity of marriage often fall on deaf ears.

(Cory Wilson) But I have a problem with this: it’s all outward focused. It’s all “what must our heathen neighbors think of us?”

Is Evangelical “once saved, always saved” soteriology getting in the way of recognizing that the first problem with easy divorce is that it tacitly denies that the Christian life is a struggle, that forgiveness can feel nearly impossible even as it’s commanded, and that sometimes there’s a cross to bear for my own good, not as a “testimony”?


Looking back over my life as a Christian, I could remember numerous occasions where I fell into serious error, yet at the time was fully convinced that I was in the right. At each point, I had evaluated evidence and reached what I thought was a well-informed judgment, only to find out later that I had been dead wrong. If there was anything that my thirty-eight years of being a Christian had taught me, it was that I couldn’t trust my judgment, that I should have a healthy sense of humility about my own theological and historical convictions. This being the case, how could I trust myself to accurately assess all the evidence necessary for adjudicating between Orthodoxy and its competitors? Who was I to think that reading a smattering of books about Orthodoxy and some selected writings of church fathers qualified me to adjudicate between the claims of the Orthodox church and all the other traditions that also claim continuity to the early church? Given my lack of intellectual confidence, the notion that private judgment is inherently untrustworthy resonated deeply with me …

Eastern Orthodoxy struggles to find its way in America, not simply because it is a minority faith, and not simply because there are so many religious competitors. Significant as these factors are, a more significant reason why Orthodoxy struggles on American soil is because it is completely antithetical to the values of individualism and personal autonomy that remain foundational to the psyche of the American people. The religion of personal autonomy finds significant clash, not just with specific teachings of Orthodoxy, but with its entire spirit, ethos and rationale …

We may submit to a certain ecclesial body, but in the back of our minds we know that we can always move on once it fails to suit our tastes. For those of us who have embraced Orthodoxy as converts, this creates a certain irony. In itself, Orthodoxy may stand against this type of hyper-pluralism to which we are accustomed, yet it comes to us within a hyper-pluralistic social context in which it exists as a range of options among many. As much as I might like to think of Orthodoxy as the default option once I have given up the project of creating a religion in my own image, the fact remains that I am still having to choose Orthodoxy as an individual, and that this choice is presumably based on the fact that Orthodoxy meets my needs and seems right to my private judgment. As Richard Barrett pointed out in the above article:

“The problem that Christianity in general has, not just the Eastern Orthodox Churches, is choice within the context of a pluralistic society. Religious authority, being something you have to “opt-in” for, is really no authority that is binding unless you want it to be. Christian pluralism means that being a Christian is something you choose, and even choosing to be a Christian means you can then tailor whatever version of Christianity you find compelling to what you believe are your own needs. You can dress it up however you want; magisterial authority, scriptural authority, authority of tradition, authority of the Church — your assent to that authority is entirely a matter of individual choice, and any argument for the validity of that authority is made entirely on individual, that is to say, subjective, and ultimately circular….”

Is there a solution to this? If I understand what Barrett is arguing, there is not. He effectively demonstrates that even Orthodoxy does not evacuate one from the epistemological burden created by the hyper-pluralistic moment …

Welcome to hyper-pluralism. The fact is that because we do not live in sixteenth-century Russia or eighteenth-century Greece, we cannot evacuate ourselves from the epistemological burdens created by hyper-pluralism. Specifically, this means that converting to Orthodoxy involves the exercise of private judgment amidst a religious smorgasbord of options. To choose to embrace Orthodoxy is to make a choice that Orthodoxy and not Pentecostalism, Presbyterianism or Coptic Christianity, is what will best help me to grow closer to God. To choose to become Orthodox is to decide (based on my fallible and limited reason) that there is evidence that Orthodoxy has continuity with the teaching of the church fathers in a way that Eastern Catholicism or Oriental Christianity or reformed Presbyterianism does not. To choose to become Orthodox is to exercise judgment in concluding that the Holy Spirit is leading me here and not elsewhere.

(Robin Phillips)

Both Phillips and Richard Barrett thought this through fairly hard. I think I’ve been fairly consistent in admitting that my conversion to Orthodoxy from Calvinism wasn’t a rigorous logical or historical process. Rather, I realized that sola scriptura had created chaos in Protestantism and was both untenable (as popularly understood, at least) and self-refutingly extra-biblical if not unbiblical; that the Creed’s “one holy catholic and apostolic church” was something that I’d been spiritualizing away; and that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, in its dumbed-down version of “eternal security,” had led me into a kind of antinomianism that was turning me into someone who would reject heaven, if heaven didn’t reject me first, because it wasn’t sufficiently about me. Of the first two, I had almost no doubt, epistemological uncertainty being no great troubler for me. Of the third I might have learned somewhere other than Orthodoxy had I been properly attentive.

Those observations narrowed the field of choices pretty dramatically, but in the end, I was aware of choosing Orthodoxy over Roman Catholicism because it seemed a place where my soul could thrive, though I couldn’t reconcile the historic claims and counterclaims. The closest I came to reconciling them was “what are the relative odds of one patriarch of five going off the rails versus four out of five doing so?”

So, yes, pluralism is inescapable so far as I can tell, and conversion is inevitably a matter of choice, and can be unchosen.

Lord spare us!


Speaking of the choice against Roman Catholicism, a recent Front Porch Republic article makes it sound as if the German Catholic Church is terribly compromised and corrupt – and I think it is. But the seductions that compromised it are powerful and instructive.

Much the same may be behind Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion’s utterances from time-to-time.

It gives me fresh appreciation for the virtue, if not the constitutional requirement, of “separation of church and state.” So why do our Clergy so often suck up to corrupt politicians anyway?

* * * * *

“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.