Friday, 1/16/15

  1. Spin, Take, and Excarnational Fundamentalism
  2. Law of Merited Impossibility does the NYT I
  3. Law of Merited Impossibility does the NYT II
  4. We do not kill sophomoric boors
  5. Charlie Hebdo wouldn’t last the first week of college
  6. Plato’s cave goes intrauterine


This leads us to another helpful set of Taylorist concepts: the “spin” and the “take”. I’ll uses Smith’s definitions:

Spin: A construal of life within the immanent frame that does not recognize itself as a construal and thus has no room to grant plausibility to the alternative. Can be either “closed” (immanentist) or “open” (to transcendence).

Take: A construal of life within the immanent frame that is open to appreciating the viability of other takes. Can be either “closed” (immanentist) or “open” (to transcendence).

The person who holds to a “spin” perspective is a fundamentalist (fundamentalist Christian, or new atheist) who thinks he has a monopoly on explaining reality. The person who has a “take” may well believe in his own version of the truth, but understands that others may have an equally plausible version of the truth. This is not necessarily relativism. I, for example, believe in the God of the Bible. I don’t believe that my convictions are only “true for me”; I believe they are true, full stop. Yet I can easily imagine how someone else could, with equal sincerity, believe in the God of the Koran, or no god at all. To have a take, rather than a spin, is a position of epistemic humility, recognizing that our knowledge of these things through reason alone can only ever be partial.

Interestingly, in the footnotes to his final chapter, Smith, a Reformed theologian, writes:

I might append my own prediction to Taylor’s crystal-ball report here:

Those evangelicals who have been raised and shaped by forms of Christianity that are roughly “fundamentalist” will either:

a. become taken with the modern moral order and thus sort of replay the excarnational development of modernity, just now a few centuries later, sort of catching up with the wider culture; so under the guise of the “emerging church” or “progressive” evangelicalism, we’ll be set on a path to something like Protestant liberalism, a new deism; or

b. recognize the disenchantment and excarnation of evangelical Protestantism and also reject the Christianized subtraction stories of liberal Christianity, and feel the pull of more incarnational spiritualities, and thus move toward more “Catholic” expressions of faith — and these expressions of faith will actually exert more pull on those who have doubts about their “closed” take on the immanent frame.

It seems to me that Smith is saying that if Charles Taylor is correct, the Christian future will be more Catholic-Orthodox — that is, more sacramental, mysterious, and embodied — or it will not be at all.

(Rod Dreher, dealing with James K.A. Smith’s How Not To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. My appetite has been whetted all the way to the “Buy now with 1-Click®” stage.


Not content to echo Atlanta Mayor Reed’s unconvincing equivocation about why he fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired, the New York Times attributes the firing to the substance of Chief Cochran’s opinions (not to some breach of protocol by exercising free speech without advance permission) and thinks that’s just hunky-dory because he had it coming:

It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians … city employees … have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens.

A Christian Fire Chief deserves a first-class dressing down and firing. The Law of Merited Impossibility is vindicated again: “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”

(H/T Andrew Walker at First Things)


James Taranto writes for the Wall Street Journal, and delights in mocking the other national newspaper based in New York City.

He’s not likely to run out of material soon.

[New York Times columnist Frank] Bruni reveals just how much he wants to curtail the right to religious freedom: “I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish—in their pews, homes and hearts.” That’s quite a qualification. Religious freedom and free speech, in Bruni’s view, are suitable for exercise only in private.

(James Taranto; pay wall) Be it noted that religious freedom in pews, homes and hearts continued through the Communist era in Russia.

But don’t be fooled. Wall Street capitalism is radical, and destructive of traditional ways of life, in its own distinctive ways.


Peggy Noonan wants more than 5,000,000 copies of Charlie Hebdo seen by 10,000,000, because that’s just not quite enough:

This is the moment, a week after the shootings, on the day of the publication of the first issue of the magazine since the murders, to rob all the Muhammad cartoons of their mystique. Steal away their power. Make them banal, not secret, censored and powerful but common. Flood the zone, let everyone see them. Show that they are only cartoons, caricatures, playthings. Show that the murderers got exactly the opposite of what they wanted. “You kill to stop a cartoon? We flood the streets with cartoons. You can’t take it? We have freedom here. You don’t have to live in the midst of it, you can go to a place that does not put such an emphasis on this kind of freedom.”

The line of bolded is a sound sentiment I endorse, though I am weary of freedom as an excuse for calculatedly offensive license, too.

Because we know the consequences, we do not kill sophomoric boors. If they so enrage you, go home. Do. Really. It’s not good for your soul to stay where it is constantly so provoked.

I myself might some day go where I’m not beset by such louts, even though I have no urge to kill them. It’s called a “monastery,” though, not an “Islamic State.” There I might learn to respond more sanely to provocations:

I am not Charlie. While I absolutely deplore and denounce the attacks in Paris, along with any act of terrorism by any person or group, I cannot stand in support of the magazine. I stand in support of human lives lost, but not the magazine.
The final straw for me was the new issue’s cover, which has gotten unparalleled international media coverage. It’s common knowledge that Muslims consider it a blasphemy to depict the Prophet Mohammed. Therefore, a cartoon image of Mohammed holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign is a huge slap in the face of the terrorists who attacked the magazine’s headquarters, and also carelessly taking all other Muslims as collateral damage. But the kicker is their title over the image: “All is forgiven”. This is the worst kind of false forgiveness; a poisoned olive branch; a lie. Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that they have “taken the high road”. The cover makes a half-assed pretense of forgiving while taking dead aim at that which would cause the greatest ire in their enemies.
I don’t intend to defend Islam, free speech, or anything else. Really this isn’t a religious or political comment at all. It’s an appeal to human decency. It was a stupid, childish, cowardly and ultimately destructive decision for the magazine to respond this way. The world has no chance of healing when there is no true repentance and no true mercy.

(Fr. Stephen Mathewes, Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, Bluff City, TN, on Facebook, emphasis added)


Charlie Hebo would be hounded off today’s American College Campus, by the students, in a heartbeat. Mark Bauerlein notes the oddity:

We have a strange transformation taking place on campus today. Back in the ‘60s, at Berkeley and elsewhere, students formed Free Speech Movements and struck down one propriety and norm after another.

Now, things have reversed. In a series of incidents, students have become the force of restriction. They targeted professors’ and guests’ speech and inquiry though vocal protests, publicity campaigns, and chilling investigations.

Today, we learn that a student group has filed an open-records request demanding that a lecturer at the University of Kansas turn over ten years (!) of emails. The reason: The lecturer runs the Center for Applied Economics, which receives funding from Koch Foundation.

I don’t think this is exactly a pendulum swing. It’s more like today’s students being taught by the 60s radicals, whose conceit was that they were fighting for freedom while the reality was they were fighting for the reins of power.

Bauerlein’s own take (or is it spin?) is a bit different.


Is there life after birth?

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“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.