Monday, 1/19/15

  1. Are we blasphemy-proof?
  2. You can’t kill an idea
  3. Public Square: nakeder than I thought
  4. A conundrum for Evangelicals
  5. A blasphemy we dare not speak today
  6. More to Country than its Philosophy
  7. Patristic synthesis and its implications
  8. Chesterton only half right on this one


Two sources I respect made the same essential point on Friday: we haven’t somehow “grown up” to where we’re immune to blasphemy. We’ve just changed our minds about what’s sacred.

[N]o matter how progressive we might think ourselves to be, there are expressions which offend us deeply.

And that’s the way it should be …

We are learning the wrong lesson from the atrocity in Paris. The terrorists claimed that they were avenging the honour of Allah whom the journalists at Charlie Hebdo had blasphemed. And so we indict blasphemy and exalt free speech. But that lets us all off the hook.

Blasphemy is being dismissed as an antiquated prejudice, but in fact we all react with horror at the gravity of blasphemy and censure those who blaspheme. Thomas Aquinas, the encyclopaedic theologian of the Middle Ages, gives a very precise definition. “The word blasphemy seems to denote the disparagement of some surpassing goodness”.

(Michael Cook) If you think Cook’s wrong, try disparaging free speech.

We are awash in sacred entities and ideas—equality, freedom, rights. Modern nations are holy nations, demanding sacrifices to police the boundaries of the sacred. As Paul Kahn has argued in various places, liberalism displaces the sacred and sacrifice; liberalism puts sacrifice and the sacred outside liberal space, but sacrifice and the sacred are foundational to the order from which they are excluded. They are the external buttresses of liberal order that liberalism cannot account for, and often refuses to admit to.

So, liberalism is not beyond the sacred, and hence not beyond blasphemy. If you want to see liberalism’s anti-blasphemy apparatus at work, check out what happened to Atlanta’s fire chief the other day.

(Peter Leithart)

Read them both if you find the subject interesting …


… and you should find it interesting:

According to a 2013 Pew Poll, 80 percent of Egyptians favor the stoning of adulterers and 88 percent the death penalty for apostates. The figures are comparable for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. Across the Middle East, majorities favor the adoption of sharia law. Many support beheadings, stonings, the lash, and amputations of limbs for lesser offenses.

What do these polls tell us?

First, if we insist that freedom of the press means standing behind the blasphemies of Charlie Hebdo, we should anticipate the hatred and hostility of majorities in the Islamic world to whom faith and family are everything—and our First Amendment is nothing.

Second, the idea that, by sending armies of Americans into that part of the world for a decade or two, we could convert these peoples, steeped in a 1,500-year-old faith, to share our embrace of religious, cultural and moral pluralism, and secularism was utopian madness.

Third, as Islamic peoples grow in number and militancy, while the peoples of Europe age and pass on, and the migrants continue to come from the Maghreb and Middle East, Europe will have to adapt to Muslim demands or face endless civil and cultural conflict on the Old Continent.

The moral befuddlement in France mirrors that of the West.

In welcoming the return to the newsstands of Charlie Hebdo, with a cartoon mocking the Prophet on its cover, President Hollande said, “You can murder men and women, but you can never kill their ideas.” True. And anti-Islamism is an idea. As is the “radical Islam” against which France has declared war.

(Patrick J. Buchanan)


By the fifth century A.D., Christian worship in the great cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople had become not just one service, but an “interlocking series of services” that began at daybreak with laudes and ended at dusk with lamp-lighting and vespers. Only the most pious participated in all the services, but everyone participated in some. The rites “gave form not only to the day itself but to the entire week, the year, and time itself,” says Kavanagh.

Perhaps just as important as the transformation of time was the transformation of space, for the mid-morning assemblages and processions appropriated the entire neighborhood as space for worship. Participants met in a designated place in some neighborhood or open space, and proceeded to the church designated for the day, picking up more participants as they went, and “pausing here and there for rest, prayer, and more readings from the Bible.” The Eucharist itself was a “rather rowdy affair of considerable proportions,” kinetic and free of stationary pews.

Kavanagh contrasts this with modern worship, which he characterizes as “a pastel endeavor shrunk to only forty-five minutes and consisting of some organ music, a choral offering, a few lines of scripture, a short talk on religion, a collection, and perhaps a quick consumption of disks or pellets and a beverage.”

But ancient religious practices (and their modern elaborations) are still performed in Europe; processions may still be seen winding through the streets of cities and small towns. Except for the occasional Palm Sunday procession, they are all but absent in the United States. The American urban design pattern — increasingly spreading even to small towns — is forbidding to the kind of religious practice that transforms space and time.

(Sarah Perry at Front Porch Republic)


Can we agree that if we treat scripture as scripture treats scripture, we’re treating it properly?

In the fourth chapter of Galatians, St. Paul invokes the story of Abraham and his two sons, one born of a bondwoman (Hagar) and the other of a freewoman (Sarah).  As he prepares to draw a lesson from the story he says of it: “These things are an allegory.” He then proceeds to draw a very authoritative (for him) conclusion based on this allegorical reading. Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and the earthly Jerusalem, and is thus bondage. Sarah is the Jerusalem from above and freedom.

It is an interesting way to read the stories in Genesis regarding the Patriarch and his  family – but again – how is this possibly a true reading?

What does St. Paul mean when he calls something an allegory, or a type, or when he and other New Testament writers resort to this way of reading the Old Testament?

When I was getting into my late teens with my Evangelicalism intact, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of truth that wasn’t fact. I was pretty ardently literalist.

I could only have been wronger had I held those positions in bad faith, but it took at least 20 years, beginning in my mid- to late-twenties to lurch, epiphany-by-epiphany, into the light.


[T]here’s a final element of sexual orthodoxy that’s not working. It’s the one that teaches that sex is an innocent, natural act for the sake of the mutual exchange of pleasure. This dogma makes it impossible to talk about the actual harm women experience in today’s often dysfunctional sexual culture. Why, for example, do we think it’s a greater harm for a female Yale undergrad to be drawn into having oral sex with a male undergrad, even though she knows she does not want to, than it is for her to be seduced by an aggressive and unscrupulous salesman into buying a $1,000 dress she can’t afford? Why is nobody demonstrating in front of Bloomingdale’s? “Stop the abuse!” It’s because sex is an existentially potent human act, for good and ill. But we’re not allowed to say that because, if spoken, many of the old sexual taboos begin to find a basis in reason.

(R.R. Reno – pay wall – emphasis added)


One can love his country despite its philosophy, provided there is more to the country than its philosophy. Yet it is surely a sign of the impoverishment of common culture and the common good—and an index of the degree to which liberal order has succeeded in establishing itself as both—that we are virtually required to equate love of country with devotion to the animating philosophy of the regime rather than to, say, the tales of our youth, the lay of the land and the bend in the road, and “peace and quiet and good tilled earth.”

[I]n its enforcement of the sexual revolution, the state is effectively codifying ontological and anthropological presuppositions. In redefining marriage and the family, the state not only embarks on an unprecedented expansion of its powers into realms heretofore considered prior to or outside its reach, and not only does it usurp functions and prerogatives once performed by intermediary associations within civil society, it also exercises these powers by tacitly redefining what the human being is and committing the nation to a decidedly post-Christian (and ultimately post-human) anthropology and philosophy of nature.

(Michael Hanby, The Civic Project of American Christianity – pay wall) Hanby’s article, the main article in the February 2015 First Things, is followed by responses from neoconservative Catholic George Weigel and CrunchyCon fairly radical Christian Rod Dreher:

If by “Christianity” we mean the philosophical and cultural framework setting the broad terms for engagement in American public life, Christianity is dead, and we Christians have killed it. We have allowed our children to be catechized by the culture and have produced an anesthetizing religion suited for little more than being a chaplaincy to the liberal individualistic order.

My thinking on such things has changed hugely over 13 years. I recall being incensed at the insistence of a fellow lawyer, at a secluded meeting of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, that the GOP was not materially different from the Democrats. I still think he was an idiot or a menace for supporting the Constitution Party (I’m politically homeless because I cannot support it), but it wasn’t many years before I realized he was right about the GOP, the right liberal pseudo-option to the Democrats’ left liberalism (at least on social issues).


[Thomas] Oden’s vision of church unity built around the patristic consensus raises questions about doctrinal development. If church unity is to be found in the creedal consensus of the early Church, does not that essentially relativize all later doctrinal developments to a very significant degree? To put this in a more pointed, practical, ecumenical form: Does this not require that Roman Catholics and Protestants concede what makes them Roman Catholics and Protestants is essentially secondary and negotiable? There are distinctions that can be deployed here that might help refine such a blunt conclusion, but one cannot entirely escape the feeling that Oden’s position appears to amount in practical terms to a call for us all to become Eastern Orthodox.

Carl R. Trueman, reviewing A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir by Thomas C. Oden)

As for what Oden’s position amounts to in practical terms, “Well, duh! You got a problem with that?”


My hero Gilbert gets it half right:

G. K. Chesterton writing in 1926: “The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor ­Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back.”

The rich indeed have done their best to spread the ideology of “enjoy … with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold … back.” But they’ve spread it to the poor, making them poorer still, while themselves living lives of fairly conventional bourgeoise respectability.

* * * * *

“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.

2 thoughts on “Monday, 1/19/15

  1. … Oden’s position appears to amount in practical terms to a call for us all to become Eastern Orthodox

    I know Oden only by reputation (i.e. not having ever read his work myself), but this strikes me as an over-simplification of his position. Making the creedal consensus of the early Church one’s touchstone of unity is equivalent to calling for us all to become Eastern Orthodox only if it can be established that the Orthodox Church alone has remained essentially identical to “the early Church.” While that is of course Orthodoxy’s own self-understanding, I doubt that it is something that Oden has asserted or established in his own work. After all, he remains a Methodist; Oden evidently is no Pelikan.

    Forgive me for suspecting that Prof Trueman regards the notion of becoming Eastern Orthodox as preposterous, and that he made this observation as a wry way of ridiculing Oden’s position.

    1. I suspect you’re right about all that.
      We Orthodox converts can get a little giddy when Evangelicals start reading Patristics, even second-hand (edited by Oden via InterVarsity Press), so I couldn’t resist suggesting that Trueman was right (and perverse for not swimming the Bosporus after his little epiphany).

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