Friday, 1/30/15

  1. A reliable 10,000 year-old oral tradition
  2. The liturgies of secular nationalism
  3. The revolutionary pecking order
  4. Deeper, wiser, more rounded


There’s a myth, complete with accompanying party game (“Telephone“) that oral transmission of stories is inherently unreliable. I wouldn’t care except that it is, so far as I can tell, the universal low church excuse for rejecting Christian traditions that acknowledge that they’re traditions – that is, not taken straight from the infallible, perspicacious, plenarily God-breathed Bible.

So it’s interesting to see demonstration of a reliable oral tradition 5 times longer than the Christian era (thus far):

Without using written languages, Australian tribes passed memories of life before, and during, post-glacial shoreline inundations through hundreds of generations as high-fidelity oral history. Some tribes can still point to islands that no longer exist—and provide their original names.

That’s the conclusion of linguists and a geographer, who have together identified 18 Aboriginal stories—many of which were transcribed by early settlers before the tribes that told them succumbed to murderous and disease-spreading immigrants from afar—that they say accurately described geographical features that predated the last post-ice age rising of the seas.

“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Nicholas Reid, a linguist at Australia’s University of New England specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”

How could such tales survive hundreds of generations without being written down?

“There are aspects of storytelling in Australia that involved kin-based responsibilities to tell the stories accurately,” Reid said. That rigor provided “cross-generational scaffolding” that “can keep a story true.”

This is not meant as a triumphant proof of Orthodox Christianity, but our tradition was reified in litanies, hymns and prayers, along with a decidedly strong sense of obligation to preserve and transmit the faith unaltered.

You can call that “stagnant” if you like, but I lived more dynamic religion for nearly 50 years, and I’m not going back – partly because even the purportedly “conservative” Protestant tradition I left for Orthodoxy already has swallowed changes that were topics of hot debate when I was nearing the end of my tenure.

In other words, I couldn’t go “home again” if I wanted, because that home has been demolished and rebuilt, unacknowledged by the inhabitants.


Before I was in that purportedly conservative Protestant tradition, I was an Evangelical, and it seems to me that Evangelicals are especially prone to what Robin Phillips has been exploring.


One of the things I’ve been exloring recently is the ramifications of the Puritan rejection of the ecclesiastical calendar. Eager to avoid anything resembling Roman Catholicism, the Puritans rejected all holy days (even Christmas) with the exception of the Lord’s Day.

It is significant that the desacralisation of time among the Puritans’ descendants resulted, not in a calendar free of liturgical significance, but in time becoming ordered according to the new liturgies of secular nationalism.

Being creatures of time and space, we invariably organize time into rhythmic structures reflecting our common priorities and collective memory. The vacuum created by the evacuation of the church year would come to be filled by those American holidays celebrating civic regeneration, integrating Americans around the liturgies of their common political life.

Evangelicals who long ago ceased to tell the story of redemption through the yearly cycle of ecclesiastical holidays became more than comfortable celebrating the birthday of their nation and political leaders with quasi-religious regularity. Evangelicals who would never dream of making the sign of the cross at the end of a prayer became quite comfortable putting their hands on their hearts every morning to say the Pledge of Allegiance with liturgical devotion. In place of the rejected church year, these holidays became public festivals of a new civic order celebrating the achievements of American nationalism.

(Robin Phillips) There’s much more. This is only Phillips’ own introduction.

When will the sub-set of Evangelicals who actually love Christ realize en masse that they must leave Evangelicalism for their own spiritual sanity and the very spiritual life of their descendants? Phillips:

Following Saint Augustine and supported by the latest discoveries in neuroscience, [James K.A.] Smith makes the case that it is actually our desires (what we love not what we think) that gives us our fundamental identity as human beings.


You cannot win with these people. They want total victory. You will get no credit for anything. You will be punished for having thought wrongly in the past. There will be no meeting halfway, no recognition that religious liberty is an important liberal value too, and that we should all try to find some way to live together under pluralism.

Nope. The Revolution is constituted by the total destruction of all that is opposed to it.

(Rod Dreher) It really does seem that, almost overnight, religious freedom has been demoted from our first freedom in the First Amendment to nothing but intolerable bigotry – a guise for “discrimination,” also known as being left alone if someone pushes your scruples so far that good green money can’t entice you to proceed, so you give up business to someone with no similar scruples.

Apart from the totalitarian excitement of the gay rights folks (“They’re on the run! Kill!”), that doesn’t seem like a bad balance if we really value diversity and letting people march to their own drummers. But no:

One tip of this spear is related to sexual orientation, of course, in which some parts of the gay left are back to what they love most of all: “eliminating freedom for their enemies”. And you can see why.

If reason has no chance against the homophobic patriarchy, and one side is always going to be far more powerful in numbers than the other, almost anything short of violence is justified in order to correct the imbalance. The “victim”, after all, is always right. Gay beats straight [and religion – Tipsy]; but queer beats gay; and trans beats queer. No stone must be unturned in this constant struggle against unrelenting aggression and oppression. In the end, they may even run out of letters to add to LGBTQIA. And all of the “hate”, we are told, is just as brutal as it ever was. And so the struggle must not ease up with success after success, but must instead be ever-more vigiliant against hetero-hegemony. So small businesses who aren’t down with gay marriages have to be sued, rather than let be; religious liberty must be scoffed at or constrained, rather than embraced; individual homophobic sinners must be forced to resign or repent or both, and there is no mercy for those who once might have opposed, say, marriage equality but now don’t. The only “dialogue” much of the p.c. gay left wants with its sinners is a groveling apology for having a different point of view. There are few things in a free society more illiberal than that.

(Andrew Sullivan via Rod Dreher) I assume I’m not the only one wondering what the heck the Thermidor allusion is about, whence the link. You learn something new every day – if you’re lucky.

Dreher again, responding to Damon Linker:

I am not the least bit comforted by the fact that nobody is knocking on the doors of First Things and hauling its editors away. This is the fallacy we always hear from those who don’t perceive, or who wish to dismiss, our concerns about the rising tide of illiberalism towards religious and cultural conservatism: Hey, they’re not lynching you, so your complaints must be groundless.


When I thought I was an atheist I would listen to the music of Bach and realize that his perception of life was deeper, wiser, more rounded than my own. . . . The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story. J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music.

(A.N. Wilson)

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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.