Tuesday, 5/26/15

  1. American Meritocracy
  2. Science is bunk
  3. NPR’s low bar for scandal
  4. Fundamentalism and the (other) forces of modernity
  5. The business of America
  6. Today’s Carrie Nation
  7. Affirming the Body
  8. The Moral Dimension of Democratic Capitalism

1

Recent opinion surveys indicate that Americans still “have a greater faith in their country being a meritocracy than citizens of nearly every other country on earth,” according to The Huffington Post. Yet recent measures of equality of opportunity and social mobility from one generation to the next place us dead last among the advanced nations studied, which include the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Finland, Denmark, and Canada. Our faith in mobility persists in the face of such facts; without it the public rationale for a culture of individual initiative would collapse.

(Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction)

2

The preceding item may be unreliable, depending on whether an opinion survey is science.

I’ve just completed an exhaustive 3-minute meta-study, using results reported at an esteemed scientific website, and have demonstrated that 100% of science is bunk. The Lancet is fudging.

Trust me: this is a scientific meta-study. But I’m sorry that the cat ate my data so you can’t see it.

3

I heard someone on All Things Considered within the last 2 days reporting as scandal that only 12% of police officers are black. But though I didn’t have the figure at hand listening in the car, I stumbled across it soon enough: blacks are about 13% of the population.

Some scandal.

And for what it’s worth, less than 5% is gay. I think it’s maybe half that, but I’ll take NRO’s figure – in an item that laments overestimates of small fractions.

As I say, “for what it’s worth.” The Bill of Rights intends in some respects to protect minorities, but insofar as the gay cause has made unjustified progress because people think they’re a larger minority than they really are, the corrective truth may be helpful.

4

Rod Dreher had an encounter on Twitter with a fundamentalist pastor, who opined that neither Orthodox nor Roman Catholics are truly Christian.  Rod’s musings in response are parallel to musings I’ve had about fundamentalism:

I thought about all the Christians of the Middle East being exiled and martyred today for their faith in Jesus Christ. These Christians are almost entirely Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholic, or members of one of the Nestorian churches. Whatever their communion, their ancestors were worshiping Jesus Christ as God when the ancestors of nearly all of us northern Europeans were praying to pagan gods.

And yet, to this fundamentalist Protestant in Texas, these people are not Christian …

[T]o hold a position that says, either explicitly or by implication, that Christianity cannot be said to have existed prior to the Reformation — or, as I have heard it said, to hold a theory that the real church somehow went underground after Constantine’s conversion, and only emerged at the Reformation — is bizarre. Many of the things modern Fundamentalists object to about Catholicism (and presumably Orthodoxy) were well established in the Church before Constantine’s conversion. For example, the early church had bishops and priests, and the Eucharist. Ignatius of Antioch, who died a martyr in the year 107, had been appointed bishop by Peter himself.

For that matter, how does Mr. Bible Church think the Bible came into being? From the Church! There were no Protestants at any of those early church councils that defined dogmas and created the canon of Scripture, which was set firmly by the fifth century. Christians like him are heavily dependent on everything that came before them. Whatever else it is, that guy’s position is radically unconservative …

What prompts this post is my curiosity about this question: Does laying hold to a position so extreme and so ungrounded in history leave people like Mr. Bible Church vulnerable in other ways to the forces of modernity, which deny the authority of the past? That is, does the nature of their conservatism leave Christian fundamentalists particularly vulnerable to the cultural forces that are tearing Christianity apart in the West?

(Emphasis in original)

On Rod’s final question, my answer would be “yes,” and I have an anecdote to illustrate why I believe that. It’s only an anecdote, so my “yes” is not resounding.

One of the principal cultural forces tearing Christianity apart in the west is the sexual revolution, which got jump-started by contraceptive advances. Not until 1930 did any Christian body approve of contraception. (The Wikipedia article linked is unduly timid about that claim, but acknowledges unanimity before the 20th century. The article has other weaknesses, too.)

Yet within 20 years after the initial Anglican departure from tradition, “Dr.” Bob Jones Sr. required a married couple with whom I’m closely acquainted to practice contraception if they wanted to be “dorm parents” at Bob Jones University, the ne plus ultra of North American fundamentalism. “Dr. Bob” thus arguably led the sexual revolution by some 15-20 years before the appearance of “The Pill.”

In my own experience, as I was formed in my teens in a putative a citadel of Evangelicalism, I got almost no guidance about sexuality except:

  1. Thou shalt not put thy thingy into her thingy until the twain be married.
  2. We have prophylactic rules to try to keep you from coming anywhere near violating rule #1 (as in the joke “opposed fornication because it might lead to slow dancing”).

The impression I got was that once you’re married, there’s no rule except mutual consent. I’m less inclined now to think in terms of “rules,” but yes, there are others, and they apply even inside a marriage. This is why I’ve blogged occasionally about marital unchastity.

I neither claim nor deny that this was typical of Evangelicalism in the 60s any more than I claim or deny that my experience of Orthodoxy in one growing mission parish is typical. But I see no good reason to dissent from the declaration that “‘Conservative Protestant’ is an oxymoron” (in any absolute sense).

5

In the Obergefell v. Hodges case that will decide the fate of same sex marriage nationally, 379 businesses signed an amicus brief urging the court to legalize gay marriage. These businesses included Coca-Cola, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Google, Apple, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and a mess of banks. “Allowing same-sex couples to marry improves employee morale and productivity,” the brief reads, “reduces uncertainty, and removes the wasteful administrative burdens imposed by the current disparity of state law treatment.” In other words: Legalizing same-sex marriage is just good business.

(Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The Deterioration of the Christian Right Is Imminent)

In 2002, I was very angry with a Southern California supporter of the Constitution Party I’d met who said bad things – really bad things – about the GOP. It took me a few more years to catch on.

We were such dupes. The mask is off (again, in case you hadn’t noticed): the business of America is business, and humanity is just raw material, as in the telling locution “human resources.”

6

R.R. Reno is less sanguine than Breunig:

The Obama administration is staffed by people whose skin colors and ethnic backgrounds make them look very different from the old WASP elites. But they’re almost entirely formed by Establishment institutions once run by WASPs, institutions that deliberately and successfully ­reinvented themselves with slogans of diversity and ideologies of multiculturalism. The president himself is perhaps the most perfect example of the new Establishment, which has emerged in profound continuity with the old one.

It’s more than a return of the postwar Establishment. The furor over the Indiana RFRA was fueled by ­haughty, moralistic (in its postmodern iteration) propaganda. Again and again commentators waved the bloody shirt of discrimination, even though there’s no evidence that gays and lesbians are discriminated against in Indiana (or elsewhere). The outcry was purely symbolic, meant more as a display of cultural power than as a reasoned intervention into the question of the nature and scope of religious liberty. It was shock and awe.

Prohibition was the old Establishment’s greatest campaign. Rich Protestant women led the charge. They were from what used to be called “good families.” Today’s crusaders for gay rights are no longer Protestant or women, but they’re affluent—sometimes more than affluent—and from “good universities,” which is today’s surest sign of Establishment membership.

Today’s Establishment no longer draws on Christian sources to legitimate its claims to moral authority. Moreover, today’s targets of their coercive benevolence are not immigrants but rather untutored bakers, florists, and ­pizza makers. Their sin is not intoxication. Instead, it’s “homophobia.” But these differences operate within a larger similarity. The furor in Indiana reflects a zealous moralism. Homosexual marriage must be affirmed! The slightest possibility of a spot or stain horrifies. Homophobia must be wiped out! We must have teetotalism! Tim Cook, the Apple CEO who wrote one of the first calls for national resolve to fight against Indiana’s RFRA, is today’s Carrie Nation.

But I also feel a certain optimism. Prohibition was America’s experiment in elite-imposed cultural totalitarianism. Its failure discredited the Protestant Establishment of that era. …

Today’s Establishment seems doomed to overreach as well. The male–female difference is more fundamental to the human condition than longstanding traditions of alcohol consumption. That difference will continue to assert itself, making most of us less than enthusiastic about reorganizing society so as to suppress social and legal ­recognition of the male–female difference, which is what a thorough­going regime of gay rights will require. Today’s Prohibitionists invariably describe this lack of ­enthusiasm as “homophobic,” seeing it as evidence of the need for more-extensive “reeducation.” This will collide ever more ­violently with our inborn loyalty to the male–female ­difference.

There is the further fact that Christianity is not a passing fashion. Even abstracting from the supernatural character of the Church, Christianity’s global reach and existential potency give it extraordinary staying power. There are only two forms of life in the West that survived the fall of the Roman Empire—the Church and the synagogue. Now that the university is becoming the Bureaucratic-­Academic Complex (as David Gelernter calls it), today only the Church and the synagogue have survived the capitalist and democratic revolutions that remade so much of modern life. Given this record of endurance, it bids fair that the biblical testimony about sex, family, and marriage will continue to form hearts and minds.

7

Continuing his “Public Square” column, Reno turns to same-sex marriage:

At the end of April the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the same-sex-marriage cases. Legal scholar and Ethics and Public Policy president Edward Whelan recently observed that he hasn’t given much attention to the briefs submitted, nor does he plan to follow the oral arguments, “because there is little basis to believe that these cases will be decided on legal reasoning.” As Justice Ginsburg said in so many words in a February interview, Americans are ready for gay marriage, so we’ll give it to them. Legal “reasoning” to follow.

The 1992 Casey decision reaffirmed Roe’s extreme abortion license. Defending his support of the right to procure an abortion, Justice Kennedy wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This sentence has been much (and rightly) mocked for its rhetorical overreach. But what Kennedy was trying to say is fairly simple: Freedom is especially important when it bears on the most intimate aspects of our lives, “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.” A law unjustly impinges on our freedom when, absent legitimate reasons, it limits our choices in these areas.

This definition of freedom is entirely sensible, the “mystery of life” nonsense notwithstanding. As a consequence, everything turns on what counts as legitimate reasons … 

Courts increasingly treat with suspicion religiously motivated moral views about marriage, procreation, contraception, ­family relationships, child rearing, and education. What was once thought to be the wellspring of democratic culture—the general influence of a Judeo-Christian moral outlook—is now thought to be a persistent threat to freedom.

This change in legal presumption reflects a larger social change. Today, we’re seeing a shift in consensus, at least in the Establishment. It’s moving from Washington’s view of religion as, on the whole, good to one that sees religion as oppressive. That’s not because religion has changed. It’s because our view of freedom has. The human body has become an enemy of freedom, and because Judaism and Christianity affirm the body, we’re now seen as allies of the enemy.

There are close legal arguments to be made against this expansion of pseudo-liberty. There are moral arguments to be made in hopes of restoring a degree of sanity to Western culture. But as we make those arguments we need always to remember a fundamental truth: We have become metaphysical heretics in an era that denies the body any moral meaning. This makes us the bad guys in today’s culture wars, the enemies of postmodern freedoms, which are no longer political but personal.

(Emphasis added)

8

Michael Novak, who has migrated from “one of the more-or-less-good-guys” to “one of the more-or-less-bad-guys” defends the honor of Democratic Capitalism against its detractors.

When I proposed the idea of “democratic capitalism” in the 1980s, it was as a new name for the sort of political economy that characterized the free world. Democratic capitalism means a system of natural liberty, incorporating both political liberty and economic liberty. Prior to those two is a particular moral and cultural system, constituted by civic institutions and well-ordered personal habits. True liberty must be derived from self-control, and such liberty is best ordered by laws. Hence the need for a third ­science, the science of moral ecology, to discern all the institutions and personal moral habits essential for the flourishing of self-governing peoples.

Liberty under this view does not mean freedom from all restraints; rather, liberty means ordering one’s own life—that is, self-government—through reflection and deliberation. Democratic capitalism, therefore, is a system of three liberties: political liberty, economic liberty, and liberty in religion and conscience, in arts and science, and in cultural expression.

Without due attention to the interactions between these three systems, arguments pitched against democratic capitalism fall like arrows short of their target. During the thirty years since I offered this three-limbed vision of a free society in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, many critics have attacked it only in amputated form. Some think of it as no more than a libertarian system, concerned with economic liberty alone, exaggeratedly individualistic, indifferent or even antithetical to welfare programs for the poor, unconcerned with the public good, focused solely on markets and private profit. Others think of it as libertarian mainly in the moral sense: pivoting solely on the ego of the individual (as in the thought of Ayn Rand), her pleasures, her contentment, her will-to-power.

In truth, democratic capitalism requires all three dimensions of human flourishing: economic, political, and moral. Although all are required, each generation must discern which of the three is weakest and most needs buttressing.

He sorta kinda acknowledges that the moral dimension needs buttressing, but if he gave so much as a hint of how we’re going to do that or even some reason to think it’s do-able, I missed it.

Ergo, democratic capitalism joins the ranks of Isms that “haven’t failed” but “haven’t sufficiently been tried.”

Yeah. Right.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.