Friday, 7/31/15

  1. Code Fetishists vs. Unmorality
  2. Misplaced GOP Priorities
  3. Brutality adjacent policing
  4. The Full Diederot?
  5. Not for weak stomachs
  6. Congressional rascals (no exception)

1

Father Stephen Freeman introduced me to the aphorism, which for all I know is original with him, that Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live. As if to say “And I really mean it!,” he wrote something of a series not long ago on The Unmoral Christian, and took some flak for it. More on that later.

The other morning, I saw my daily e-mail from Crisis Magazine with an article Can a Christian be a Social Liberal? I was disinclined to read it, but ended up doing so after weak approbation from a young friend. The author’s thesis seems to go something like this (not a quotation, and I suppose your mileage may vary):

Spiritual freedom, including freedom from sin, is more important than political freedom. It’s more important for our neighbors to be spiritually free than to be politically free. Some acts that are harmless in terms of Mills’ “harm principle” nevertheless enslave the actor. We know this as Christians. Love of neighbor requires that we not lay aside this knowledge in advocating social policy. We may, and in the name of love should, support laws to promote the spiritual freedom of our neighbors. [Caveat, qualification, pre-emptive admission of extremism, etc.]

I judge the article a pretty serious failure. It really isn’t unequivocally true that abstaining from some sin because of laws against it makes one spiritually freer – nor, I would suggest peremptorily, is it unequivocally false. It certainly does not make Fr. Stephen’s “dead men live” for them to be punctilious about the moral law. The reductios ad absurdum of the argument boggle the mind.

Coincidentally before reading Can a Christian be a Social Liberal?, I read an Alan Jacobs piece, Code Fetishists and Nomalaters, which seemed to nail the Crisis writer (entirely unintentionally):

In an absolutely vital essay called “The Perils of Moralism,” included in this collection, [Charles] Taylor explains that “modern liberal society tends toward a kind of ‘code fetishism,’ or nomolatry [sic] … Code fetishism means that the entire spiritual dimension of human life is captured in a moral code.” This idea is first fully articulated in Kant’s deontological account of ethics, but it had been in the making for hundreds of years before that. “I want to argue that it was a turn in Latin Christendom which sent us down this road. This was the drive to reform in its various stages and variants—not just the Protestant Reformation, but a series of moves on both sides of the confessional divide. The attempt was always to make people over as more perfect practicing Christians, through articulating codes and inculcating disciplines.”

Eventually “the Christian life became more and more identified with these codes and disciplines.” But once that had happened, the Gospel itself became dispensable: all we had to do was to extract the rules from it, and the “values” that produced them, and we were good to go. Thus arise figures who use the codes extracted from Christianity against Christianity: Voltaire, Hume, Gibbon.

And thus also arises an antinomian counter-movement: “Modern culture is marked by a series of revolts against this moralism, in both its Christian and non-Christian forms. … The code-centered notion of order and its attendant disciplines begin to generate negative reactions from the eighteenth century on. These form, for instance, the central themes of the Romantic period.”

Thus modernity, at least since Kant, is characterized by constant tensions and frequent eruptions of hostility between two great opponents, the antinomians and the code fetishists.

Jacobs then went off into a discussion of Disciplinary Bulverists as code fetishists or antinomians or both or something — all of which struck me as much less interesting than the block-quoted history.

I suspect that Fr. Stephen caught flak for The Unmoral Christian because people thought he was insinuating antinomianism into Orthodoxy. Whether I’m right or wrong about that, I’m pretty sure the Crisis article harbors a bit of code fetishism, trusting observance of a moral code, even if under some measure of duress from civil law, to morally improve (he might say “heal”) and promote the spiritual freedom of our neighbor – and I’m pretty sure Fr. Stephen would disagree.

His disagreement would not be a matter of antinomianism, or of social liberalism, but of respect for human freedom and a deep appreciation that our amartia needs more than scrupulosity to heal it.

2

Rod Dreher, commenting on a Ben Domenech article at the Federalist:

Even though I don’t share all of Domenech’s views … it’s important, and I think it’s important because, as Domenech says, it reveals the failure of fusionism … the postwar Republican coalition of social conservatives, economic libertarians, and foreign-policy hawks. Domenech indicates that it’s dead, or at least dying.

… Domenech asks: what happens when the GOP doesn’t serve the interests of anyone in the coalition? What happens when the GOP seems to exist only for itself?

Unlike Domenech, I am not in the thick of Republican politics, and haven’t been for a while. As regular readers know, I’m far more interested in building conservative cultural resistance than in politics. I believe that politics are important, but I also believe that culture is more important than politics. The Benedict Option is not about quitting politics, but about putting far more of our attention, as Christian conservatives, into thickening our habits and community bonds, and building institutions. I usually vote Republican in national elections not because I have faith in the GOP, but because the alternative would be worse.

That said, when I read columns like Domenech’s, it makes me think that the Republican Party is like a church whose congregation really doesn’t believe anymore, but who keeps showing up on Sunday for lack of anything better to do.

Maybe Democrats see their own party like this too. I don’t know.

As for the last paragraph, see Tuesday’s lead.

Domenech’s theory is an interesting one: the GOP will trade everything else in the universe for a highway bill. I assume it’s a bill that proposes more pork-barrel-project new roads rather than one that sensibly starts decommissioning roads we’ll soon be financially unable to maintain. Talk about selling birthrights for a mess of pottage!

3

Catherine Addington at the American Conservative has a reflection, apropos of Sandra Bland, on “brutality-adjacent policing,” police conduct that the police perceive (correctly much of the time) as lawful but the targeted citizen justifiably perceives as brutality. The expression is borrowed from a concept I hadn’t encountered: “rape-adjacent sex,” where one party (typically male) perceives consent, the other perceives coercion.

For instance, the major legal quandary in Encinia’s arrest of Bland arises from the point at which he asked her to put out her cigarette. When she refused, he ordered her to exit her vehicle. The former order was in fact a request, which Bland was within her rights to decline, but the latter was a command that Encinia had the legal authority to enforce. Encinia was not required to justify his command, and the impression that he gave the command in service of his ego rather than his safety is legally irrelevant—though socially damaging.

Her safest option, legally and otherwise, would have been total deference to the police, but this is unreasonable to demand in a democratic society—not to mention impractical, since police, not civilians, are the ones trained to anticipate and resolve conflict.

Maybe I’ve been living in a cave and this is old hat to you, but I found it helpful.

4

At the time of the American Revolution, religion and liberty were so closely linked that Thomas Jefferson could affirm, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” Meanwhile, his French contemporary Denis Diderot, expressing sentiments that would culminate in a very different revolution, declared that man “will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” In our own time, however, the sexual revolution has shattered the American synthesis of faith and freedom, setting religion at odds with “liberty”—or more accurately, license.

Our Constitution protects the natural right to the free exercise of religion. But some liberals are trying to drastically narrow that right by redefining it as the mere “freedom of worship.”

(Ryan T. Anderson) Unless progressives are willing to do The Full Diderot, they’re going to find historic Christianity something of a sleeper cell.

I read somewhere that during the height of the Soviet period of repression, a Roman Catholic cardinal, upon visiting Russia, asked an Orthodox metropolitan how they were managing to survive the horrors and repression of the atheistic State. The metropolitan responded by saying that no matter what, the services were always celebrated. Each and every day, morning and evening, the services continued. Although the Church was forbidden by law to operate schools and hospitals, teach children, or visit the sick and imprisoned, the services continued to be celebrated.

The Russian Church now has chapels in prisons throughout the Russian land, operates schools and hospitals, has serving chaplains in the military ranks, and soup kitchens and charitable agencies serving the poor, yet still, to this day, she sees the celebration of the Divine Services to be the primary work of the Church. The centrality of worship has always been the main work of the Church, and will remain so until the end of time.

(Abbot Tryphon)

In the meantime, those “mile wide, inch deep” megachurches that have multiple bacchanalia from Saturday evening through Sunday – but have no idea that there’s a difference between “time for a god party!” and “come, let us worship” – are going to be in trouble. In between the Church and the Krustians are some ecclesial assemblies who see the handwriting on the wall but who, shall we say, won’t be changing anything anyway, God bless ’em.

5

For the story to be more horrifying, the autobiographer would need to have died at age 12 or so, with the story now told by someone else. But then, there’d be more guesswork about what happened.

As it is, the author waited until both villains were dead 15+ years to tell how they, her parents, raised her.

It is the story of Moira Greyland, a woman who has made a career for herself as a harpist of Celtic music and the founder of two opera companies in the United States. She is the daughter of two American writers. Her mother, Marion Zimmer Bradley, who died in 1999, was a revered author of science fiction and fantasy novels. Her best-known book is the Mists of Avalon, a feminist reimagining of the Arthurian legend. Her second husband, and Moira’s father, Walter Breen, wrote books on numismatics. But her parents had other interests, too.

(Michael Kirke summary) Both parents, in brief, were quite abandoned perverts. I use “abandoned” to distinguish them from mere “bisexuals who do not practice monogamy.” They also were pedophiles, according to their daughter as summarized by Kirke, although I wouldn’t rule out “sadists” or “self-appointed experimenters in the mold of B.F. Skinner.” Maybe the correct term today would be “polymorphous perversity.”

Kirke continues to the same sort of conclusion I would advocate:

Moira Greyland met Katy Faust – on whose blog she has published this searing account of her experiences – online. (Faust is one of the six children of gays who filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court opposing gay marriage prior to the Obergefell judgment.) Her views have hardened on the issue: it IS homosexuality that is the problem. It IS the belief that all sex all the time will somehow cure problems instead of creating them that is the problem. Greyland continues:

“So I have begun to speak out against gay marriage, and in doing so, I have alienated most of even my strongest supporters. After all, they need to see my parents as wacky sex criminals, not as homosexuals following their deeply held ethical positions and trying to create a utopia according to a rather silly fantasy. They do not have the willingness to accept the possibility that homosexuality might actually have the result of destroying children and even destroying the adults who insist on remaining in its thrall.

“Naturally my perspective is very uncomfortable to the liberal people I was raised with: I am ‘allowed’ to be a victim of molestation by both parents, and ‘allowed’ to be a victim of rather hideous violence. I am, incredibly, NOT ALLOWED to blame their homosexuality for their absolute willingness to accept all sex at all times between all people.

“But that is not going to slow me down one bit. I am going to keep right on speaking out. I have been silent for entirely too long. Gay ‘marriage’ is nothing but a way to make children over in the image of their ‘parents’ and in ten to thirty years, the survivors will speak out.

“In the meantime, I will.”

In ten to thirty years, what will former Boy Scouts say about some of their openly gay adult leaders and employees? Will Moira Greyland be saying, “I told you so”?

The new Boy Scout policy strikes me as only somewhat less insane than the utter moral idiocy of people who put Greg Ledbetter in powerful positions in homes for troubled adolescent boys, in my hometown and again in Wisconsin. Gay men overseeing adolescent boys young men in particular is a formula for trouble. Their motivation for becoming scout leaders may not be as transparent as the logic of Willy Sutton on robbing banks, but allowing it is as stupid as letting straight men go camping with unrelated post-pubescent adolescent girls.

We are to the point where every word we say about concern for children is a self-deluding, euphemistic lie, as we betray the best interests of children daily and massively to serve the interests of adults.

6

Remember when everybody hated Congress but thought his Congressman was an exception? Now there’s no exception in my district.

* * * * *

“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.