Saturday, 9/5/15

  1. The Gospel According to Jeff
  2. Courage? Spiritual Friendship?
  3. Thinking strategically
  4. Reminder
  5. Why I’m fond of Bernie


Put simply, I think the cruelties of Amazon’s corporate culture simply reflect the seriousness with which Bezos takes the progressive technological faith so many others only profess. If one assumes that the world is to be improved mostly through increases in efficiency (rather than acts of inefficient and gratuitous love), then the supreme duty of kindness is to advance technological progress. This is a quasi-religious “mission” (Amazon’s term) that demands heroic asceticism. Like the Society of Jesus, it may not be for everyone, but those who persist will have the pleasure of knowing they are serving the highest purpose. Ruthlessness may haunt the office culture, but kindness—understood by a certain technological logic—is the overarching goal.

Successful organizations will demand hustle and produce disgruntled employees: that is nothing new. What is different is the conceit of business as a kind of religion. (It is telling that Bezos’s speech was given as part of Princeton’s religious baccalaureate service.) Bezos rightly sees that taking seriously a certain notion of progress and commerce requires treating the corporation like a church—and not as one of those nice, friendly mainline denominations, but as a missionary order or doomsday cult. Sacrifices that it would be unreasonable to demand for a mere business look very different when they are expected in the service of a religious cause. The question remains whether the religion is true or false.

(Matthew Schmitz, via Leah Libresco — because I didn’t focus well enough when I read it on my own.) Libresco’s reply, Workplaces Make Terrible Monasteries, is characteristically thoughtful:

I wrote in “The Sad, Secular Monks” at First Things that:

There’s a word for people who turn over their entire waking life to one cause, and willingly sacrifice the possibility of a family for the opportunity to serve: monks (or, more archaically, oblates). Just like the driven twenty-somethings of Rosin’s article, monks and nuns have made a commitment so total that it precludes marriage. But in the case of vowed religious, the form of their service is meant to be elevating, not just useful. I seldom hear people claim that spreadsheets are good for the soul. Even for people doing high intensity work for the public good (the teachers, the social workers, the public interest lawyers, etc.), the form of their work may still be deadening.

Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. t’s possible to make a short-term decision to put life and relationships on hold, in order to make a high-intensity commitment to a cause (this is the model for the oft-touted national service draft), but it’s unhealthy to let these crisis-mode jobs give shape to your life.

Most jobs can’t and shouldn’t try to provide a full life to their employees.  Even companies like Google, which get better marks than Amazon for the ways they make staying at the office attractive, are a lot better at handling laundry and food than they are at offering the other kinds of social and spiritual nourishment that people need.


Austin Ruse reviews a book that gently probes and challenges the tendencies of the New Homophiles/Spiritual Friends.

Although I’ve read a fair amount from the “Spiritual Friends” folks (and stopped; a cisgendered white Christian geezer can only take so much alternate universe), I too have had nagging doubts about their theory that same-sex “attractions are good and have given them certain unique spiritual gifts that others do not have, chief among them the ability to be friends.”

The way Ruse structured his review, though, I thought he was demolishing the Spiritual Friends’ growing edifice of meaning and modus vivendi without offering an alternative (or offering only the alternative of “become hetero since homo is disordered”).

But in the end he sort of tacitly revealed two alternatives:

There are so many good essays in this book including several chapters from the same-sex attracted and how they came away from that mode of living, including the amazing and deeply read Daniel Mattson, who writes for Crisis, and who eschews the gay label for his true identity as a child of God. Mattson says the Holy Spirit used his same-sex attraction to teach him total abandonment to God.

Doug Mainwaring talks about how he left his wife for the gay lifestyle and years later came back together with her and how this story is quite common. He says there are more men with same-sex attraction happily married to women than there are out gays.

I’ll leave it at that, since I don’t think I’m likely to resolve these questions, given all the disqualifications that made it implausible for me to travel along for as long as I did.


I have no reason to think that Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis is thinking strategically — that is, trying to serve some cause “bigger” than her own soul’s salvation, however misguided I might think her interpretation is. But she has certainly has spurred others to think and argue strategically.

Douglas Wilson, a fairly strident Calvinist largely unknown outside Calvinist circles, just loves a fight and seems particularly to enjoy fighting with ecclesial Christians like Rod Dreher. Dreher suggested that it would be a serious mistake to line up in support of Kim Davis because “this is not the hill to die on.” Wilson responded rhetorically, asking “what hill would be worth dying on?”, implying in essence that Dreher was writing like a cheese-eating surrender monkey. “Retreat is habit-forming.”

Without naming Wilson’s name (and perhaps there were others who asked a similar question), Dreher now responds:

I expect us small-o orthodox Christians to have to take a hard, sacrificial stand against the state and society, for the sake of religious liberty. Kim Davis’s situation, I’ve said, is not the hill to die on.

The reason for this is certainly contestable, but here it is, in a nutshell.

1. Kim Davis’s position is unwinnable. Nobody seriously expects her to get gay marriage overturned, or even to succeed in carving out a special zone of protection for public officials who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to carry out lawful decisions of the courts. Even if we believe that the Obergefell decision lacks moral legitimacy, there can be no doubt that as a matter of legal procedure, the Supreme Court’s decision is the law. Our side lost that battle decisively. Kim Davis’s stance, while it may be personally courageous, is going to result in another defeat, because it cannot be otherwise in our system. The only point of backing it is to flip the bird to the state and to the broader culture — something I have great sympathy for, but it’s a pointless gesture that can only hurt us in the battles to come.

2. This is because the cause of religious liberty will become synonymous in the public’s mind with a government official refusing to obey the law because it conflicts with her Christian beliefs. It matters a great deal that Kim Davis is an official of the state. By definition, her role is to execute the laws of the state. Many people, even many conservatives who may well oppose Obergefell, and who care about religious liberty, hold it to be unreasonable to expect state officials to reserve the right to decide which of those laws they will enforce. The political danger here is that when the public hears “religious liberty,” they will think about Kim Davis and her special pleading for a right that, if it existed, would mean anarchy. Angry Christians should consider how they would feel if “religious liberty” meant that a sharia-observant Muslim elected official refused to grant a building permit to a congregation for a new church because it conflicted with his religious beliefs. This is how many people in this post-Christian country — and it is that — see us re: Kim Davis.

3. The day is fast coming when we will have to fight big and important battles that have not yet been decided. When that happens, we will need the support of fair-minded Americans who may disagree with us on gay marriage, but who still, in some way, hold to the unfashionable belief that religious liberty really does matter. If we have wasted our already-diminishing political capital on vain protest gestures like Kim Davis’s stance, we are going to find it much harder to win the legal and political contests to come.

So, if Kim Davis isn’t a hill to die on, what is? It’s a fair question. Broadly speaking, my answer is this: when they start trying to tell us how to run our own religious institutions — churches, schools, hospitals, and the like — and trying to close them or otherwise destroy them for refusing to accept LGBT ideology. This is a bright red line — and it’s a fight in which we might yet win  meaningful victories, given the strong precedents in constitutional jurisprudence.

(Italics added; bold in original.) I didn’t italicize it, because it was only a example, but don’t overlook the hypothetical about a sharia-observant Muslim elected official or this “news” item.

I used to be Roper, but age and experience have turned me into Thomas More. Richard Rich may yet take my head for something like the snub of declining to attend a bogus “wedding.”

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. The cultural left is already spreading the lie that Kim Davis is every culturally conservative Christian, and they’re telling the lie precisely because they intend to kill religious freedom whenever it makes someone feel disrespected for disreputable use of their genitals.

This episode has reminded me how brain-dead swathes of the internet are. Sardonic Ex Curia gives some examples of dubious arguments (while giving credit to the unicorns who consistently follow the principles they apply to Davis):

For instance, Sean Davis at The Federalist notes that the instances of liberals ignoring the law to further their own beliefs are myriad and blatant, but rare the case where one went to jail. A very good point, and if one condemns both sets of actions, bravo for intellectual consistency, if that is the basis for one’s argument. In addition, there are a raft (boatload?) of liberal commentators now mocking Ms. Davis for her numerous marriages prior to this one, based on the “gotcha, you’re a hypocrite” idea. Ms. Davis has replied that these marriages were prior to her conversion, which her detractors naturally discount. Presumably these are the same people who mocked President Obama for his flip-flop from “marriage is only between a man and a woman” to “gay marriage is equal and just.” If so, they are to be congratulated on their intellectual consistency. Still others have said that laws must be obeyed and that Mrs. Davis is but suffering the consequences of her refusal. If those are the same who would have arrested Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. for disobeying and protesting unjust laws, then they are also to be congratulated on their intellectual consistency. As some have noted, the source of the argument is to be considered in its credibility. However, that is one rhetorical consideration of many, and the remainder of the argument must be considered as well, not simply discarded because there is something dislikable about the speaker.

But what some of the commentary has prompted in me is the desire to make clear what I hope has been clear from the beginning, dozens and dozens of hours ago:

  1. I bear Kim Davis no ill will.
  2. Reminded that she has refused to issue any marriage licenses, that issuing marriage licenses is part of the job responsibility of a clerk, and that issuance is a ministerial (not discretionary) act, I find her insistence on remaining in office particularly indefensible — morally, legally and (should she be thinking in such terms) strategically.
  3. Hers are the mistakes of a zealous Pentecostal baby-Christian who, at her own hands if no others, has created a sordid history from which to flee. I can remember misplaced convert zeal all too well.
  4. Even the viciousness of the slut-shaming and fanciful attacks of her is not enough to make me defend her on the substance of her decision.
  5. I don’t exult in her jailing, and my impression is that judges normally “turn up the (contempt) heat” more slowly than that.
  6. I don’t expect to participate in any crowd-funding of her legal defense, her job hunt (if she takes the second of two licit options), or her unemployment.


Please do remember, too: Planned Parenthood is still selling dead baby parts — i.e., the babies they made dead.

Christians are being slaughtered wholesale in much of the mideast, as the U.S. has abandoned strongman governments that none of us would want to live under, but that kept relative peace among the disparate peoples who arrogant Westerners, unable entirely to shake the imperialist impulse, declared to be one nation-state.

The “wrong kind” of Muslims aren’t doing to great under ISIS either, and they’re dying — literally — to get out of there.

Let’s keep things in perspective.


Last month, the Washington Examiner upbraided two Democratic contenders for the Presidency, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, for wanting to ‘turn back the clock’. It would seem a rather strange assertion to make, Democrats tending to think of themselves as ‘progressive’; the proposal for which they’d earned the charge of being backward-looking was, in fact, the reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act aimed at reregulating the banking system and possibly undoing the poisonous effects of those ‘too big to fail’.

Shortly afterward, Jeremy Corbyn – the left-leaning, anti-war MP currently running for the Labour leadership – has been accused of trying to ‘cling to the past’ by his own party-mates and competitors for the leadership. Again, the reactionary proposal which earned him such scorn was not anything which can remotely be regarded as in any sense right-leaning: the anachronism of which he stands accused is that of reaffirming public ownership of, among other things, the Royal Mail, the railway system and Britain’s energy infrastructure.

It would appear a strange charge coming from conservatives that they would attempt to attack those to their left – O’Malley, Sanders and Corbyn – as being reactionary in some way. However, it is interesting to note that these candidates (in an American context, at least) are appealing, albeit rather haphazardly and from within institutions where their views are marginal, to an idiosyncratically conservative set of perspectives and policy priorities, in a language that may indeed seem out-of-step with the times. The fact is that they are appealing to at least that much: the language at least, if not the substance, of a movement belonging to a bygone age.

(Matthew Cooper at Solidarity Hall)

* * * * *

“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.

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