October 1, 2015

  1. Pope Francis versus the power elite
  2. The invisible nation
  3. A highly offensive, anti-American truth
  4. Almost as bad as the previous one
  5. Responding to rent-seeking
  6. Bless their hearts, they just can’t help it
  7. What rude beast?
  8. Where is the map of the dark places?


As editor of an ecumenical journal founded by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, a leading theological spokesman for the Religious Right, where do you find yourself most in harmony with Pope Francis?

Clearly, the primacy of our life in Christ over all things resonates. Secondly, I share with Pope Francis a dissatisfaction with the power elite of the contemporary West, which I think is ideologically oriented toward perpetuating its own power even though it calls itself progressive. Most American liberals think the pope is criticizing conservatism, but they are—along with their European counterparts—in fact the dominant outlook in the rich world. So when the pope is criticizing the global system, he’s criticizing the system they run. It’s not a system being run by evangelical pastors in Texas. It’s a system being run by Ivy League graduates in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington—and they are not readers of “First Things.”

(‘He’s a Disruptor’: Interview with ‘First Things’ Editor R.R. Reno on Pope Francis’ U.S. Visit; oh, yeah: H/T Rod Dreher)


I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.(Rom 12:1-2)

If I had to name a “life verse” in the Evangelical manner, this would be high on my list (even though, gasp!, it’s two verses).

My understanding of what it means to renew the mind has radically changed since I entered Orthodoxy, and this verse no longer seems a commandment to “think (i.e., analyze) Christianly.” But it still seems very, very important, as the “therefore” intimates.

Father Stephen Freeman quotes it to open another challenge to the unrenewed, conformist thought patterns of modernity as regards, this time, the Church — and its supplanter, the nation-state.

We cannot refuse conformity to this world if we do not see it for what it is. How we think of the Church is a crucial part of the modern project – for, in large part, it was in reaction to classical Christianity and the Church that modernity came into existence. It is worth noting that with regards to the Church, the project has almost been entirely successful.

Prior to the Reformation, the European state was integrated with Church, even an aspect of Church in many ways. At the end of the Reformation, the state had begun to take the shape of the modern state. Prior to the Reformation, the king’s subjects are the Christian people of the realm. After the Reformation, they are Englishmen, etc. above all else. It is worth noting that the nation state first comes into existence in Protestant lands. It was a slow and fitful, even very late development in Catholic lands.

Today’s denominational form of the Church is itself a creation of the modern project. It is incorrect to see it as an inner project of late Christianity. It was never an intentional plan, but is the result of modern principles consistently set in place. The Church is steadily diminished in the life of the nation, privatized and relativized. It’s loyalty becomes subsidiary to the loyalty of the State. The Church need not be One, indeed, it is the more easily reduced to subsidiarity if it is not One. The Church can no longer challenge the actions of the state, for it’s far too busy arguing with other Churches over one thing and another. Today, it is the state that appears as the most natural institution in modern society. The Church is a private matter, best served if it stays out of the “public” business.

Stanley Hauerwas at Duke once noted that the rise of the nation state and its success could be seen in its wars. Prior to the Reformation, Christians attacked and killed non-Christians. After the Reformation, Christians were glad to kill each other in the name of the state.

Isn’t this too true? Kyrie eleison!

I suspect, though, that the days when serious Christians are willing to kill anyone for the United States of American are coming to an end.

Remember what Alasdair MacIntyre said:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

(Rod Dreher quoting MacIntyre. I quoted this same excerpt in my prior blog.)

But I digress. Father Stephen eventually brings his stroll through history and modernity to an important point about (a sort of?) ecumenism. For instance:

The consciousness of the ecumenical movement is of the Church as an abstraction. Beginning primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries, the notion of the Church as an “invisible” or “mystical” reality, not entirely identified with any earthly institution arose. It becomes the “churchless Church.” It could just as easily be asserted that everyone on earth is a citizen of the same country, that individual nations are not actually true nations, but only human constructions of the real nation.

But the Church, as taught by Christ and as established in actual history, is not “invisible” or “mystical” in any sense that abstracts it from the concrete historical manifestation of that Church in the world … The Church is “One,” in the words of the Creed. It cannot possibly be two, much less 20,000.

For once, quit taking ownership of a false consciousness created by modernity itself. Denominational Christianity is not your fault, nor is it worthy of defending. Allow yourself to consider what the reality of “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” means when not reduced to an abstraction or some eschatological dream.

(Father Stephen Freeman, Un-Ecumenism)


This is true:

There’s no establishment clause problem with laws that implement their backers’ religiously based moral beliefs, whether about assisted suicide, abortion, opposition to discrimination, endangered species, labor relations, and so on.

(Eugene Volokh) Surprised? Outraged even?

Pull on your big girl panties and get over it.


Washington seems to resent any manifestation of Russian geopolitical influence outside the borders of the Russian Federation, even when it might indirectly benefit U.S. interests. Worse, U.S. leaders continue to cling to the fantasy that simultaneously seeking to defeat ISIS and Assad is a coherent policy.

Washington’s clumsy handling of relations with Russia has brought the two countries dangerously close to a second cold war. As I discuss in a new article in Aspenia Online, both sides bear responsibility for the deterioration of the bilateral relationship, but the bulk of the blame lies at the doorstep of the United States.

(Ted Galen Carpenter, The United States Should Stop Treating Russia as an Enemy) Frankly, much of the world is starting to see us as the adolescent bully, and totally lacking self-insight. Russia is the grown-up; it’s even cartoon-worthy.


A focus on rents points us to the role that state action plays in the increase in top-end inequality and suggests that preventing the further entrenchment of plutocracy must have a deregulatory component. Progressive deregulation alone will not eliminate inequality, of course, because market rigging mainly benefits the wealthiest. Other factors, like the decline in unionization, the rise in mass incarceration, family disorganization, spatial segregation, and other factors partially explain the sluggish incomes of the middle and bottom of the income distribution. But inequality cannot be remedied just by pulling up the bottom. This suggests that conservatives ought to be more concerned about top-end inequality and that liberals ought to be more supportive of certain kinds of deregulation. Indeed, it suggests some real room for agreement where so far we have tended to see only political conflict.

(Steven M. Teles) Hat tip to Ilya Somin, who expands this insight and points to ways in which some deregulatory convergence is taking place in punditry and think-tanks if not in Congress and state legislatures.


I didn’t intend to comment about Cecile Richards’ appearance before Congress, having only heard — well, let’s call it “heavily and selectively edited” — news coverage, but David Harsanyi captures the flavor of what I heard and links the full 4:39:44:

If for some reason you needed additional evidence that the Republican Party was deeply incompetent, unprepared, uncoordinated, inexcusably lazy, then try watching Cecile Richards’ appearance in front of congress yesterday.

Now, I get that these kinds of hearings are normally a waste of time, but in this instance the GOP had some good reasons to project competence. This is, after all, the issue that’s generated so much tension within their party of late. An effective showing—something resembling a smart prosecution—might have allayed a bit of the percolating discontent. Yet there they were, facing a CEO whose organization performs vivisections on humans and harvests baby brains, and the best they could do most of the time was alternate between slow-pitching Richards some hangers and ensuring her martyrdom.


I have liked all of the last three Popes. I was particularly happy when Benedict XVI succeeded John Paul II, as were most of the Roman Catholics I tend to hang out with to actually talk about faith matters. Their happiness was that the new Pope did not have the vibe of a radical “reformer” like, oh, maybe some Latin American Jesuit.

That said, Pope Francis seems like a very nice, warm man, and I appreciate a lot of things about him.

But for the record, I still find the “Rock Star” Pope phenomenon more than a little creepy. I don’t think it’s fear that the world is going to mass-convert to Catholicism instead of Orthodoxy. I don’t think it’s that Pope Francis is going to pull off a mask and reveal Beelzebub behind it. I really don’t, despite what I’m about to say.

I guess it seems to bespeak something ominous about the desperation of the papal groupies and, by extension, the razor’s edge the world is on. There’s a simultaneous lack of true conviction and passionate intensity about fads — not concurrent, as in “this guy lacks conviction but that one’s intense,” but in many individuals. The line runs through the human heart.

No true conviction? Yeah. For instance:

Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart, writing on Slate, was so hopeful about Pope Francis, but now he’s gone and blown it all to hell by meeting with History’s Greatest Monster.

Let this be a lesson to the Christians who believe that if they are only more winsome, cultural liberals will embrace them. You cannot out-winsome Pope Francis, but if you even appear to get on the wrong side of the LGBT mob and their allies, they’ll Eich your butt in a jiffy.

(Rod Dreher)

What “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


I was looking for an eighth item that wasn’t too frivolous or gossipy — maybe even something a little somber, so as not to break the mood.

I think I found it, but it’s copyrighted, so here’s the link.

* * * * *

“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.