Sunday, 10/25/15

  1. Tradition and Innovation
  2. Secularist Churches
  3. The Pandering Apostle
  4. The Diversity Delusion
  5. One size fits some
  6. Poet Mary Oliver
  7. I needed to know this?


No one who has not learned to be traditional can dare to innovate.

… There is only one position compromised from the outset, and that is the position that is “revisionist” from the outset, determined by the assumption that the church’s past reflections on the gospel have nothing helpful to offer. Certainly no one who sets out from that starting point will end up in catholic communion, for catholic communion presupposes a catholic mind.

(Oliver O’Donovan) I omitted traces of the specific issue O’Donovan is discussing because the principle clearly ramifies far more widely.

H/T Rod Dreher


I have (providentially?) encountered several times in the last few months the reminder that the church does not exist to help the world achieve its goals.

It’s pervasive in Stanley Hauerwas’ Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, but here’s the most forthright statement:

The church is not to be judged by how useful we are as a “supportive institution” and our clergy as members of a “helping profession.” The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world. We are not chartered by the Emperor.

But Fr. Alexander Schmemann said it earlier, as I’m reminded by Fr. Stephen Freeman, and said it in the shocking context that churches are ipso facto secularist when they forget it:

It sounds like a paradox, but the basic religion that is being preached and accepted as the only means of overcoming secularism is in reality a surrender to secularism. This surrender can take place—and actually does—in all Christian confessions, although it is differently “colored” in a nondenominational suburban “community church” and in a traditional, hierarchical, confessional and liturgical parish. For the surrender consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs (of all this the secular man, tired of his functional office, is sometimes extremely fond), but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation. It is in this “key” that religion is preached to, and accepted by, millions and millions of average believers today. And it is really amazing how little difference exists in the religious self-consciousness of members of confessions whose dogmas seem to stand in radical opposition to one another. For even if a man changes religion, it is usually because he finds the one he accepts as offering him “more help”—not more truth. While religious leaders are discussing ecumenicity at the top, there exists already at the grass roots a real ecumenicity in this “basic religion.” It is here, in this “key” that we find the source of the apparent success of religions in some parts of the world, such as America, where the religious “boom” is due primarily to the secularization of religion. It is also the source of the decline of religion in those parts of the world where man has not time enough yet for constant analysis of his anxieties and where “secularism” still holds out the great promise of bread and freedom. But if this is religion, its decline will continue, whether it takes the form of a direct abandonment of religion or that of the understanding of religion as an appendix to a world which has long ago ceased to refer itself and all its activity to God.

(Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, emphasis added)

If that is a valid observation (and I think it is), then The Kirk, which sees no higher goal than helping “bring about change in some of the most critical issues facing our nation and planet,” is toast.

And if you can’t think what the Church would do if not “making itself useful” or “bringing about change in issues,” so perhaps are you.


Speaking of secularist churches, Dallin Oaks, one of the chief Mormon “Apostles,” pronounces his mythological version of the Kim Davis affair:

Office holders remain free to draw upon their personal beliefs and motivations and advocate their positions in the public square, … But when acting as public officials, they are not free to apply personal convictions, religious or other, in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices. All government officers should exercise their civil authority according to the principles and within the limits of civil government.

Oaks’ banalities may be binding on the consciences of Mormons (I don’t know how authoritative one “Apostle’s” opinion is). They were made, though, to a mixed audience of clergy and legal professionals, not to the Mormon faithful. I trust he’ll understand that the Early Day Saints (a/k/a, the one holy catholic and apostolic Church) and the tens of thousands of other non-Mormon sects and ecclesial bodies are in no way bound.

From Leo Tolstoy to Harold Bloom and beyond, Mormonism has been seen as The American Religion. The Pandering Apostle apparently intends to secure that position — by promoting the American Project, whatever disreputable form that may take.

He can have it. I’ll take the Christian religion, please.


Queensborough says that “no culture is intrinsically superior to another,” but that doesn’t seem right on Queensborough’s own account of diversity. After all, a culture that rejected this understanding would surely – in their view – be a culture that is less accepting and respectful than a culture that embraced Queenborough’s definition. But in that case such a culture would be inferior in comparison to those cultures that in fact embraced diversity.

Moreover, it seems perfectly correct to say that some religious beliefs, political beliefs, or ideologies are not entitled to acceptance and respect. For some of them – such as fascism, Stalinism, and extremist versions of Islam – when put into practice are deleterious to human dignity. Even though the advocates of these disreputable views are entitled to respect as persons, it would be a moral affront to suggest that the cultures in which these views flourish are no better or worse than any other culture.

How does something like this happen? How can the leadership of an institution of higher learning make such simple mistakes in reasoning? I think it’s because it uncritically embraces a set of background beliefs that “resolves” apparent incoherencies in the direction of a particular ideology, even though the school does not recognize it as such.

(Francis J. Beckwith, The Diversity Paradox)


In case you haven’t had occasion to do so previously, consider the following scenario.

Two observant Christian women who <controversial label> experience exclusive same-sex attraction </controversial label> live together celibately. One has superior employment benefits and availed herself of domestic partner benefits to insure the other. The other became very sick with a pretty rare problem. Insurance paid for a radical surgery that seems to have been successful.

Meanwhile, Obergefell. Now employers are cutting domestic partner benefits because, well, Obergefell

The two women do not want to “marry” because (as I possibly oversimplify or misunderstand it) that implies a genital sexual relationship they do not have and do not intend to have, but which their fellow Christians already uncharitably tend to assume they secretly have.

I’ve never been a fan of domestic partner benefits. That these friends benefitted so greatly from them doesn’t radically change that.

But for at least 13 years now, I have believed that if employers offers domestic partner benefits, they should offer them to one dependent with no implications about erotic involvement. Norwegian bachelor farmers, spinster sisters, dear friends not wanting to be alone, etc. For that proposition, my friends’ experience stands, I think, as a pretty compelling case.

And I oppose employers trying to make one size fit all. If they had domestic partnership benefits before, they should keep them because same-sex “marriage” is nothing more than domestic partnership with more prominent sexual connotations and a usurped title.


I’ve been so busy I haven’t kept up with On Being podcasts. But October 15’s interview with poet Mary Oliver was terrific — for what it didn’t dwell on (e.g., a terrible childhood at the hands of a monster father) as well as for the personality and poetry themselves.


The New York Times has a weekday “Daily Briefing” of what informed people need to know. On Friday:

• The death of Bart Simpson.

The celebrated annual “Treehouse of Horror” edition of “The Simpsons” airs Sunday night, and Fox has already let slip that Bart will be killed by his longtime nemesis, Sideshow Bob.

I needed to know that? Really?

* * * * *

“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.

2 thoughts on “Sunday, 10/25/15

  1. That health insurance is provided even for the employee, let alone for the employee’s family members, by the employer is an accident of US history. If everyone were covered by health insurance independently of their own or another’s employment (whether that coverage is paid for by a surcharge on taxable income [as perhaps still in Australia], or from general revenue [as in the UK], or by price-controlled private insurance from a choice of companies [as in Germany], or…) so many of these problems would go away. AND people would know how much their health insurance costs (and perhaps rise up in protest), which probably is not the case when the employer is paying.

    1. I prefer “artifact of war-time price controls” to “accident of history,” but you’re certainly right, and it’s surprising how many people don’t know that. In our provincialism, we can take it as “just the way things are,” but there’s a history to how they came to be that way.
      The eventuality(ies) of the Affordable Care Act is (are) debatable, but the insurance exchanges have moved us closer to the world you describe: health insurance decoupled from employment.

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