Thursday, 2/4/16

  1. In your own backyard
  2. Required reading
  3. The real-world context for effective policy
  4. American military power
  5. Not your usual pundit


Over the last 18+ years since my conversion to Orthodoxy Christianity from Protestant Christianity, I have noticed repeatedly the similarities between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism — things that separate them from Protestantism. That’s not too surprising since Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are labels given two traditions that were united for 1,000+ years, and each of which considers the other the source of the schism conventionally dated 1054.

The similarities I’m referring to are not the checklist things, the things you can put in columns for side-by-side comparison, like Protestants believing in one or two “ordinances of the Lord” versus Catholic and Orthodox belief in seven (or more). In an important sense, that’s trivial. I’m thinking more of the history of thought, about which I’ve been reading much lately.

Roman Catholic Thomas Storck seems to have that history of thought in mind as he writes of a recent “lunch with a former fundamentalist Protestant pastor, now turned atheist.” That ex-pastor appears to be a prime target for the question “Tell me about the god you don’t believe in. My experience tells me I might not believe in that one, either.”

My acquaintance knew of only two possible stances: uncritical adherence to the sacred text, interpreted literally, or unbelief. For in the Protestant mind — at least in its pure form — there is really no stopping place between the most extreme and literal adherence to what is understood as faith and an attitude entirely irreligious.

“Uncritical adherence” excludes the use of reason. The role of reason was part of what the 2006 address of Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg was about (you can look it up: Faith, Reason and the University; the press skewed the reports). In contrast:

The principle of “sola scriptura” … sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself.

This helps me understand why so many arguments on issues of public policy in the deeply Protestant United States — particularly arguments on the Culture War issues — are framed, typically, as “thus saith the Lord” versus “we rational people know better.” Catholics and Orthodox, both still holding (perhaps corrupted a bit by our surroundings) what Hans Boersma called the Platonic-Christian synthesis, are drowned out or ignored if we offer a reasoned argument (as Christians did in the early days and some of us still do) that may end up aligned with the “thus saith the Lord” folks. It’s just easier to dismiss all Christians as fideists — which leaves those of us who aren’t fideists sputtering and constantly trying to distance ourselves from those who eschew reason, much as Muslims today are constantly distancing themselves from those who use violence. (And then we second-guess ourselves about whether the implicit criticism of heterodox Christians was bad.)

Storck continues, and does so in such a way that Orthodox could be dropped in in place of Catholic:

Perhaps the best general approach to communicating with our non-Catholic fellow citizens is one that I think has rarely been tried here: to embrace our strangeness, to present Catholicism as the genuine Other, something which, like Buddhism or Hinduism, offers—or should offer—a belief and a way of life that does not fit comfortably into the culture of the commercial, technological, Colossus of the North we happen to dwell in. To make enough noise so that we can neither be ignored or, what is perhaps worse, regarded simply as just another part of the all too familiar cultural surroundings.

Which brings me to my conclusion, which was Storck’s epigraph:

It could never cross the mind of a man of the Garrison [an Irish Protestant] that before becoming an atheist he might stroll into one of the churches of his own country, and learn something of the philosophy that had satisfied Dante and Bossuet, Pascal and Descartes.

— G. K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw

Before an American Protestant throws it all over, he really should look into Orthodoxy (or maybe even Storck’s Catholicism).


The National Association of Scholars seems to have found a litmus test of ideological acidity in post-secondary education: the summer reading required of incoming freshman as they prepare for first-semester colloquia. More.


Michael Gerson, columnist, former Dubya speechwriter, and graduate of an educational institution I attended and respect, used to be one of my top dozen or so columnists. Somewhere along the line, he went on my “read him if you’ve got time” B-list.

Tuesday following the Iowa, I had time or his headline caught my eye: Despite what Trump and Sanders say, the American Dream has not been stolen. I thought he was being delusional, but his focus was on that last word:

There are many problems here, but the worst is misdiagnosis, because it undermines the possibility of productive change. The American Dream has not been stolen. It has been undermined by a vast economic transition that has placed U.S. workers in competition with talented workers around the world and replaced whole categories of labor with new technologies. This has resulted in a consistent downward pressure on wages and a ruthless demand for higher skills. For many communities, it has meant a more or less permanent recession.

The effective collapse of the blue-collar economy has come at the same time that working-class family structures have dramatically weakened and community institutions — which once provided assistant or substitute parents — have fallen apart. Some social scientists emphasize one part of this problem or another, but family, community and economic challenges seem related to one another in complex ways. It is an “all of the above” problem.

This is the real-world context for effective policy ….

I don’t consider this a bullseye, but it’s better than scapegoating — especially scapegoating relatively recent political heirs of a decades-long bipartisan Ponzi scheme whose unsustainability was masked for a while by financial gimmicks like bundling sub-prime mortgages.


Here’s two reasons why I’m skeptical of the neoconserative article of faith “that American military power is a good thing, deterring aggression and providing indispensible stability to the international order“:


Does Trump really represent conservative values? Even avowed conservatives don’t always agree on what these are, because they include social causes such as opposing abortion and same-sex marriage; political ones such as curbing the reach of government and devolving power to the states; martial ones such as asserting American power abroad and maintaining a superior military; and economic ones such as lowering tax rates and spending less money.

(Noted political commentator Kareem Abdul-Jabbar provides a nice, succinct reality check)

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“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.