Friday, 2/26/16

  1. Eroding sacramentality
  2. No comment needed
  3. Yolande Betbeze, historic (sorta)
  4. Sobering thoughts about antipolitics
  5. God of wrath
  6. Salvation and Sanctification
  7. Chrislam and Tashlan


Although 2,000 years of history can offer us many shining examples of church cooperating with state, the idea of a “state church” would be almost laughable in our country today. When I imagine a hypothetical American state church, I can only think of gay pride flags or of preachers who hold a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. I think of political candidate “messiahs” and a foreign policy sprinkled with apocalyptic imagery. None of it reminds me of the Gospel. In America, the state inevitably subordinates Christianity’s message to politics when the two become closely allied.

Whatever future we may predict for the American project, it is clear that our enlightenment and reformation origins have led to a radical departure from the ancient Christian tradition.

Christians in the United States have long been guilty of eroding their own sacramentality. Emotional sensationalism has turned pastors into performers. Materialism has replaced ancient saints with Hollywood celebrities. Hyper-modernism has eschewed tradition, even in the most traditional churches. But have we found anything to replace the faith of our fathers? Now nothing is meaningful, nothing is valuable, nothing is serious.

(Andrew Jacob Cuff)


Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.

(I John 2:15-16)


Q: Why is there a “Miss USA” as well as a “Miss America,” and why does the Miss USA pageant always feel a couple of inches shallower?

A: Yolande Betbeze Fox.

Since there’s a paywall, I’ll summarize.

Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951, refused to tour the country as  in revealing bathing suits. The swimsuit competition’s chief sponsor, Catalina, manufactured swimwear, and didn’t take kindly to “I’m an opera singer, not a pinup!” It withdrew as the pageant sponsor and began the rival Miss USA contest.

Should you suspect that the convent-educated Alabamian was some kind of right-wing nut, after (predictably) failing as an opera singer, she became an activist who participated in a vigil in 1953 at Sing Sing prison to protest the impending execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, joined civil rights protesters in picketing a Woolworth’s, and joined demonstrations against nuclear weapons.

Last Monday, she went the way of all flesh, which is how I learned of her.


Behind that same paywall, David Brooks slapped me around a little for all the snarky remarks I’ve ever made about political moderates and other “not really conservatives.” I may have even said “RINO” once, though I don’t recall it; it would not have been out of character.)

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

This antipolitics tendency has had a wretched effect on our democracy. It has led to a series of overlapping downward spirals:

The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.

Brooks named Donald Trump as a great exploiter of antipolitics, but from everything I’ve heard, Ted Cruz is hated by his Senate colleagues for much the same reasons.

Pat Buchanan (who seems to have passed all the way to “acceptance” on “the five stages of Donald“) thinks Trump can beat Hillary in November (“if Republicans unite”). If he does, will it be our last election? Or after his epic failure, will someone even further “outside” make us an offer we won’t refuse?


Eve Tushnet reviews The Witch, a movie much deeper than its horror film billing would lead you to expect.

The Witch is pervaded by the fear of God. There are occasional references to His mercy but only as something to beg for, not something to trust in; this is the God of Hosts, not the Prince of Peace. The movie treats its characters’ religion without a hint of condescension or even disbelief: This is a movie about what it’s like to do your best to love and serve a God of wrath. It’s about the view from within that faith. The mother’s speech about the way her baby’s disappearance has brought her from blissful faith and “ravished” union with God to torturing doubt is one of the best, most nuanced expressions of religious anguish I’ve seen in cinema. And the scene in which a possibly-possessed child begins to pray and quote the Bible is flat-out shocking, totally unexpected and yet drawn from the wellsprings of Christian faith. The end credits say that the dialogue is taken from actual colonial-era documents, which may be hard on the audience, but it gives The Witch the ring of authenticity.

It’s unlikely that any Christian faith quite so completely invested in a “God of wrath” survives in North America today, but the most committed Calvinists come closest, and I’ll give them (my former co-religionists) credit for these virtues:

(1) they don’t relate to Buddy Jesus


(2)and consequently they have no use for the moralistic therapeutic deism that pervades North American pseudo-Christianity today.


In many guides to Catholic confession you’ll find a list of possible sins, organized according to the Ten Commandments, and somewhere (I think right at the top under the First Commandment) it will offer, “I have despaired of the mercy of God.” The Witch is a story not so much about the sin of witchcraft—although its view of witchery is, let’s say, not revisionist!—but about this other, sadder sin.


Nota bene:

Though the word sanctification occurs in the New Testament, it is nowhere treated as subsequent to salvation itself. Being saved, in the pages of the New Testament, means the whole of our life with God. And the purpose of the whole of our life with God is to be transformed into the image of Christ from glory to glory. Anything else is simply not the Christian faith.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)


Like a moth to the flame, I keep flying toward efforts to answer the question of whether Christians and Muslim’s “worship the same God.”

William Kilpatrick at Crisis has come up with what I consider the best, most nuanced “no” I’ve read yet, probably because he cites St. Clive the New Narnian:

Having fallen into a state of decline and ignorance, many of the Narnians are deceived into believing that their God, Aslan, and Tash, the demonic God of the Calormenes have much in common. “Tash” and “Aslan,” they are told, are only two different names for the same God:

All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.

After a while, the hybrid God is simply referred to as “Tashlan.” As time passes, however, the worship of Tashlan becomes for all intents and purposes the worship of Tash, and the Narnian’s find themselves enslaved by the Calormenes.

I don’t think my “the question is equivocal” response is inconsistent with Kilpatrick. Read his piece and benefit, whichever side (or straddle) you’re on.

* * * * *

“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.