Potpourri 6/22/16

  1. Non-servile ≠ Complicit in murder
  2. How to become an Imam
  3. The project of modernity
  4. De pathos non est disputandum
  5. Conservatism at a Crossroad
  6. Can the Religious Right really be that servile?


This is an actual letter to the editor of a midwestern newspaper, in its entirety:

My grief and anger over the execution of 49 people, mostly LGBT and Latinos, in Orlando has not yet subsided.
I have a public comment to make, please. If you or anyone you know speaks negatively about LGBT people, supports legislation to deny them civil rights (such as marriage and adoption) or teaches children that being gay is wrong, then you are complicit in the massacre I mention.
You either support LGBT people and their efforts to achieve full equality under law — or you support prejudice and terrorism against them. There is no middle ground anymore.

(Emphasis added) I’ve omitted the name.

Some major media imply the same thing. Jonah Goldberg is having none of it:

Imagine if an Islamist nutter went to the convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor and murdered a bunch of nuns (alas, hardly an unimaginable hypothetical). Would I be right to say that the New York Times and its allied Brain Trusts have no right to be outraged? After all, liberals have heaped scorn and contempt on those nuns for their effrontery in not wanting to be forced to pay for birth control.

Or what if an Islamist shot up a Baptist Church or Koch headquarters or the Washington office of AIPAC? To borrow a phrase from the New York Times, hatred for Christians, libertarians, Zionists, and other political minorities doesn’t “occur in a vacuum.” The Times has been fanning the flames of such demonization for decades; surely they would share some of the blame when an emotionally unstable Muslim, inspired by ISIS, took it upon himself to slaughter innocent people.

(Jonah Goldberg) This sort of rhetoric contributes to Stephen J. Heaney’s metaphor:

I have frequently used the following analogy to describe my relation to the two major parties. I share it here because I believe that many other social conservatives can relate to my dilemma.

As I struggle to survive in the storm-tossed sea, two boats arrive. From the first boat, an oar comes crashing down at me again and again. It becomes rapidly apparent that the occupants are not trying to save me. They are trying to kill me. I swim away as quickly as possible. The second boat arrives, and it becomes clear that there is some confusion on board. They try to extend an oar to me, but first it reaches wide, then it hits me in the head. Eventually I can grab on, but it is a struggle. Some are trying to bring me into the boat, others are interested in other things and get in the way.

Hillary is the Captain of that first boat, and the author of the letter to the editor is wielding an oar.


Cherry-picked from Rod Dreher’s interview with his reader “Jones”:

Islam in America is far less organized and coherent than Christianity. Most people pray at mosques that are little more than a bunch of people in the same area gathering together to pray. There is no formal hierarchy in Islam. Anyone who wants to get up and put themselves forth as an imam can do so. Being an imam is very different from being a priest: in many places, different members of the community perform the function every week. I have never been to an American mosque with a formal membership. If I want to pray at a particular mosque I simply walk in the door.

I think he gives too much credit to Christianity in America — particularly Protestant and Evangelical — for organization and coherence, and too deeply discounts the prevalence of self-ordained Preacherboy/Pastors in Baptist and non-denominational religious bodies. But his overall point — the difficulty of saying “this [violent or peaceful stream] is true Islam” — is valid.


I’ve probably quoted this before, but maybe one reader is primed for disenthrallment now who wasn’t last time around:

The problem is not just that we have become consumers of our own lives, but that we can conceive of no alternative narrative since we lack any practices that could make such a narrative intelligible. Put differently, the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story. Such a story is called the story of freedom and is assumed to be irreversibly institutionalized economically as market capitalism and politically as democracy …

I am aware that such a suggestion can only be met with disbelief. You may well think I cannot be serious. Normal nihilism is so wonderfully tolerant. Surely you are not against tolerance? How can anyone be against freedom? Let me assure you I am serious, I am against tolerance, I do not believe the story of freedom is a true or good story. I do not believe it is a good story because it is so clearly a lie. The lie is exposed by simply asking, “Who told you the story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you have no story?” Why should you let that story determine your life? Simply put, the story of freedom has now become our fate.

In contrast, John Paul II, who is not afraid to have enemies, reminds us that the good news of the Gospel, known through proclamation, is that we are not fated to be determined by such false stories of freedom. For the truth is that since we are God’s good creation we are not free to choose our own stories. Freedom lies not in creating our lives, but in learning to recognize our lives as a gift. We do not receive our lives as though they were a gift, but rather our lives simply are a gift: we do not exist first and then receive from God a gift. The great magic of the Gospel is providing us with the skills to acknowledge our life, as created, without resentment and regret.

(Stanley Hauerwas)

I encountered it again as the quote Rod Dreher chose to answer his own question:

Spend enough time reading about the premodern era and you come to a realization that people today not only have no understanding of it (they think people of that time are just like us, only with worse dentistry and more church), but they have an utterly unjustified belief that the way we live today is far better than what our ancestors had.

From a material point of view, they’re certainly right. And they’re also right from the point of view of individual freedom. But what if those ends are not the most important thing to a person? What if freedom and prosperity are not enough? What if people crave meaning?

Liberal democracy says, “That’s fine. We’re here to facilitate the choices that give your life meaning.” What’s the problem with that?

(Islam vs. Liberal Democracy)


Byzantinologist Steven Runciman, writing about the essential distinction between Greek and Latin Christians, observed that the two simply “felt differently about religion; it is difficult to have a debate about feelings.” The same might be said of the encounter between American and Middle East Christians today. It is not, after all, merely theology that accounts for the cultural gap …

Despite a sincere desire to help, American Christians are often separated from those of the Middle East not only by language but by politics, ethnicity, heritage, and perhaps most significantly, culture. There is an inclination to regard “the other” as precisely that. Middle East Christians are often mistaken by Americans for Muslims because of their Middle Eastern appearance, names, and use of Arabic, bringing to mind the Medieval Latin Christian tendency to refer to the Greeks of Byzantium as “pale-faced Turks.” Mark Movsesian noted that “Mideast Christians have the misfortune to be too foreign for the Right and too Christian for the Left.” …

(Andrew Doran, When Christianities Collide)


American conservatism, it seems to me, is at … a crossroads. It is one at which its advocates must choose whether the movement will be guided by a conservatism grounded in unchanging truths of human nature that incline us in the direction of the good, the true, and the beautiful, or whether it will align itself with a conservatism of the mere market.

Although the traditional moralist agrees with the market conservative that the acquisition of wealth and being fed and clothed are good things, he views them as worthy of pursuit only because they assist him in advancing his natural duties to spouse, progeny, neighbor, nation, and God. For the traditional moralist, liberty is the freedom to pursue the unchosen goods of natural justice unencumbered by certain external agents, such as criminals or unjust governments. For the market conservative, liberty is freedom to pursue whatever one desires unencumbered by any non-chosen obligations to spouse, progeny, neighbor, nation, or God. For the traditional moralist, the good is what is desirable in itself, while for the market conservative, desiring something is what makes that something good.

As long as free markets and their moral limits were contextualized within a cultural infrastructure that was not consciously inimical to the goals of the traditional moralist, an alliance between market and moral conservatism made a lot of sense. The traditional moralist had good instrumental reasons to support free markets, while the market conservative had good pragmatic reasons to accept the givens of the wider culture, whose mandarins did not have as their primary mission to crush traditional institutions and ways of life, and any public dissent that may flow from them.

But that’s not the world we live in anymore. We reside in a world in which major corporations have created a cultural cartel – a moral monopoly – by which they hope to make the price of acquiescence so cheap and resistance so expensive that their ideological competition will either undergo a hostile takeover or declare civilizational bankruptcy.


I have mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m resolved not to continually revisit the “can Donald Trump really be that bad?” question. The answer keeps coming back the same every time.

Tuesday, though, had me pissed-as-hell at the old-guard Religious Right — and there’s a Trump nexus.

Seriously: What are these Evangelical advisors doing if not trying to help Trump more convincingly pretend to be an observant Christian so as to fool the rubes?

Would that not be beneath contempt?

What benign explanation am I missing?

* * * * *

“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.