Saturday 9/3/16

  1. False prophets of realpolitik
  2. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (and the NYT)
  3. Can Anxiety Beat Depression in November?
  4. The Party that cried wolf
  5. Getting Old: A Beginner’s Guide
  6. Just too much
  7. My “brother’s” new baby

1

From James Dobson to Franklin Graham to Wayne Grudem, Trump boasts a growing list of evangelical supporters and advisors, each warning against the darker magic of Hillary Clinton or reminding us of the perks of “having a seat” at Trump’s table. “If we don’t help the lesser evil prevail over the greater evil,” we’re told, “we become responsible morally for helping the greater evil to prevail.”

Surely there are times when God calls us to be “modern-day Daniels,” serving patiently in the courts of pagan kings who might otherwise do even greater societal harm. God used Joseph to interpret for Pharaoh, Esther to plead with Xerxes, and Nehemiah to advocate a way back home. As Christians, we should be prepared to do likewise.

But each of these feats was possible thanks to mundane faithfulness and obedience, not ethical pretzel-twisting about the hidden greatness of the “lesser evil.” The prophetic witness of Old Testament heroes involved imperfect people confronting imperfect kings, but their actions were driven by something far higher than pragmatic calculations or blind opposition to ideological bogeymen. “Nebuchadnezzar may have tried to torch some religious dissidents, but I can’t imagine being ruled by Hillary Clinton.”

Indeed, without a keen discernment about the source of our witness and an appreciation for the conceits of our own designs, a faithful readiness to say “yes!” to Candidate X can quickly devolve into an obsession with short-term power and control. And it is here that the Moral Majority of yesteryear would do well to remember the Remnant.

In his famous 1936 essay, “Isaiah’s Job,” Albert Jay Nock calls us to resist illusions of power when either the elites or the masses are set on going to rot. “The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen,” Nock writes, voicing the Almighty. “They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Then why is such a task worth pursuing? Isn’t it a clear “waste” of one’s political influence? It’s for the sake of the Remnant, which Nock has the Lord describe:

They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.

(Joseph Sunde — so far as I can recall, a new voice at First Things)

First, let’s call the Dobson/Graham/Grudem position what it is: realpolitik, which is to say unprincipled and more than a little cynical.

Second, let me say what the Dobson/Graham/Grudem position does: mislead the faithful about whence cometh their help.

Third, let’s admit that the Dobson/Graham/Grudem position vilifies the Remnant, of which I consider myself a part, by the brain-dead accusation or implication that we’re evil for not voting for the lesser evil. What Balaam’s ass will muzzle these mercenaries?!

Fourth, let’s turn to the Albert Jay Nock essay Sunde cites in reference to the Remnant.

I see no sign that Nock actually was a well-formed Christian; by the time he wrote the essay, he had divorced his wife and resigned his Episcopalian clergy position. But he was Biblically literate, and knew how to enlist Biblical imagery on a grand scale for his pessimistic rallying:

In the year of Uzziah’s death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are.” He said, “Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate … [see above]”

Nock goes on to praise the Remnant elite for their intellectual superiority, which is where I most clearly part company with him at least as his story applies to 2016. I don’t think refusal to vote for either Trump or Clinton requires any great intellectual feats or elite insight. It just requires saying “enough is enough; I’m waiting for time to clean up the mess the coming collapse leaves.”

Indeed, it’s more a matter of grace than of works (or brains), as it’s by grace that we sing each Sunday “Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.” They didn’t sing that when I spun in the Dobson/Graham/Grudem orbit, where the realpolitik message is “hitch your wagon to a rising political star.”

“They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction ….” “You must vote Republican or Democrat. If you don’t vote for Trump/Hillary, you’re voting for Hillary/Trump.”

I get it from both sides, believe me. And presumably Dobson/Graham/Grudem would tell me the first version.

Orthodox Priests carry ever before them a sense of the gravity of their responsibility before God for leading the faithful aright (“his soul will I require of you“). Some Evangelical leaders, I suspect, are going to find out some day just how The Almighty views their stewardship.

I don’t care how they somberly vote, but I care a lot about their false prophecy.

2

There’s a cottage industry of vilifying Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonized in the Roman church Sunday. I first learned of the hatred when Christopher Hitchens wrote one installment in the sorry series.

I was reminded by the comment boxes to a New York Times (I believe) story on her impending canonization that the hate continues. I think some of these folks have Google News alerts for “Mother Teresa” to help them troll more efficiently.

Bill Donohue wrote a book to unmask her critics. It wasn’t a very good book (so much for five-star Amazon Book ratings) and I didn’t finish it. But I found two good quotes:

Simon Leys is a distinguished Australian intellectual who has examined the charges made against Mother Teresa. He knows why her critics are upset with her: “She occasionally accepts the hospitality of crooks, millionaires, and criminals.” His reply is devastating: “But it is hard to see why, as a Christian, she should be more choosy in this respect than her Master, whose bad frequentations were notorious, and shocked all the Hitchenses of His time.”

Gonzalez is troubled to learn that the nuns “consistently fail to provide statistics on the efficacy of their work.” But there is no ready yardstick to measure the success of outreach programs to lepers. And how does one measure the efficacy of programs designed to comfort the dying?

I don’t think this was the New York Times story whose comments bothered me, but the headline itself is a bit dubious.

Some even say that her journals, revealed posthumously, expose her as a hypocrite because for decades and decades she experienced depression and didn’t feel God’s presence.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I think it makes her all the more heroic for soldiering through.

3

By November of [1992] I thought the close presidential contest would come down to a battle between depression and anxiety. If you imagined picking up a newspaper the morning after the election and saw “Bush Re-elected,” you might feel blue—same old same old, 12 years of Republican rule turning into 16. If it said “Clinton Wins,” you might feel anxiety—we never even heard of this guy until six months ago, an obscure Arkansas governor! I figured that in America anxiety beats depression because it’s the more awake state.

There may be an aspect of that dynamic in this race. Mrs. Clinton is depression: You know exactly who she is, what trouble she brings—she always brings that sack full of scandal—and she won’t make anything better. Mr. Trump is anxiety: If you back him you know you’re throwing the long ball, a real Hail Mary pass to the casino developer and reality TV star who may or may not know how to catch the ball when catching the ball means everything. But he’s entertaining—he scrambles all categories, makes things chaotic. He has fun with his audience.

The crowd Wednesday night in Arizona reacted with joy when he asked if they were ready for the part about Mexico. His own supporters will tell you he may be a little crazy but not Caligula crazy, only drunk-uncle crazy ….

(Peggy Noonan, Can Anxiety Beat Depression in November?) (I’m not convinced that it’s only drunk-uncle crazy.)

4

Conservative commentators and die-hard Republicans often brush off denunciations of Donald Trump as an unprincipled hatemonger by saying: Yeah, yeah, that’s what Democrats wail about every Republican they’re trying to take down. Sing me a song I haven’t heard so many times before.

Howard Wolfson would be outraged by that response if he didn’t recognize its aptness.

“There’s enough truth to it to compel some self-reflection,” Wolfson, who was the communications director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2008, told me this week.

In fact, he finds himself thinking about it a whole lot: how extreme the put-downs of political adversaries have become; how automatically combatants adopt postures of unalloyed outrage; what this means when they come upon a crossroads — and a candidate — of much greater, graver danger.

(Frank Bruni, Crying Wolf, Then Confronting Trump) Of course, some of the criticisms of Obama and now Clinton from the Right are setting the stage for the same thing. Only the charges of Clinton corruption and criminality are distinctive.

5

As long as I’m panning books, Michael Kinsley’s (Remember him? A journeyman smart liberal to put on your TV panel of talking heads 23+ years ago?) Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide isn’t all that good, either. So much for book recommendations from law professors who teach elder law.

Kinsley got a Parkinson diagnosis 23 years ago and has faded from view (the two may not be directly related). He spends part of his time defending embryonic stem-cell research that might lead to a cure:

Embryonic stem cells are harvested from embryos so microscopically small that you literally cannot see them without a microscope. You can say that this doesn’t matter—that even embryos are human beings with a right to life. But then, if you’re being honest, you have to deal with what follows. The embryos used in stem cell research come from fertility clinics, which routinely produce multiple embryos for each attempted pregnancy, to improve the chances of success. The excess embryos are disposed of or, ludicrously, frozen until someone can figure out what to do with them. Logically, if you’re going to ban research using embryonic stem cells, you also have to ban the entire fertility industry, which destroys far more embryos in the normal course of business than stem cell research ever will. But political pressure to shut down fertility clinics is nonexistent.

Fair enough. I accept the tacit challenge by opposing the fertility industry.

But I enjoyed reading this again:

Old moral-hazard joke: Three elderly retirees are sitting on the beach in Florida. One of them asks the other two, “What brought you here?” Second guy says, “I had a small factory up north, but it burned down in a mysterious fire. So I took the insurance money and retired to Florida.” Third guy says, “Me too. Owned a factory. Mysterious fire. Insurance money. Florida.” He turns to the first guy. “And how about you?” First guy says, “Same story, almost. My factory was wiped out in a huge tidal wave, so I took the insurance money and moved to Florida.” The other two look at each other, and finally one says, “Gosh, who do you go to for a tidal wave?”

6

I’m going to sell my dirty VW diesel back to them in November, but meanwhile I have a “please don’t hate us” debit card from VW that can only be used at their dealerships. So I had them replace my burnt-out brake light and put it on my card.

No good, bad or neutral deed goes unpunished these days. I got a call from a chipper young lady (somehow, I just know she’s blond and not yet 26) asking about my service, and now an e-mail inviting me to bare my soul about my “Customer Satisfaction” at Survey Monkey or some such.

Sometimes, the fawning commercial attention to my opinion is just too much. No, make that “most of the time.”

7

Several years earlier, a few trans men who, like my brother, had undergone hormone treatment but kept their reproductive organs, had begun consulting physicians about pregnancy and speaking openly about wanting to give birth. In 2008, Thomas Beatie posed for People magazine, bare-chested with a rotund belly, and went on Oprah to talk about his pregnancy. Trans men began to trickle into fertility clinics more frequently. When Andy Inkster was turned away from a Massachusetts clinic in 2010 because he was told he was “too masculine” to have a baby, he sued for gender discrimination. The case settled a few years later; Inkster sought out another clinic and later gave birth to a daughter.

You should understand that we are fast moving towards a time when physicians and physicians’ assistants who do not wish to participate in procedures like this will face lawsuits and possibly the loss of their professional licenses. This is not a joke. This is coming.

(Rod Dreher)

Maybe I’ve kept up better than you, but this still gives me vertigo. Understand what Dreher’s saying: physicians who do infertility treatments had better be ready to help “men” get pregnant (which is a synechdoche for the enormities that are coming) or find a way to change their speciality. Physician’s assistants and others further down the pecking list may have no option to participating or getting fired if their physicians do. Because bigotry.

We really don’t give a [expletive deleted] about children. That’s all just window dressing and comforting words to salve our consciences. We care about us. Period. Full stop.

* * * * *

“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.