Tuesday, 9/27/16

  1. The unchurched Evangelicals
  2. Punditry without patterns
  3. Sports and Politics
  4. What is “Christian Philosophy” for?

1

I was raised in the PCA [Presbyterian Church in America, a consciously conservative denomination not yet 50 years old if memory serves — Tipsy]. Its membership numbers have held, but only because of admitting churches from the PCUSA and RCA. Most individual parishes have suffered significant loss both in terms of attendance and giving. Nearly 40% of the denomination’s members are 65+, making it only slightly less gray than the Protestant mainline. Most of the kids from my church youth group–many of whom graduated from schools like Wheaton, Geneva, Grove City, etc.–don’t even bother attending church anymore.

Among Protestants, only folks in the 65+ demographic attend church as a communal activity. They grew up in a culture where church attendance was common, and where most of their significant friendships were at church. For younger people, attending church is a political statement. If you’re a hard-core social conservative, you attend an evangelical church. If you’re a hard-core progressive, you attend a mainline church. If you’re somewhere in between (which is where most people are), you go for a bike ride with your kids in the park on Sunday morning. If evangelicalism is doing better than the Protestant mainline, it is only because there are more hard-core social conservatives than there are hard-core progressives. Even so, that glosses over the fact that attending church is not something that “normal” people do these days. Despite my evangelical upbringing, I tend to be highly suspicious of people my age who attend church. That’s because I believe that they’re the type of people who have an axe to grind. And I’m usually right.

Simply put, the center has failed in Protestantism. Among working-age people, right-wing axe-grinders attend evangelical churches, left-wing axe-grinders attend mainline churches, and everyone else happily joins the ranks of the dechurched. I still believe everything I learned in my PCA/CRC upbringing. I can still recite most of the answers to the Heidelberg Catechism, and so so with a believing heart. But I can’t imagine ever going back to church, as I have no interest in hanging out with the band of unpleasant axe-grinders who make up the under-50 crowd at most PCA and CRC churches. I’d rather go to the dentist on a weekly basis.

(Rod Dreher’s reader Evan) Oh, my! This does not bode well for Evangelicalism (or the Protestant mainstream, but I never really cared about it).

I went through a long phase when, although some would have seen me as an axe-grinder, I was consciously attending Church despite my distaste for some of my fellow-members in obedience to Christ’s admonition through his Apostle not to “forsake assembling yourselves together.” That’s a story for another day, perhaps.

In case it’s not obvious, Evan’s limiting himself to PCA and CRC, with both of which I have been familiar in the past, is perverse. Even limiting himself to Evangelical or mainstream Protestant is perverse. There’s a world out there of Churches that are Christian, not Republican or Democrat. Evan is just too complacent to check them out.

2

Punditry, like most human occupations, depends on pattern recognition. Certain things happen regularly; other things rarely; others never. Probabilities emerge, assumptions are formed, scenarios are considered and ruled out.

And then a trauma happens, a black swan splashes down, and you lose all faith in everything you’ve learned.

This has been quite a year for traumas. Pope Francis keeps busting up Catholic punditry. Brexit busted up British punditry. And Donald Trump’s ascent has left almost everyone who writes about American politics in a state of post-traumatic shock.

(Ross Douthat) That pandemic of post-traumatic pundit shock has been obvious to me.

Pundits of the Left have the Boy Who Cried Wolf problem. They used up all their insults and alarmism on competent and sane GOP candidates of the recent past and are reduced now to taking Trump’s hyperbole and repeating over and over that Politifact thinks he’s lying a lot more than Hillary and he’s racist, sexist and Islamophobic. As one of the emerging pundits said, they take him literally but not seriously while many voters take him seriously but not literally.

I admit that I’m deaf to whatever message his dog whistles convey, but I think the anti-Trump pundits of the Right come closer than those of the Left, and are at least more interesting in their conjectures.

Douthat and Rod Dreher are friendly with each other, but Dreher is the pithier about the futility of pattern-recognition this year: “I am probably wrong. I have been about everything else this political year.

3

We now play politics as if it were sport, sport as if it were politics …

[I]t is not the role of the NCAA to employ the economic power it derives from member universities to attempt to influence the outcome of the legal process or change legislation. When it comes to complex, contentious social issues, universities have a critical role to play in fostering reflection, discussion and informed debate. No matter how popular or profitable certain college sports become, athletic associations should not usurp that role. I was particularly disheartened that the NCAA took action without consulting its member universities.The role of such associations is to foster athletic competition that is fair and serves the well-being of student-athletes. There is plenty of work for them to do in that sphere without assuming the role of spokesperson for their members on contentious political and social issues.

(Fr. John I. Jenkins, President, University of Notre Dame)

[W]hen we start to treat things of significance as if they’re a spectator sport, we all lose.

(Seth Godin)

4

… and “Christian Philosophy” as if it were The Roman Arena.

On the occasion of shaming an orthodox Christian presentation at the Midwest Society of Christian Philosophers conference:

[L]iberal democracy has adopted the communist habit of denouncing dissenters from its dogmas. He says this is politically useful to the left. Excerpt:

It allowed discrediting one’s opponent without entering into substantive argument. There was no sense in analyzing the opponent’s views on their merits, such an analysis being usually inconclusive and politically inefficient. It was much better to show that his views represented his interests and were conditioned by his social and economic position. This way, under communism, much of philosophy, are, and literature could be discredited as arising from a bourgeois ideology, legitimizing the domination of the bourgeoisie and representing tis interests. By being identified as serving the cause of the bourgeoisie, the philosophers, artists, and writers could be arraigned on a charge of being the enemies of the socialist revolution and standing in the way of the future, often with lamentable consequences for the defendants.

“This practically put an end to any form of intellectual argumentation,” says Legutko. “No one argued, but either accused someone of ideological treason or defended himself against such a charge.”

Today, when someone is accused of homophobia, the mere fact of accusation allows no effective reply. To defend oneself  by saying that homosexual and heterosexual unions are not equal, even if supported by most persuasive arguments, only confirms the charge of homophobia because the charge itself is never a matter of discussion. The only way out for the defendant is to submit a self-criticism, which may or may not be accepted. When the poor daredevil is adamant and imprudently answers back, a furious pack of enraged lumpen-intellectuals inevitably trample the careless polemicist into the ground.

Prudent people — both then and now — anticipate such reactions and made a preemptive move before saying anything reckless. Under communism, the best tactic was to start by condemning the forces of reaction and praising the socialist progress; then one could risk smuggling in a reasonable, though somewhat audacious statement, preferably wrapped in quotations from Marx and Lenin. In a liberal democracy, it is best to start with a condemnation of homophobia followed by the praise of the homosexual movement, and only then sheepishly include something commonsensical, but only using the rhetoric of tolerance, human rights, and the documents issued by the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. Otherwise one invites trouble.

The characteristic feature of both societies — communist and liberal democratic — was that a lot of things simply could not be discussed because they were unquestionably bad or unquestionably good. Discussing them was tantamount to casting doubts on something whose value had been unequivocally determined.

(Rod Dreher, quoting Ryszard Legutko)

Again, that the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers felt obliged to apologize for a speech given by one of the world’s most accomplished Christian philosophers — a speech in which the 82-year-old Swinburne defended basic Christian orthodoxy — and indeed to garland his apology with the Orwellian terms “diversity” and “inclusion,” is a very bad sign. These people are going to have their diversity and inclusion, no matter how monotonous and exclusive they have to be to get it. Four legs good, two legs bad!

Of what use is the Society of Christian Philosophers if one cannot go to its meetings and debate basic philosophical positions derived from Christian teaching ?

(Dreher, emphasis added) That “diversity and inclusion” garland is just infuriating.

* * * * *

“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.