Thursday 10/13/16

  1. Two Book Recommendations
  2. America 4.0
  3. “Complications”
  4. Religious Right lives on in Rolodexes
  5. Baptist Mensch
  6. Scary Hillary on Russia


Perhaps I’m an eensy-weensy bit on the Autism spectrum: I’ve never fully gotten the hang of this “tact” thing, and tend to think unkind thoughts about some of what’s called tactful but that I might call … oh, something tactless.

In any event, I have made no secret of my Christian trajectory:

  1. An early awareness that my behavior sometimes was bad enough to disappoint Jesus, who loved me. A tearful, childlike repentance.
  2. A fairly healthy generic family Evangelicalism up to about age 14.
  3. A well-intentioned hothouse Evangelicalism that in hindsight was obsessed with lurid speculation about the future, under the guise of “Bible prophecy,” and which left the impression that if you didn’t believe that way, you were no true Christian.
  4. An epiphany around age 19 that kept me in church when I was very tempted to leave.
  5. An epiphany in my late twenties that disenthralled me of stage 3 of my Christian formation and led me to Calvinism/Reformed Christianity.
  6. A burst of epiphanies in my mid- to late-forties that disenthralled me of key Protestant distinctives and led me to Orthodox Christianity.

I’ve made no secret that I don’t consider Orthodoxy “true for me,” but true. Full stop. Get on board the Ark of Salvation.

There I go being tactless again. Let me change course and commend to you two books that just might make sense (better still, strike a responsive chord) without offense.

Tom Howard, Evangelical is not Enough. Howard, brother of Elizabeth Elliot Leith (for whose first husband, missionary martyr Jim Elliot, a residence hall at Wheaton College is named) and an Evangelical’s Evangelical by upbringing, found what the book’s title says.

In this deeply moving narrative, Thomas Howard describes his pilgrimage from Evangelicalism (which he loves and reveres as the religion of his youth) to liturgical Christianity. He soon afterward became a Roman Catholic. He describes Evangelicalism with great sympathy and then examines more formal, liturgical worship with the freshness of someone discovering for the first time what his soul had always hungered for. This is a book of apologetics without polemics. Non-Catholics will gain an appreciation of the formal and liturgical side of Catholicism. Catholics will see with fresh eyes the beauty of their tradition. Worship, prayer, the Blessed Virgin, the Mass, and the liturgical year are taken one after the other, and what may have seemed routine and repetitive suddenly comes to life under the enchanting wand of Howard’s beautiful prose.

Howard unfolds for us just what occurs in the vision and imagination of a Christian who, nurtured in the earnestness of Protestant Evangelicalism, finds himself yearning for “whatever-it-is” that has been there in the Church for 2000 years. It traces Howard’s soul-searching and shows why he believes the practices of the liturgical Church are an invaluable aid for any Christian’s spiritual life. Reminiscent of the style and scope of Newman, Lewis and Knox, this book is destined to be a classic.

(Amazon book note) Everything that led him to Rome could as well have led him to Orthodoxy, as I think he has acknowledged. Howard is a literary type who writes beautifully, too.

Matthew Gallatin, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells. I read this book with delight when it first came out, wishing it had been there when I was transitioning to Orthodoxy.

Beginning in the street ministry days of the Jesus Movement, Matthew Gallatin devoted more than 20 years to evangelical Christian ministry. He was a singer/songwriter, worship leader, youth leader, and Calvary Chapel pastor. Nevertheless, he eventually accepted a painful reality: no matter how hard he tried, he was never able to experience the God whom he longed to know. In encountering Orthodox Christianity, he finally found the fullness of the Faith. In Thirsting for God, Gallatin expresses many of the struggles a Protestant will encounter in coming face to face with Orthodoxy: such things as Protestant relativism, rationalism versus the Orthodox sacramental path to God, and the unity of Scripture and Tradition. He also discusses praying with icons, praying formal prayers, and many other Orthodox traditions. This book will help Orthodox readers more deeply appreciate their faith and will give Protestant readers a more thorough understanding of the Church.

(Amazon book note)


From my cyberfriend John, who I narrowly missed meeting in the flesh last January:

I consider myself a thorough-going declinist, which is easier than saying hell-in-a-handbasketist.  And I am quite comfortable in that worldview. To be clear, this is not at all the same thing as doom-and-gloom pessimism.  For us, the situation is hopeless, but not serious.  For them, everything is forever hopeless and serious …  

Maureen Mullarkey has an interesting take on [we are Rome, collapsing,] in a recent article here.  She too warns about the danger of reading ourselves into the past.  The quote sometimes attributed to Albert Schweitzer is appropriate here–”looking into the well of history and seeing only ourselves in the reflection.”  Mullarkey warns that to say “that conditions today are ‘shockingly similar’ to those in Rome at the advent of Christianity is to confuse symptoms with causes.”  Nor, she says, should we “bend history to fit homiletics.”  Her conclusion is well worth noting.  Mullarkey posits that pagan Rome was, in fact, deeply religious, committed to ritual, if not dogma.  “The pagan temperament was not nihilist.  By contrast, modern man has put God out of mind…What we face today is not paganism.  It is the desolate freedom of the nihilist.”  

The “God and Country” crowd erroneously believe they own the “decline” argument. Their solutions are nostalgically simple, usually involving decisions made at the ballot box or on the battlefield  …

[O]ur decline has been in place for far longer than those who see only recent developments. And I would add that the roots of decay run so deep that they transcend traditional political remedies.

Since the late nineteenth century, each generation has managed to put enough gas in the vehicle of Western culture to keep it going. But in any decline, one eventually reaches rock bottom. The question facing us is, have we now reached it? The jadedness, ennui, and mind-numbed distraction of many modern people—a tableau of decadence mimicking The Romans of the Decadence—seems to suggest that we have. The only response to such a situation is what Jacob Burckhardt did: rediscover, hoard, and cherish the cultural treasures of our past.

As John Lukacs observed, living at the end of an age is not such a bad thing, if you are aware of it.

I believe the block-quote is of Michael del Sapio quoting Jacob Burckhardt.

I think “declinist” probably is a better description of me than is “pessimist.” “Declinist” seems to connote inevitability, like the playing out of a tragedy (caused, of course, by tragic flaw(s)).

But after the tragedy is fully played out, there will be some sort of America 4.0, bearing more or less resemblance to beta (the Articles of Confederation), 1.0 (the Constitution), 2.0 (the Constitution after the Civil War Amendments) and 3.0 (the New Deal).


One of the great gifts of our Anglo-American system of law is the presumption of innocence, and of freedom of action and non-action. Under the common law in this country, we can do (or not do) as we please without fear of being prosecuted or sued unless we have violated some pre-existing duty. That is, while we may deserve criticism or blame for acting selfishly or irresponsibly, we can be brought before a court, either by a prosecutor or by another citizen who claims we have wronged him, only if we break a law (by, say, stealing) or by committing a civil wrong—as by breaking a contractual promise or by recklessly driving over someone’s foot.

In a free country, exceptions to this rule must be rare and well founded …

The extension of such anti-discrimination protections … has brought complications …

A merchant who sells to the public but refuses to sell to a homosexual simply because he is gay is violating laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Mrs. Stutzman did no such thing. One would think that this would be obvious, given the fact that Mrs. Stutzman had repeatedly sold flowers to Mr. Ingersoll over the course of nine years before the incident that produced this litigation. Only when Mr. Ingersoll asked her to design custom floral arrangements specifically for his same-sex wedding did Mrs. Stutzman decline. She never refused to sell him flowers and in the past had designed custom arrangements for other occasions for him. It was only when she was asked to design custom arrangements for a same-sex wedding did she declined.

(Bruce Frohnen) This is a very apt summary of the Stutzman case, typos and grammar oddities notwithstanding.


A lot of people are saying the religious right is almost dead. It isn’t. It will be around. It will evolve. But prophets of its demise are right about one thing: Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell, Jr., et al are leaders without followers. They don’t really speak for many people at all. The only reason we hear about them is that political reporters call them for comment and they are always eager to get their names in the papers.

Christian Rightists’ only shred of relevance is their place in journalists’ Rolodexes. Reporters should just stop calling them.

(Jacob Lupfer)


Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention is a mensch:

Very early in the campaign season, you said that evangelicals shouldn’t support Trump for president. At first, it seemed as if he might not win them over, but now they seem to have come on board. Do you have an explanation for that? Part of the explanation is the recent alliance between the Republican Party and American evangelicalism. I think many evangelicals believe that they face a binary choice and they have no option but to support one of the two. When I talk to pro-Trump evangelicals, the Supreme Court is the primary concern for them.

Do you find their arguments personally persuasive? No, but I understand why people across the religious and political spectrum would conclude that they have to wrestle with their consciences and vote for one of these candidates. I’m pro-life, pro-family, pro-racial reconciliation, pro-immigrant and pro-character in office, so no matter what happens in November, I lose.

Between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which one do you think you might find more common cause with if he or she were elected? I don’t know. I think that it would vary from issue to issue. It’s been a fairly contentless election or at least a shifting kaleidoscope of content, and so I have no way to predict.

I could pretty safely predict to you that Hillary Clinton is going to be working on criminal-justice reform and sentence reform, sex trafficking, racial reconciliation. We could go down a menu of issues you might potentially be invited to the White House to talk about with her. Name something you could find common cause on with Donald Trump. I don’t know where the points of commonality would be because I don’t actually know where he would stand in office. But I agree with him on Mike Pence and La Guardia Airport, for sure.

(Italics added)

“I don’t know where the points of commonality would be because I don’t actually know where he would stand in office.” Priceless and true. And any sentient Trump supporter knows that his word salads have no real content.


From the Russian perspective, the United States keeps demanding that there be regime change in nations where Russia has vital security assets. To avoid the potential loss of access to a naval base, Putin violated the sovereignty of Ukraine and annexed Crimea. In Syria, Russia is also protecting the regime that grants it naval access to the Mediterranean Sea. Increasingly, Russia is signaling that it is willing to escalate in these minor conflicts faster than America because Moscow sees its most basic interests threatened.

… Although America had been covertly intervening in the Syrian civil war for some time, America’s overt intervention in Syria did not get support from Congress in 2013, mostly because it was wildly unpopular with the public.

And that is what is so nerve-wracking about the way that Clinton has now begun redefining America’s mission in Syria once again. At first, Obama went over the top of public opinion to avenge American honor against ISIS. Slowly, America’s mission has crept to include some form of regime change with the ouster of Assad. Now Clinton is selling the American people on greater military interventions so that the U.S. can challenge Putin.

Clinton seems unable to distinguish between what is of vital interest to the Russians and peripheral interest to America. She combines this with her bias toward always taking action — of any sort, for good or ill. The combination is dangerous. And it makes the Republicans’ inability to field someone capable of challenging her intelligently on these terms even more egregious.

My sincere hope is that she is just lying about her intentions with Russia and Syria.

(Michael Brendan Dougherty, Let’s hope Hillary Clinton is lying about Syria and Russia)

* * * * *

“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.