Thursday 12/22/16

  1. Rex Gentium
  2. Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus
  3. Things Jesus Never Said
  4. Solstice
  5. Legal Year in Review
  6. Why Russell Moore Matters
  7. Doubling down
  8. Men Who Give, Women Who Care


First Things

1

By the time you read this, Malcolm Guite should have posted his meditation and sonnet on Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations. You could do much worse than to take a deep breath, clear your mind, and take a five-minute visit.

Secondary Things

2

Addison Del Mastro, Editorial Assistant of the American Conservative, has posted a story on Frederik Pohl’s 1956 short story, Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus.

Pohl has been called “a significant critic of the bland optimism of Eisenhower’s America.” But Pohl—unlike, say, Annie Leonard or Naomi Klein—does not fit neatly into the category of leftish social critics. In fact, that might be a reason he has mostly been forgotten.

George, the main character of Happy Birthday, does more than walk around the department store where he works and nonchalantly observe the desecration of the sacred holiday. He is, in fact, utterly unaware that it is a sacred holiday. But that begins to change when Lilymary Hargreave, a young and qualified but rather odd new hire, shows up.

To a modern, secular liberal, half of Pohl’s message is expected and half is not. The same will be true for many modern conservatives, only the halves are reversed. This is because Pohl understood his critiques of capitalism and his sympathetic portrayal of religion and traditional families to be inextricable from each other. For him, capitalism, especially consumer capitalism, was an irreconcilable enemy of tradition, morality, and spirituality.

This is evidenced by little details like a curious, passing reference to “conditional” marriage and to falling in love “impetuously … like a teenager after his first divorce.” These referred to his 1952 work The Space Merchants, whose plot centers significantly around conditional marriage, which expires after one year but may be renewed and made permanent. It was a notion ahead of its time, and if anything was too conservative. (On December 24, 1956, Life reported—describing it as a significant increase over previous decades—that 2.3 percent of adult women were divorced.) Pohl believed that the forward march of consumerism as an all-pervading way of life would render impossible the endurance of human relations as anything other than a variant of commercialism.

Pohl did often touch on themes of class, and he was also something of an environmentalist. But at heart he believed that consumerism was incompatible with virtue. Financial profligacy, he understood, could only end in moral bankruptcy. This insight has mostly escaped both the Christian-leaning right, which did not understand the mortal threat capitalism presented to its vaunted “traditional values,” and the progressive left, which has steadfastly opposed consumerism but mostly for secular, materialist reasons ….

This is decidedly not the sort of book apt to be lionized in our consumer culture or in our secular, progressive enclaves.

Tertiary Things

3

I hear it often said that Jesus never uttered a word about sodomy. That is like saying that he never uttered a word about the eating of children.

(Anthony Esolen) That quip didn’t come out of thin air, but you’ll need to visit the original for the context.

Professor Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. He has a recent translation of Danté’s Divine Comedy. And he’s a conservative who interrogated the diversity god:

When I see the word “diversity” in its current use as a political slogan, I ask myself the following questions:

What is diversity, as opposed to divergence?
What is diversity, as opposed to mere variety?
What goods, precisely, is diversity supposed to deliver?
Why is intellectual diversity not served by the study of a dozen cultures of the past, with their vast array of customs, poetry, art, and worship of the gods?

Is not diversity as it is now preached a solvent for any culture?

That god is now hounding him at his putatively Catholic College.

4

As of yesterday, Sol Invictus resumed his push toward warmth in the northern hemisphere. As usual, Flywheel Earth is resisting the acceleration.

So I feel every year around this time.

5

Legal year in Review highlights:

July: The NBA decided to move its All-Star Game out of North Carolina because it does not believe there is any difference between men and women. The WNBA made no comment, to our knowledge.

6

The Wall Street Journal on Monday published a story on blow-back Russell Moore is getting from within his Southern Baptist Convention, including this:

[S]ome pastors fear Mr. Moore’s criticisms of President-elect Trump mean he can’t be an effective advocate within the Trump White House, thereby costing Baptists a chance to capitalize on a victory for the religious right.

“He’s going to have no access, basically, to President Trump,” said Mr. Graham, the Texas pastor.

Rod Dreher considers that, more or less, a feature rather than a bug:

I’m a religious conservative who concluded some years back that our tribe had become way too involved with politics. I don’t worry at all about the church corrupting the state. I worry about the pursuit of state power corrupting the church. We got way too cozy with the Republican Party. In 2006, David Kuo, an Evangelical who had worked in the Bush White House on faith-based initiatives, blew the whistle on how emissaries from the Religious Right were seen within the White House …

On David’s telling, even in a White House led by a believing Evangelical, George W. Bush, conservative Evangelicals weren’t taken seriously. The progressive Evangelical academic David Gushee writes this week that Christian leaders who think having access to the White House means they will be taken seriously in policy decisions are fooling themselves. He should know: he was one of the religious leaders brought in to the circles around President Obama, but says now that the value of this exercise was not to their causes, but to the cause of keeping the Religious Left fired up for Obama. Gushee now contends that religious leaders who fall for the allure of access to political power are “useful idiots” for politicians.

Dreher continues:

I can understand orthodox Christians voting for Trump as the lesser of two serious evils, but in that case, for believers, it ought to have been a sackcloth-and-ashes moment. I saw somewhere a link to this 1998 Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials, passed by the Southern Baptist Convention in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment over the Lewinsky affair. It says, in part:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 9-11, 1998, in Salt Lake City, Utah, affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we urge all citizens, including those who serve in public office, to submit themselves respectfully to governing authorities and to the rule of law; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists and other Christians to fulfill their spiritual duty to pray regularly for the leaders of our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-4); and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.

Seems to me that Russell Moore, in speaking out against Trump on the basis of Trump’s public character, was being faithful to Southern Baptist policy — which, one must hope, applies equally to Republican candidates for office as it does to Democratic ones.

I encourage you to read Dreher’s Why Russell Moore Matters. There’s much more there, including quotes from and links to Moore’s Erasmus Lecture for First Things. 

It’s more than ironic that Moore, restoring a prophetic voice and a historic Baptist wariness of entanglement with government, is getting faulted by a bunch of Baptist ministers — ministers whose behavior lends credibility to the tendency of the secular press to treat religion as just another variety of power politics. I leave it to the reader to decide whether, for Moore’s most vocal opponents, that’s really true.

7

Mark Tushnet, in the course of “doubling down” on the position that the culture wars are over and his side won, turns to gay rights:

[W]hat about accommodations for those with religious objections to providing business services to members of that community? Here everything turns on details, which the gloaters seem to ignore. From the outset I thought — and wrote, but of course no one paid attention to it — that we were likely to end up with a limited form of accommodation. I thought that it would be for relatively small owner-operated businesses whose owners had religious objections to providing what I’d describe loosely as “expressive-related” services. And I still think that’s where we’re going to end up, though there will be variations in the details — size, what counts as an “expressive-related” service, and the like. For me, this sort of accommodation was itself an indication of the “we won” position.

Tushnet’s side, two months ago, was not interested in any accommodation even for what he calls “expressive-related services.” I suspect that such accommodations will be crammed down their throats by the federal courts and, ultimately, the Supreme Court.

To those who think otherwise, I recommend From Trial Court to the United States Supreme Court — a story of an indomitable attorney prevailing in the face of scorn and vilification. It’s probably not very well-written; I don’t remember details like that because the story itself was so gripping. And it buoys my hope that SCOTUS and the federal courts still “get” expressive activity even if Human Relations Commissions harass conscientious citizens and the state courts routinely blow it.

But as for reversal of same-sex marriage? Well, while the arc of history may bend toward justice, it also bends toward biological reality, and away from aberrations and fads that the myopic might consider simple justice — kind of like those Human Relations Commissions and state courts that Just Don’t Get It.

8

There’s something lovely and encouraging going on in my fair city —Men Who Give — and if a glass-half-empty guy like me will admit that, it’s probably a couple of times lovelier and more encouraging than I’m admitting.

What’s cooler is that Men Who Give is the B-Team (so far) to 100+ Women Who Care.

It’s not just that relatively rich people are gathering and giving. It’s the splendid array of voluntary charitable associations who are doing so much good work to care for the needy of our community.

* * * * *

“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.