Public accommodation throw-down

  1. Anti-Democratic
  2. Public Accommodations
  3. Ya can’t give what ya don’t got
  4. Is Augustine among the synergists?
  5. Like a Seurat

1

G.K. Chesterton famously said “Tradition is the democracy of the dead. It means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors.” Well, by that criterion, Evangelicals are anti-democratic.

Reader 1: [My church] believes in and encourages people to fast and pray.  So why do we not “do” Ash Wednesday?  It’s simply because they look at anything even remotely “traditional” as the dead hand of the past and nothing more.  There is a refusal to even consider that what sustained the church for thousands of years, practices that great men and women of the faith recommended, are still useful.  They won’t even look.

Reader 2: Offer anything beyond a middle school level argument, and 90% of people will tune you out. This isn’t an Evangelical problem, it’s an American problem. We are far more American than Christian.

He’s right about that. This isn’t an Evangelical problem. It’s an American Catholic problem too. It’s an American Orthodox problem. It’s an American problem, period. If the American churches are doing everything right, how do we explain sociologist Christian Smith’s shocking findings? How, for example, do we account for the fact that, according to Smith’s research, 60 percent of American Christians aged 18 to 23 say they have no problem whatsoever with materialism and consumerism, and 31 percent say that they have some qualms about these things, but they can’t do anything about it, so … whatever? How do we explain the fact thatreligion is collapsing among younger Americans — especially young men — at a rate never before recorded? How do we account for research indicating that the percentage of Americans who don’t pray or believe in God has “reached an all-time low”?

These things aren’t just happening. They’re happening for a series of reasons. The churches who continue to behave as if these are normal times are going to die. Look at Europe.

I would only offer to the leaders of this reader’s church — and maybe your church too — these lines from The Benedict Option:

How do we take Benedictine wisdom out of the monastery and apply it to the challenges of worldly life in the twenty-first century? It is to this question that we now turn. The way of Saint Benedict is not an escape from the real world but a way to see that world and dwell in it as it truly is. Benedictine spirituality teaches us to bear with the world in love and to transform it as the Holy Spirit transforms us. The Benedict Option draws on the virtues in the Rule to change the way Christians approach politics, church, family, community, education, our jobs, sexuality, and technology.

And it does so with urgency. When I first told Father Cassian about the Benedict Option, he mulled my words and replied gravely, “Those who don’t do some form of what you’re talking about, they’re not going to make it through what’s coming.”

(Rod Dreher)

2

I return to the still-timely topic of anti-discrimination laws versus bakers, photographers, florists, calligraphers, and other artists/artisans.

You know the setup: one of these folks declines to bake/photograph/arrange/inscribe invitations for a same-sex “wedding.” (No apology for the scare quotes.)

I continue to believe, as I began believing three years or more ago, that we borrow trouble when we frame the religious freedom side (no apology for the lack of scare quotes.) of the religious freedom versus non-discrimination debate in terms of religious people (bigots if you prefer) seeking an exception to the general rule of non-discrimination.

I think the correct approach takes us one step further back.

We have seen recently the publicized refusal of certain fashion designers to create a dress in which Melania Trump would appear at her husband’s inauguration. The Right blogosphere erupted less in anger than in derisive cries of hypocrisy. The designers’ objections weren’t even framed in terms of free exercise of religion or freedom from compelled expression. Yet nobody really seems to think that those designers should be forced, on pain of fines and injunctions, to make and execute a design when they don’t want to.

I think the reason is that we know in our gut that custom design work is not a public accommodation — public accommodation being the evolving concept (it started off with Inns and Taverns for weary travelers on dusty roads) that triggers the proprietor’s duty not do discriminate. We know viscerally that fashion designers should be able to turn down specific commissions or even specific customers, no questions asked.

Neither, I suggest, are bakers and florists as creators of commissioned cakes and arrangements, or photographers and calligraphers in general, “public accommodations.” (I floated a series of hypothetical cases 23 months ago that you might want to consider, though I spoke there of exceptions to general laws, not of wrong-headed general laws.)

If one of those hoity-toity conscientiously objecting fashion designers was affiliated with, and located within, Saks Fifth Avenue, I don’t think the analysis would change just because Saks also is in the business of selling stuff off-the-rack. 

By the same token, the florist with a refrigerator full of grab-and-go “Oh darn! I forgot this is her birthday!” bouquets, or the baker with cases full of cookies, bear claws, éclairs, crème horns and such, may be a public accommodation obliged not to discriminate as to such merchandise, but should not be seen as a public accommodation when it comes to custom orders — be they from Melania Trump or from Adam & Fred.

When we define “public accommodation” so broadly that it includes any general invitation to “come make me an offer for my personal services,” we create a form of involuntary servitude. A free country should define “public accommodation” more narrowly.

For that matter, a free country should also resist pressure to declare new protected classes. Not every characteristic is the equivalent of race, nor is every pocket of private disapproval equivalent to the systemic, soul- and opportunity-crushing  de jure discrimination of Jim Crow. Protected class status ought to be more than proof that you’ve gotten a sympathetic ear (or pandering compliance) from 50%+1 of some legislative body.

I’ve also noted that, from my own experience in photography, it may be a legitimate cavil for an artist/artisan to note that “I don’t have the artistic vocabulary to do the quality of job you doubtless want to celebrate your special occasion. You would be better served by someone who thinks he does. You wouldn’t ask Eero Saarinen to design Louis XV style, would you?”

This item is for the record. Because it’s “beyond a middle school level argument,” 90% or so, including lawyers, will tune me out. But I’ve driven my stake in the ground anyway.

3

[T]here’s not a lot government can do to keep online pornography out of the hands of America’s kids. There are lots of conservative Christian parents who go to church on Sunday, send their kids to Christian school, and who silently thank God that their kids are not having to deal with the moral chaos in public schools. And yet, these same parents hand their little kids smartphones (somebody in Dallas told me that you’re starting to see seven year olds with their first iPhones) through which hardcore porn and all the other sewage on the Internet can stream uninterrupted. And we have the nerve to think that we’re better off than the world? We need to repent and get our own houses in order. How can we be light unto the world, and help heal the brokenness and suffering of modern society, when we participate so uncritically in the habits that cause its brokenness and suffering? We cannot give what we do not have.

The sickness in civil society is one of the things The Benedict Option is meant to address. The argument goes something like this:

  1. We all live in “liquid modernity,” an unprecedented time of massive flux and instability in the lives of individuals, families, and communities;
  2. The churches can and should be an ark of stability offering rescue, shelter, and solidarity to all people lost at sea in liquid modernity;
  3. The church can best do that not by trying to do that directly, but by having that emerge as the by-product of its much more vigorous embrace of Christianity’s teachings and traditional practices, and a more intentional embrace of community within the church;

(Rod Dreher)

4

When I was a Calvinist, I fancied myself spiritual kin with St. Augustine, which I equated being in touch with the pristine and “primitive” Christian faith.

That was sort of true, though I mostly liked Calvin for his ideas that aligned with Calvinism (I still think they’re real), and I was unaware of the Church Fathers in the East (relative to whom Augustine was an outlier in his proto-Calvinism). Augustine was essentially the only towering figure of the era in the West, while the East was teeming with towering figures — with whom Augustine was not conversant because he wasn’t fluent in Greek.

Anyway, one of the things I missed in Augustine was this:

If you’re a Protestant monergist, especially one who fancies himself Augustinian, you might want to chew on that a bit.

5

There are so many points of contact between Russia and the Trump campaign that it’s starting, like a Seurat painting, to look like something.

(David Brooks on All Things Considered) I disagree, but liked the simile.

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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