Monday, 9/18/17

    1. Death is energetic
    2. NYT tries to understand free speech …
    3. … but misses some marks
    4. Mike Huckabee’s convenient re-definition of character
    5. God’s faith in us



Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon preached a sermon recently, How Should We Describe the Human Condition. This grabbed me:

First of all, the human condition is mortal. I don’t mean simply that we’re going to die. I mean more than that. I mean that it is death-bearing.

See, long before Adam and Eve died, they had died. “On the day you eat of it, on that day, you will die.”

Death is energetic. Here’s how Paul describes it in II Corinthians: θανατος εν ημιν ενεργειται. “Death is at work in us.” …

Death is at work in us. Death is working a number on us. This does not mean simply that we’re dying. Death is actively directing our lives. Death is working on our culture. Death is working on our politics and economics. Death is at work on our art, and our architecture, and our literature, and our music. All of these things are the arenas in which we are fighting death.

This is what who I believe is the greatest prophet of the 20th Century said. I’m referring to the late bishop of Rome, John Paul II. It’s what he called the Culture of Death. Death affects our cultural forms …

I’ve got the feeling that if I give my quick-and-dirty list of death-ridden cultural phenomena, I piss off some people and short-circuit the process of reflection for others. Suffice that I could make a pretty good list if I thought it would help.


If a bakery has a free speech right to discriminate, gay groups contend, then so do all businesses that may be said to engage in expression, including florists, photographers, tailors, choreographers, hair salons, restaurants, jewelers, architects and lawyers. A ruling for Mr. Phillips, they say, would amount to a broad mandate for discrimination.

(Adam Liptak, New York Times)

Well, with the caveat that nobody thinks selling ordinary merchandise (e.g., jewelry) is expression, and that the use of “mandate” is dishonest or hysterical, yes.

No, make that “heck yes!” (or even stronger).

The implication of the parade of horribles:

  • photographers may rightly be compelled to attend and photograph an event they can’t photograph (or perhaps even attend) in good conscience; and
  • choreographers may rightly be compelled to choreograph suitably celebratory dances for an event they cannot in conscience celebrate; and
  • architects and lawyers may rightly be compelled to represent clients or or undertake projects they do not want to represent.

Every one of those compulsions is fraught with potential for charges of sabotage. “Look at these crappy pictures!” or “what the hell kind of dance is that!?” or “you didn’t really try to win my case!” The couples trying to compel expression should no more want that than the craftsmen do.

I can bear personal witness that in many instances the issue is not the client’s sexuality but the cause in which the client seeks to enlist a creative professional.

Anyone who honestly looks at Liptak’s story, despite verbal tics that gives a strong hint where the author stands, should see a few things, like that this is sheer ipse dixit:

“We asked for a cake,” Mr. Craig said. “We didn’t ask for a piece of art or for him to make a statement for us. He simply turned us away because of who we are.”

Versus this:

“I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, brownies,” Mr. Phillips recalled saying. “I just can’t make a cake for a same-sex wedding.”

“I have no problem serving anybody — gay, straight, Muslim, Hindu,” he said. “Everybody that comes in my door is welcome here, and any of the products I normally sell I’m glad to sell to anybody.”

But a custom-made wedding cake is another matter, he said.

Is it not obvious that the issue  for the craftsmen truly is custom-made goods? Has even one of the defendants in cases like this been caught refusing to sell general merchandise?

Is it not obvious that the issue for the couples truly is outrage at being reminded that same-sex marriage is not universally accepted? How about this telltale sign:

Mr. Craig’s mother had tagged along to give advice, but she never got to offer it.

Mr. Phillips shut down the conversation as soon as he heard that a gay couple was getting married.

“I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, brownies,” Mr. Phillips recalled saying. “I just can’t make a cake for a same-sex wedding.”

Mr. Mullins remembered being stunned.

“What followed was a horrible pregnant pause as what was happening really sunk in,” he said. “We were mortified and just felt degraded, and it was all the worse to have Charlie’s mom sitting there with us. You don’t want your mom to see something like that happen to you.”

I remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will set aside the gay-rights distortion factor that has prevailed too often of late and fully honor its commendable string of free speech precedents.


I need to correct two things in Adam Liptak’s story, one about the ADF brief.

This is the errant Liptak passage:

After losing the court fight on same-sex marriage, opponents regrouped and reframed their legal arguments, focusing on the rights of religious people. They say, for instance, that many businesses run on religious principles have a free speech right to violate laws that forbid discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

This is garbled enough to be misleading.

First, as to the first sentence, it is to the great credit of Alliance Defending Freedom, with whom I have an uneasy relationship, that it foresaw the threat to free speech and free exercise of religion should the gay right cause prevail — particularly if same-sex marriage was decreed. The stridency of their public pronouncements in opposition to many gay rights initiatives set my teeth on edge, but I realized long ago that their basic concern was well-founded.

So I suggest that they, like I, would have acquiesced in much of the gay rights movement had not that threat to free speech and free exercise of religion been inherent in the legal and political logic.

So when Obergefell drove the final nail into the coffin of direct opposition to same-sex marriage, it was less a matter of regrouping and reframing legal arguments than of saying “this is the day we’ve been trying to avoid all along.” In other words, Liptak’s formulation implies disingenuousness and fails to locate much of the opposition to same-sex marriage in the realization of it’s pernicious corollaries.

Liptak’s second sentence is one of the verbal tics that makes me think he’s in the couples’ side or that he, like so many lower courts, doesn’t grok the real argument. Let’s break it down.

“Many businesses run on religbious principles.” ADF has a particular concern with protecting religious believers. But every expressive artist or craftsman, religious or not, has “a free speech right.” That right is not “to violate laws,” but to decline commissions for creative works that express something they don’t believe or simply don’t wish to express even if they do believe it. “Laws that forbid discrimination against gay men and lesbians” are at issue in this case, but free speech rights extend to declining any compelled expression.

It’s really not a matter of a right to violate a law at all. It’s a matter of the law being unconstitutional if it extends so far as compelling artistic expression by an artist or craftsman. (I have trouble seeing provision of commissioned art works as a “public accommodation” in any non-Orwellian sense.)

Thus, when ADF CEO Alan Sears sought a photographer, for a family portrait to be used on an ADF Christmas card, but was rebuffed by a photographer who knew and disapproved of ADF’s work, he cheerfully moved on to another photographer. He’s just too realistic to think that everyone approves, and too decent (even if he’s strident at times) to try to punish those who disapprove.

Then I thought Liptak had goofed in this:

The government can no more force Phillips to speak those messages with his lips than to express them through his art,” the [ADF] brief said.

Unfortunately, Liptak was right. See page 2 of the Introduction to ADF’s brief. I think they meant to say  “The government can no more force Phillips to speak those messages with through his lips art than to express them through with his art, lips” — a proposition that you will not be surprised to hear me totally endorse.


To me, character is if you’re the same in public as you are in private, and I think that in many ways, that’s what’s appealing about him. It’s also what gives a lot of his critics their ammunition. Even his tweets, for example, are very transparent about what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling.

(Mike Huckabee on Donald Trump)

If one acts circumspect in public but is a bounder in private, that exhibits a lack of character. If one is a bounder both in public and in private, that too exhibits a lack of character. I’m shocked at the mental gymnastics Huckabee’s willing to engage in (read the whole Emma Green interview) in defense of Trump.

Has he no shame? Has his religion no commandment against bearing false witness?


Mean­ing comes not from sys­tems of thought but from sto­ries, and the Jew­ish story is among the most un­usual of all. It tells us that God sought to make us His part­ners in the work of cre­ation, but we re­peat­edly dis­ap­pointed Him. Yet He never gives up. He for­gives us time and again. The real re­li­gious mys­tery for Ju­daism is not our faith in God but God’s faith in us.

— Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

(Alan Jacobs)

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.