Sunday, 9/24/17

  1. Second-hand Chestertonia
  2. Dodges! All dodges!
  3. Accentuate the warm and fuzzy, attenuate the difficult
  4. Judging God
  5. Civil War in an alternate universe
  6. Don’t hitch your wagon to this star
  7. The easy path
  8. Retweetable



“He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, 1909

(Via Felix Miller, H/T Rod Dreher)

More Chestertonia via Mr. Miller:

  • Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.
  • Do not enjoy yourself. Enjoy dances and theaters and joy-rides and champagne and oysters; enjoy jazz and cocktails and night-clubs if you can enjoy nothing better; enjoy bigamy and burglary and any crime in the calendar, in preference to the other alternative; but never learn to enjoy yourself.
  • The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.


In the same Chestertonian spirit as “Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative:”

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good,but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says,”Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”


I had a little dust-up with a friend on Facebook about my perhaps glib criticism of Fr. James Martin, SJ, celebrity priest and provocateur. (Yes, I can back those up. They’re not glib.)

It bothered me, as any disagreement about sexuality with this friend bothers me, because she has been battered and bruised over her sexuality even though she is now celibate (and has been for some while).

When in doubt on such disagreements, I sometimes like to see what Eve Tushnet, improbable Christian convert and crone (secondary definition), might have said on the topic, and conveniently she up and said something Friday (actually, her second something) about Fr. Martin’s new book, Building Bridges. I seriously encourage you to read it all, but here she captures far better than I why there’s cause for concern about Fr. Martin’s attenuation of the orthodox Catholic position on sexuality. The first two paragraphs are context, the third articulating my concern:

I wrote a critical piece about his book. A quick note about process: I was specifically asked not to write a review, but rather a “reflection” or essay. I’m not sure what I would have said differently in a review, though I know I would’ve framed it much less as, “Does this book have anything to say to me? Yes, somewhat, but lol mostly it doesn’t seem to know or care that people like me exist.” But in the end of course everyone read it as a review and I find myself thinking of it that way.

Even in a “review,” where I would have attempted to present the book itself to readers rather than offering what I hoped was a fruitful unexplored area for further work, I think I would have talked about the absence of gay Christians who accept the Christian sexual ethic. There are five reasons I think our absence matters to Fr. Martin’s work, and our presence would have strengthened it.

Pastoral. I’m grateful that I became Catholic already knowing what the Church teaches on sexual ethics, and that I was asked to grapple with it and accept it before I was baptized. I’ve seen people get badly hurt because they went to churches where there was ambiguity about what the Church would ultimately ask from them, and so they went about their business, marrying someone of the same sex and so on, and then suddenly they’re confronted with the Church’s actual sexual ethic and they feel not only rejected but betrayed. Snookered. Like they were conned into coming back to church.

Insofar as the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a club for saints (how I tire of that banal trope, but at least it’s true and familiar!), it seems correct to me not to condition reception into it on the achievement of X months of chastity, sobriety, diligence, or whatever virtue addresses a convert’s besetting sin(s). But let’s have no bait-and-switch or, perhaps worse, permanent lowering of any norm to boost numbers.

Fr. Martin by his own account steered clear both of denying but also of emphasizing the Church’s sexual norms, the latter omission because the sides were “just too far apart” if my memory serves me well. That surely risks what Tushnet describes.


There was a lot to like in this John Mark Reynolds blog, and I almost settled for some of the early stuff, which addresses a pet social media peeve: “Judge not” [that thing that the interlocutor tolerates cheerfully but cannot really defend].

But toward the end, he goes full theodicy on us:

When we judge what God did, we judge from a very limited perspective. This must be done, but must be done with care. For example, God can end life, because God (if God exists) has perfect knowledge. He knows what is best. We cannot, even in principle, know enough to understand exactly why any action (even one that looks positive) was taken. Why did this child get healed? Do we know? We do not.

To put it simply: God is helping us reach eternity and so many things God does (or does not do) make sense in the light of eternity. When I said this, I got this (unedited) response from a critic:

yet when the innocent are killed or allowed to suffer, their suffering is real and nothing about a god nullifies that suffering. if the writer’s god is all powerful, then suffering is under divine control. that doesn’t not make that god worthy of adoration, but rather simply the same recognition we give to such phenomena as gravity or cancer. I suppose if one had the need or some other motive one can extend to this source of power a degree of affection but such a being is shockingly unhelpful to us mortals.

Let’s unpack this paragraph. It claims two things. We suffer and God existing does not nullify that suffering. That is true, but the issue is whether our suffering is meaningful or is made meaningful. After all, not all suffering is bad. If we learn or gain from suffering (exercise), then suffering can end up being for our good. The surgeon makes me suffer, but the surgeon is good! If God is like the surgeon, then the Good God that takes the suffering human choices have caused and works them to good over eternity, compensating for the pain with growth, can be worthy of worship.

If God were (as Aristotle suggests) “unhelpful” to mortals, then God is still exists and is worthy of worship as the very ground of being. He is utterly good. I for one think it good to like the good. However, God is more than indifferent to us. He is in the long, slow, hard process of making good of our errors. He is maximizing love, hope, and joy.

That is fairly helpful. Thank God.

If you’ve got ten quiet minutes to spare (maybe five, but it needs some digesting time), it’s worth reading it all.


History is messy. It’s also famously written by the winners — except when it’s not, which is now pretty easy, for better or worse, on the internet.

The day after the Battle of Antietam:

Lee retreated back over the Potomac …, leaving Union forces in possession of the field. It was a costly (and bare) Union victory, but one that Abraham Lincoln was determined to utilize. Five days later, he issued a proclamation. The Confederate states had until January 1, 1863, to return to the Union. If they did, they could keep their slaves. Any state that refused would be subject to Lincoln’s planned Emancipation Proclamation.

Not one state returned to the fold. Instead, Lincoln would issue his Emancipation Proclamation, a document that freed slaves in the Confederate states, but not the northern states. (Yes, there were some.)

What if the Confederate states had taken Lincoln up on his offer? Would we still say that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery?

(Tara Ross, This Day in History: Union and Confederate forces face off at Antietam, Septermber 15) H/T Mike Bennett on Facebook, who made me aware of Tara Ross.


Someone reamed this Tweet for endorsing genocide of North Koreans, but I don’t buy that: Trump said a lot besides his genocide threat.

Still, being Christian, I could never endorse it as a great speech because of that.

I think this is the first time I scanned some Franklin Graham tweets. Apart from the Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief stuff, he’s pretty far out there. Even if I were still Evangelical, I don’t think I’d be hitching my wagon to this star.


It’s so much easier to bang out 2,500 words on how this or that thing means Decline & Fall than it is to reflect meaningfully on why a poem I read at bedtime the night before filled me with wonder and gratitude …

(Rod Dreher)



Yeah, cuz those Christians are intolerant:

Scratching the head over Fr. James Martin:

* * * * *

“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.