Wednesday, 11/15/17

  1. The True Theologian
  2. Eradicating stereotypes
  3. Post-Liberalism
  4. Richard Wilbur
  5. Economic and political heresy at First Things
  6. Bourgeois Religion
  7. Remedy for Ruination
  8. Twitter commentary


An Eastern Orthodox aphorism is “the true theologian is the one who prays well.” There is little room in Orthodoxy for religious admiration of academic “doing theology,” in a way that could be—and sometimes is—”done” by people who have lost their faith, or even never had faith. “Innovation,” “novel,” and even “new” are not great marketing terms in Orthodoxy.

I’m reminded of this by a little dust-up in American Orthodox cyberspace over the last day or two. A young scholar of my acquaintance, with advanced degrees from universities of some renown, has gone and done some theology, coming up with a novel approach to one of the trendy topics of the day, and has gone public with it.

Novel approaches tend to get a pretty icy reception in Orthodoxy, except when the reception is fiery. The responses here have been on the fiery side, laying much blame at the feet of a doctoral adviser who is not universally trusted among us.

I’m sympathetic to both the scholar and the critics. Two of the strident critics (popularizers more than scholars, they) played key parts in my arrival in Orthodoxy, and I can’t cease being grateful to them even if I’m kinda pissed of at their tone now. As for the scholar, I recall how heavily I got invested emotionally in my (brilliant, world-changing) law journal note—which the world greeted with neither ice, nor fire, nor even a yawn.

In a forced choice, I’d side with the critics rather than the scholar. It’s not even a close call for me. But I have no scholarly credentials with which to pontificate, and I’m resolutely opposed to allowing any more tribalism into my life.


I suspect that stereotypes will always be with us because they have a grain of truth (or more) to them. So I viewed skeptically an article on ridding ourselves of stereotypes about aging. (I could even say “I laughed until the tears ran down my leg,” but that would be an ageist stereotype.)

But if you’re really hell-bent on destroying stereotypes about anything, these seem like decent strategies:

  1. Stop buying any products or services marketed by companies that are reinforcing stereotypes.
  2. Avoid spending time with people who apply stereotypes as an ingrained way of life.
  3. Stop subscribing to, or viewing, any media that originates or perpetuates stereotypes.
  4. Listen carefully to what you say and think, keeping a journal of self-observations.
  5. Ask others to listen to you and be the reality check for your use of stereotypes.
  6. Take a hard look at the communities of which you are a member. Are they affinity groups with little or no diversity of thought or humanness? If the answer is yes, replace any you can.
  7. Make friends with, and spend time with, people who are the targets of your stereotypes.

It won’t be easy, but it can be done. It’s called active intention.

Good luck. I’ll be otherwise occupied.


Any attempt not to be liberal seems to descend into something more primitive and dangerous, thereby confirming in the eyes of many the rightness and righteousness of liberal belief.

One would think that as the carnage of liberalism accumulates, alternatives to it would be attracting support. And in one sense they are. How else to understand Trump and Brexit and the National Front (FN) in France except as in part post-liberal? …

Why, if liberalism is so dreadful, are the post-liberalisms that we have seemingly worse? Milbank and Pabst fear that in the absence of a “democracy of the psyche, it is all too possible that quasi-fascist tendencies will increase their appeal and eventually seize power across Europe, and even, in the United States.” They call fascism “travestied post-liberalism,” and rightly so. Fascism is but liberalism followed to its logical conclusion, combining a worship of the state and the collective will embodied in the dear leader.

If post-liberals are to avoid fascism, they must cease to be secular. It is here that Milbank and Pabst advance virtue theory beyond where its secular advocates have left it. The problem with secular virtue theory is that it remains too subjective. Despite its claims, it too often accepts that it is just one moral option among others. It had clear realist implications in MacIntyre, but they were never followed through. If virtue theory has nothing objective or “realist” attached to it, why would it appeal? It must explain why reality would care for human beings, why it would disclose their proper path or “ought” to them. Only Christianity or some other loving monotheism can do this.

So it is fitting that Milbank and Pabst issue an implicit call to realism and an explicit call to Christianity. A just politics requires “the weight of objectivity and the glimpsed seriousness of the Good.”

(Phillip Blond, author of Red Tory, reviewing The Politics of Virtue) Have Trumpism and Brexit and the FN sunk in enough that you’d entertain a post-secular post-liberalism?

Remember, if you didn’t like the Religious Right, you’re really going to hate the irreligious right—Nietzscheans and neo-Nazis.


Richard Wilbur, poet, died recently. Reviewer A.M. Juster thinks he deserved a better biography than Robert and Mary Bagg wrote:

The Baggs stoop to that level by speculating about whether Wilbur had an affair in France during World War II—solely on the basis of one photograph of him posing with a woman that someone in France had sent to his wife. Charlee Wilbur’s feisty and forgiving 1945 letter to her husband in response to that photograph might well be the high point of this entire book:

You’re a dolt! Did you really think you had to forewarn me about that picture of you and that sexy-looking French Frail? Even if I saw a picture of you actually in bed with such a babe, I shouldn’t think any other thought than—“god, I’d like to be in her shoes!” (Or out of them as the case might be.) You must remember that I have tremendous respect for your essential taste. And I also have great faith in and dependence upon our common love so that whatever you did couldn’t possibly touch the good that ties us irrevocably together.


There are rumors of economic and political heresy at First Things. My reassessment of Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism earlier this year raised suspicions that I’m guiding the journal in an “anti-capitalist” direction. Some say the magazine flirts with “socialism.” …

It’s ironic that the heresy-hunting comes under the banner of liberal ideals. But that’s what happens when liberalism becomes a thin, rigid creed rather than a rich, flexible tradition.

The countries in the West that promote liberal democracy are not islands of toleration, diversity, and free inquiry. Instead, Vermeule writes, echoing Legutko, they are dominated by “a spreading social, cultural, and ideological conformism.” Liberalism has become a religion. Those who dissent are heretics.

[Ryzard] Legutko’s goal—my goal—is not to undermine “liberalism.” It is to clear away some of the blind dogmatism that has built up in the West, especially since 1989. It won’t do to label our efforts “illiberal” just because they call into question the dominant mentality of our time. In fact, that accusation reinforces the totalitarian atmosphere. Contemporary liberalism rarely answers critics. Instead, it silences dissent by labeling it “extremist,” “far-right,” “authoritarian,” and “illiberal.” We can’t come to grips with the problems we face in 2017 if we are constantly policed.

[I]t is not illiberal to question the increasingly dysfunctional, post-1989 version of liberal dogma. On the contrary, the future of liberalism as a living tradition requires us to do so. We need to save our liberal tradition from the politically correct madness that can’t even affirm the male-female difference. But we also need to save it from a decadent, creedal liberalism that licenses free market fundamentalists to smear critics of today’s economic status quo as “socialists” and encourages failed neoconservative internationalists to cry “Putin” whenever anyone disagrees. That’s hardly liberal.

(R.R. Reno, Liberal Tradition, Yes; Liberal Ideolodgy, No)


The December, 2017 “Public Square” commentary in First Things is outstanding, the preceding gem being followed by a column on Bourgeois Religion, apropos of the current Francis papacy, that only a perceptive Catholic could or should write (same URL). From an Orthodox, it would sound even more harsh than the next item (and would open up some tu quoque sniping)..


Composer and Catholic James MacMillan writing in a recent issue of Standpoint:

In the 1970s many well-intentioned types thought that such “folk” music and pop culture derivatives would appeal to teenagers and young people and get them more involved in the Church, when the exact opposite has happened. It is now thought that these trendy experiments in music and liturgy have contributed to the increasing risible irrelevance of liberal Christianity, and that liturgy as social engineering has repulsed many. Like most ideas shaped by 1960s Marxist ideology it has proved an utter failure. Its greatest tragedy is the willful, disingenuous, de-poeticisation of Catholic worship. The Church has simply aped the secular West’s obsession with “accessibility”, “inclusiveness”, “democracy”, and anti-elitism, resulting in the triumph of bad taste, banality and a deflation of the sense of the sacred in the life of the church.

The remedy for ruination is not complicated. Ditch the guitars, and return to ancient plainchant. Toss the vestments that look like cut-rate costumes for the Ballets Russes—already a caricature when they were adopted by liturgical progressives in the 1970s—and put on something dignified. Celebrate ad orientem.

Let me repeat: Celebrate ad orientem. It’s the single most important change a parish can make to raise worship upward, directing our worship toward God. We don’t build community by looking at each other. It comes when we’re shoulder to shoulder, seeking a higher end.

(R.R. Reno, reformatted)

Ad orientum means facing east—including the priest (yes, his back will be turned to you;  real worship is soooooo “not about you”)—as ecclesial Christians did for about 1960 years and which the Orthodox still do.


Look What You Made Me Do,” conservative political variant:

Got that: Character is what you fake when there’s no costs associated with good character.

Good work, conservatives—especially faux-religious tribalists.

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“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.