Tuesday, 11/21/17

      1. Taking the Cure
      2. Pssst! The reprobate Republican got born again! Pass it on!
      3. No surprises here (not if you think about it)
      4. On Journalism, indirectly
      5. Error has no rights
      6. Under-explored contradictions



Because it riffed off a New York Times article, whereas I no longer subscribe to the Times, and because it pulled in (or at) so many different threads, I read and then moved on from Rod Dreher’s Escaping Politicized Evangelicalism.

But it kept coming back and haunting me in a way (it was haunting me when I wrote Monday’s blog). Surely there are some people who are fed-up Evangelicals, and maybe some of them read this blog, and maybe I can offer them something hopeful.

So I used one of my free New York Times articles to read Molly Worthen’s How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism, which is easier to excerpt than is Dreher, at least in what I think the relevant parts.

Of politicized Evangelicalism and the escape route (from a 30,000-foot view):

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

… “Their loyalties are much more strongly formed by conservative media than their churches,” Ms. Schiess said. “That’s the challenge for church leaders today, I think — rediscovering rather ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.”

When I sought out conservative and progressive critics of white evangelical politics and asked them how to best understand it, this was their answer: pay attention to worship, both inside and outside of church, because the church is not doing its job. Humans thrive on ritual and collective acts of devotion. And the way we worship has political consequences. It shapes our response to evil and our reaction to people different from ourselves.

The philosopher James K. A. Smith, who teaches at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has argued that our lives are shot through with unconscious acts of worship, whether we genuflect at the Apple Store or wake up whispering prayers for our child’s admission to the Ivy League. “We are, ultimately, liturgical animals because we are fundamentally desiring creatures,” he writes in his book “Desiring the Kingdom.” “We are what we love.”

All these people have one thing in common: the instinct that worship should be an act of humility, not hubris. It should be a discomfiting experience, not a doubling down on what’s easy and familiar. The battle for the soul of evangelicalism, the struggle to disentangle it from white supremacy, from misogyny — and from the instinct to defend politicians like Roy Moore — demands sound arguments grounded in evidence. But the effort must also advance at the precognitive level, in the habits and relationships of worshiping communities. Fellowship has the power to refashion angry gut feelings and instead form meek hearts and bounden duty.

This is a rather long-winded way of saying what is distilled, beautifully I think, in the maxim lex orandi, lex crendendithe law of prayer is the law of belief. What you habitually steep yourself in will surely color you. I’m quite pleased to see the recognition of it, even if it’s long-winded.

That maxim cuts both ways.

I’m not as ready to lay blame on Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson as are Ms. Schiess and Worthen. I suspect that some of the orandi of political Evangelicalism is actual church stuff, not evening media binges. Look at Robert Jeffress, fer cryin’ out loud! Do you think his pastoring style might just tend to create ardent Trumpistas?

The other side of the lex orandi, lex crendendi blade is that ancient, stable orandi shapes stable people, which is where I return to Dreher:

Look, if you are a frustrated Evangelical or other kind of seeker, I’m going to put it to you straight: go to visit your local Orthodox church. Do it today, at vespers, or tomorrow, for the Divine Liturgy. There is nothing else in this world like the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I have been worshiping within it for 11 years now, and it has changed everything. It is in my bones, and I cannot imagine my life without it. It takes you out of yourself and reshapes you. It doesn’t do it all at once, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, it remakes you.

Here are a couple of short videos about Orthodox worship, by my friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, who is probably the foremost American evangelist for Orthodox Christianity ….

I can look at the last forty years of my spiritual life as moving toward greater stability and sanity. Calvinism was stabler, and for the most part saner, than the 190-proof Evangelicalism I forsook for it. Orthodoxy is vastly stabler than either Evangelicalism or Calvinism. Although I wasn’t on a quest for stability per se, I was consciously (even if it was in the back of my mind much of the time) motivated by a desire for pure and pristine and “primitive” Christianity.

If you think novelty is better, look at Evangelicalism today and think again.


More on politicized Evangelicalism, this time from Christianity Today:

[H]ere’s the interesting thing: Trump did not make many religious claims about himself. That was done more by the religious leaders around him. Trump has never, as far as I know, claimed to be born again. But James Dobson tweeted that he knew the person who had led Trump to Christ. And Jerry Falwell Jr.’s introduction at Liberty literally compared him to Jesus and Lincoln. These religious leaders made claims far outside what Trump himself was saying.

Evangelical Trump supporters addressed concerns about the candidate’s personal morality in a few contradictory ways. Some would claim that we weren’t voting for a “pastor-in-chief,” but there were also efforts to portray him as a spiritually admirable person. What gives?

Either a president’s faith matters or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t matter, let’s forget about the issues the Religious Right has been raising for years—individual piety, devotion to Scripture, personal faith history, good moral character—and just focus on policy. But most prominent Religious Right leaders couldn’t do that because that hasn’t been their traditional approach to the faith of presidents. Some of them agreed, “We’re not electing a spiritual leader,” and then they turned around and engaged in gossip about Trump being born again or secretly led to Jesus—trying to reassure the faithful that here, in fact, was a godly man. And every day this happened, Donald Trump was behaving the exact opposite of how a born-again man ought to have behaved.

(Blogger Samuel D. James interviewing Stephen Mansfield, author of Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him)

No further comment.


Actor Jeffrey Tambor is leaving the Amazon TV series Transparent after two of his sexually confused colleagues accused him of groping and such. He denies it, but says he can’t really return “given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set.”

A show, the purpose of which is to be sexually transgressive so as to break down sexual and social boundaries (and make money, of course), is “politicized”?! Well, do tell!

Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Whatever.


This is kind of a personal reflection that you may find interesting or helpful.

My current liberal news source is the Washington Post. But I’m mildly ruing dropping the New York Times.

The Washington Post has descended into a lot of gossipy stuff and click-baity headines. From Monday, for instance:

Harder still, for every Washington Post exclusive that sets abuzz the people I follow, there’s probably three or four from the New York Times.

Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post used to be my three serious daily (online) newspaper subscriptions, and it was starting to “make me crazy” to try to browse all three plus such worthies as American Conservative, National Review, and more recently the Weekly Standard and Atlantic (a gem I’ve neglected too long).

No way do I want to get the basic facts of life from social media; I’m old enough to reflexively and reflectively believe in professional journalism even though it can be biased and even though it’s struggling for survival. I’m just starting to think the Washington Post is more dispensable than the New York Times, so I might yet renew the Times and let those WaPo dollars go to waste.


Remember: Error has no rights; righteousness has no boundaries.

(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.

One thought on “Tuesday, 11/21/17

  1. Regarding lex orandi, lex credendi: Rituals, habits — both in words and in actions — are (trans)formative, but a lot of modern Protestantism (especially, perhaps, “Evangelical” Protestantism) tends to avoid rituals like the plague. “Variety” is the criterion for much public worship: many congregations have “Worship directors/leaders,” whose responsibility is to redesign the liturgy every week, with the result that little “sticks.”
    Even in a denomination with a published liturgy, there is no guarantee that its congregations will use it: in many denominations one can go from one congregation to the other and not recognize them as belonging to the same denomination. And there are people who say, “Isn’t it wonderful that there is such a variety of churches! Everybody can find a church that suits him/her.” But is that not the antithesis of the Church as a transformative community?
    Imagine if the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem or the Naturalization ceremony kept getting redesigned for each new occasion — and that even every group planning to use the Pledge of Allegiance could come up with its own version!

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