Saturday, 11/25/17


  1. The church didn’t fall
  2. Encouraging “bad Catholics” to hang in there
  3. Succinct
  4. Verbose
  5. Pity the lawyers


The problem with a book like Fox’s [Book of Martyrs] is that many of the people who were executed as heretics in the middle ages would have been executed by the Protestants. I find the idea of the great fall of the Church with Constantine or whatever point you care to put it—1054 or whatever—to be less than plausible ….

(Carl Trueman, Reformed Protestant, on the First Things podcast of November 2)

They would have been executed by Protestants because they actually were heretics. But since those wicked Catholics killed them, they’re pious martyrs.

Glad Carl cleared that up.


Wesley Hill had been inarticulately troubled by a new “Church Clarity” website (which tacitly supports a consumerist view of church shopping based on church sexual standards). He finally found his words, and some of them are challenging.

After discussing an Ephraim Radner essay “addressed to his fellow ‘conservative’ Episcopalians urging them not to leave the Episcopal Church even though its witness to the biblical truth about human sexuality is, at best, greatly mixed,” he turns to a sort of obverse of that, the case of the “Bad Catholic”:

I also find myself thinking of a similar sort of piece by my friend Eve Tushnet that I would commend to my progressive brothers and sisters for their reflection, even as I continue to ponder and pray about Radner’s counsel. Urging sexually active and partnered gay Catholics who dissent from the Church’s sexual ethics not to leave the Catholic Church in search of some “affirming” Christian community, Tushnet writes:

If I’m serious about having gay couples coming to church, about discipleship as a journey, and about removing stigma against all gay people including those in sexually-active relationships, we’re going to need to renew our understanding of not receiving Communion. I think I was really lucky to read all those table-pounding 20th-c. Cat’lick writers, your Waughs and your Greenes, because they helped me to see something humble and honorable in kneeling by yourself while everybody else goes up to receive. They helped me to see how much faith and devotion is embodied in that humiliating, ambiguous place, where you know you need to be in church even if you can’t imagine or accept complete fidelity to the Church’s moral law. I’ve had to be there, and it was awful at the time but I look back on the person I was then with a lot of compassion. I think having (literary) models of people who stayed in church when they couldn’t receive helped me to stay, and to hold on, to stay closer to Christ than I would have otherwise.

This is really a subset of all those posts about how we need to revive the role of the “Bad Catholic.” Being a bad Catholic can be very, very good for you; it’s a sign that you accept the Church as something (someone, our Mother) outside you and bigger than you, who gives your life its structure even when you can’t/won’t live entirely within that structure. (How many tears are shed because it’s so hard to tell can’t from won’t….) Being a bad Catholic means being assessed by the Church–accepting Her view of you, even if you accept it wincingly or ironically or in confused exhaustion, “Master, to whom shall we go?“–instead of judging Her. Her judgments of you will be more merciful than yours of Her, anyway.

You only get the spiritual benefits of being a bad Catholic if you take the “bad” part seriously. If you minimize the gravity of sin you lose the reminder it brings of our dependence on God; the more trivial the sin the less humility is provoked.

There’s obviously a danger of provoking self-hatred instead of humility by talking this way, but the literary figure of the “bad Catholic” calls up compassion and identification rather than judgment in readers. Maybe you should show the same compassion to him when he’s you.

Perhaps, contrary to all current-cultural common sense, being a theological “progressive” should mean staying put in a “non-affirming” church where even your basic convictions about who you are can be scrutinized and potentially revised in light of the gospel and where your identity as an LGBTQ person may force those around you to confront their too-simple prejudices and facile “solutions” too.

And just maybe, also contrary to all contemporary common sense, being a theological “conservative” should mean choosing to stay put in an “affirming” church or denomination where your life of holiness and love and Scriptural fidelity may be a sign of contradiction and a witness to truths that may yet be recovered.

I believe that substantially the same should be and is available in Orthodox parishes. There would be no exclusion from Liturgy of “sexually active and partnered gay Orthodox who dissent from the Church’s sexual ethics,” but he or she would be excluded from the chalice.



Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, okay, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you’re a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me — it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right — who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners — now it used to be three, now it’s four — but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years — but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

(Donald J. Trump on the Iran nuclear deal)

I’m glad he cleared whatever up.


I have always pitied lawyers. Their profession looks to me much the way I imagine engineering would in a world where the laws of physics changed with the weather.

(Justin Lee, who thinks Apple may have just shot itself in the foot by advocating a narrow construal of “expression” in a friend of the court brief in favor of Leviathan, opposed to Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakes.

* * * * *

“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.