Saturday, 12/16/17

    1. Another showdown worth watching?
    2. Mutual excommunications
    3. Progressive (or is it reactionary?) Chestertonia
    4. My light touch on today’s third rail
    5. A few more fresh thoughts on Alabama
    6. Jim Forst on the bridge
    7. Safest places



To underscore the point: the idea that some knowledge of right or of moral obligation can be apprehended by reason alone is not distinctive to the Enlightenment. Therefore, it cannot be used as part of an argument that the American Constitution is modernist and Enlightenment in origin rather than classical or Christian.

(Paul R. DeHart, What’s Wrong with Rod Dreher’s Straussian Narrative of the American Constitution) This was a fascinating article and I look forward to the promised sequels, where DeHart will deal with the other four steps he identifies in Dreher’s supposedly “Straussian narrative.”

DeHart seems on target about Rod’s five steps, but from reaction I’m seeing, Strauss has nothing to do with it. Some people can’t get past DeHart’s mis-labeling of Rod’s intellectual pedigree, which, Rod has replied, is [Richard] Weaver, [Charles Taylor] and [Bradford] Gregory. That said:

The critique is interesting—maybe even vital—as a contribution on “the other side” of “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching.” I say “the other side” because I’ve been mostly sympathetic with Dreher, Patrick Deneen and Michael Hanby on these questions, but I’m not as conversant with the other side, which is held by serious people. It would be nice if “the other side” is right, since that would mean there’s nothing fundamentally discontinuous between historic Christianity and the American project.

I’ll give DeHart credit for “punching up” in terms of cultural influence. The Benedict Option remains prominent in serious discussions, and looking at some of its premises is warranted.

(Before I turned in Friday night, I found that Dreher had responded to DeHart. Good stuff.)


“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump,” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.

“Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”

Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

Jemar Tisby, president of “The Witness, a black Christian collective,” a faith-based media company that provides commentary on race, religion and culture, said in an interview that while Mr. Trump was running, “we were saying, this man is promoting bigotry, white supremacists find an ally in him and this is going to be bad for us.”

“And not only did they vote for him,” Mr. Tisby continued, “they voted for him in slightly higher numbers than they did for Mitt Romney. It was a sense of betrayal.”

Mr. Tisby, who co-hosts the podcast “Pass the Mic,” said that many blacks who hold evangelical beliefs have been reluctant to identify themselves as evangelicals, and that reluctance was growing.

“It’s counterproductive to identify as evangelical,” he said. “What’s happened with evangelicalism is, it has become so conflated with Republican politics, that you can’t tell where Christianity ends and partisanship begins.”

Some female evangelicals said on social media that they stayed home rather than vote for either Mr. Moore or his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, whose views on issues like abortion are distant from their own.

Many women have expressed the broader concern that overlooking accusations of sexual misconduct against favored politicians sends a dangerous message that women who come forward can be dismissed in the service of a political agenda.

“We’ve let evil overtake the entire reputation of Evangelicalism,” one prominent evangelical author, Beth Moore, wrote on Twitter the day before the election. “The lust for power is nauseating. Racism, appalling. The arrogance, terrifying. The misogyny so far from Christlikeness, it can’t be Christianity.”

(Laurie Goodstein; emphasis added)

With all these mutual excommunications going on, it’s kind of a shame that excommunication in the Evangelical world has no teeth whatever: communion means nothing (it’s just a reminder) and the excommunicant will just move on to another willing host (which likely won’t even ask why he/she left his/her former church).

It’s doubly shameful that the excommunications are over some damned politics.

(I caught this article and wrote this before Rod Dreher wrote about it and also picked up on the implied mutual “excommunications.”)


There is much talk about “progressive” theology and “progressive” politics, but what do we mean by “progress?” As Chesterton put it, more than a century ago now, in his book Orthodoxy:

Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision. It should mean that we are slow but sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy: a wild page from any Prussian sophist makes men doubt it. Progress should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. It does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.

Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say, a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, that high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own point of view) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favourite colour every day, he would get on slowly. But if he altered his favourite colour every day, he would not get on at all.

And that is why I think that some radical Christian activists have been attracted to Orthodoxy. That complements Jim Forest’s point about why Orthodox Christians should be interested in people like Daniel Berrigan—because several people who have shared the interests of Daniel Berrigan have also become interested in Orthodoxy.

Archimedes is said to have claimed that if he had a lever long enough and a firm enough fulcrum, he could move the world. The shifting sands of Western theology will never provide a firm enough fulcrum to move the world. Only Orthodox theology can do that.

(Stephen Hayes, Radical Christian Activists of the 1960s and Orthodoxy)

I know I live in a red state and have lived a pretty red life, and attend a parish that seems pretty red on politics, too (though I steer clear of the topic at church as much as possible), but I think it’s truly ironic that Hayes seems to be nostalgic for the days before “the Orthodox faith [was] associated with extreme forms of social and political conservatism” but then lays out Chestertonian quotes that make the faith attractive precisely to those seeking stability of all kinds, including social and political.


Google has vigorously promoted net neutrality in theory but less in practice. While Google says it remains “committed to the net neutrality policies,” the search engine uses opaque algorithms to prioritize and discriminate against content, sometimes in ways that undercut competitors. Net neutrality for thee, but not me.

(Wall Street Journal Editorial praising the repeal of so-called “Net Neutrality.” )

As the discussions continued, I was impressed by (a) the political history of “Net Neutrality,” (b) the possibility that the FCC exceeded it’s authority (I have no firm opinion on that), (c) that “neutrality” favors companies like Google and Facebook (major manipulators of us all) as surely as repeal favors the telecoms, and (d) that the FTC will still be able to intervene in abusive situations.

If I lose any sleep over this, it will be because the opposition to repeal was so extreme—notably, death threats and fake comments on the proposed rule.


There are still some fresh things being written about the Alabama Special Election. Not surprisingly, Peggy Noonan wrote some of them:

Roy Moore’s loss was not a setback for the GOP; it was a setback for freakishness …

Thirty-three states have U.S. Senate races next year. Primary voters should absorb what happened to Alabama Republicans after they picked Mr. Moore. They took it right in the face. They misjudged their neighbors. They were full of themselves. They rejected the sure victories offered by other contestants and chose a man whom others easily detected as not well-meaning. They weren’t practical or constructive and they didn’t think about the long term. They didn’t, for instance, take into account that there were independents in the state whose support could be gained with the fielding of a more serious Republican.

And now they’ve lost it all. Voters in coming primaries should observe and absorb. There is something we have been saying in this space for almost a decade, since the Sarah Palin experience. Something happened when she ran. Suddenly to seem real and authentic some Republican candidates thought they had to be polar and extreme. They had to show umbrage, signal resentment, wave guns. But these are not indications of authenticity. They are a sign voters are being played, probably by a grifter … Conservatives who are real conservatives don’t ape the social-justice left and make politics a daily freak show ….

She also has some pointed critique of how Donald Trump has blown it, but I try to avoid exceeding fair use of paywalled material.

Here’s a slice of Michael Gerson, too (emphasis added):

[P]olitical leadership does not consist entirely of checking policy boxes. What needs to be considered is the net effect on the country and the cause. And the Alabama election was like looking into the abyss. Roy Mooreism was distilled Trumpism, flavored with some self-righteous moralism. It was all there: the aggressive ignorance, the racial divisiveness, the disdain for governing, the contempt for truth, the accusations of sexual predation, the (just remarkable) trashing of America in favor of Vladimir Putin, the conspiracy theories, the sheer, destabilizing craziness of the average day.

President Trump and his admirers are not just putting forth an agenda; they are littering the civic arena with deception and cruelty. They are discrediting even the good causes they claim to care about. They are condemning the country to durable social division. In Trump’s GOP, loyalty requires corruption. So loyalty itself must be reconceived.

What would weaken the grip of Trump on the GOP? Obviously not moral considerations. The president has crossed line after line of decency and ethics with only scattered Republican bleats of protest. Most of the party remains in complicit silence. The few elected officials who have broken with Trump have become targets of the conservative media complex — savaged as an example to the others.

This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.


Peace activist Jim Forest, who I quoted about Fr. Daniel Berrigan recently, explains why he became Orthodox and doesn’t intend to return to Roman Catholicism.


When it comes to sexual assault, “the safest place for a woman when she is a child is growing up with two married biological parents. And the safest place for her when she is grown is to be married to a man.” (Nicole King, in a yet-to-be-published column in Salvo)

* * * * *

I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.