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“Trimmer”

I have long felt in public policy as if I were shifting from one side of a tossing ship to the other, trying to stabilize it. That’s exactly the metaphor in which I thought about it, and I wondered if that meant I was more centrist than conservative, despite my self-identification as a conservative (pronouns: Your Royal Majesty, Your Royal Majesty’s, His Royal Majesty).

So I was delighted to hear that one of our greatest conservative luminaries heartily approves of this disposition, and that there’s even a name for it!

The greatest recent philosopher in this tradition, Michael Oakeshott, described the kind of conservative politician he favored, and he used George Savile’s term for such a character: a “trimmer.” His account reads pretty much like Anthony Kennedy:

The ‘trimmer’ is one who disposes his weight so as to keep the ship upon an even keel. And our inspection of his conduct reveals certain general ideas at work … Being concerned to prevent politics from running to extremes, he believes that there is a time for everything and that everything has its time — not providentially, but empirically. He will be found facing in whatever direction the occasion seems to require if the boat is to go even.

No figure is more mocked or ridiculed in our contemporary culture than this kind of moderate. And yet no one right now is more integral to the survival of our way of life.

This matters. The displacement of this kind of conservatism by political ideology, religious fundamentalism, and constitutional recklessness should not just be of concern to those on the center-right. It should concern Democrats as well, whether liberals or leftists.

Andrew Sullivan, writing of “trimmer” Anthony Kennedy (but he would, now, wouldn’t he?).

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The autonomy ethic

My micro.blog account isn’t working as expected this morning, so I’m posting this here:

Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t invent the shift from community to autonomy, but in 1992 he articulated it more crisply than anyone else: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

… You’d think [this “mystery of life” passage] would lead to a very small state that would leave a lot of freedom for people. In fact, it leads to a big, intrusive state. If you strip away all the communal commitments that help people govern themselves from within, then very soon you find you have to pass all sorts of laws to govern them from without. If you privatize meaning so that people get to follow their unrestrained desires, they immediately start tramping on one another, and public pressure grows for restrictive laws, like hate speech regulation, to keep things from getting out of control.

Any society has to perform at least two big related tasks — raising the young and pursuing of the good. It takes a village to do both these things. As Yuval Levin reminded us in an essay in First Things a few years ago, people are only capable of exercising responsible freedom when they are embedded in and formed by social institutions — like family, schools that take morality seriously and a shared civic order. It’s not a do-it-yourself job.

The autonomy ethos forgets this. Justice Kennedy channeled it in its purest form.

David Brooks Much more could be said, and some already has been said, about Justice Kennedy’s wooly-headed “swing vote” jurisprudence in some areas of law, but the “mystery passage” is likely the wooliest.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Gotcha #fail

The Washington Post plays “Gotcha!” for the benefit of its more cynical readers in Why many religious liberty groups are silent about the Supreme Court’s decision on Trump’s travel ban, the premise being that the travel ban and Masterpiece Cakeshop are so obviously analogous that it’s hypocritical not to oppose Trump on the travel ban as they opposed Colorado on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Assuming the analogy for sake of argument (although I’m not certain what the common nexus is supposed to be), the Post nevertheless did an injustice to Becket Fund:

The religious liberty groups that did not initiate any statements on the travel ban ruling included Becket … Becket responded to the Post’s question about its silence by noting the brief it filed in the case, which was neutral on the allegation of discrimination and took no side as to whether Muslims were targeted. Becket’s brief focused on its criticism of the legal strategy of those challenging the travel ban.

“Neutral on the allegation of discrimination” is technically true, but what Becket’s brief argued was that:

each lower court that has held for the plaintiffs on the constitutional issue has used the wrong Religion Clause and the wrong legal test to root out claimed religious targeting. The courts have used the Establishment Clause (which aims to prevent government involvement in religion) rather than the Free Exercise Clause (which protects religious individuals and groups from burdens on their religious beliefs and exercise) … To date, none of the lower courts in cases challenging the Proclamation or its predecessor Executive Orders has been asked to analyze the question of religious targeting under the clause of the Constitution that most naturally prevents it: the Free Exercise Clause.

Becket then laid out in 7-point detail how to analyze the ban under the Free Exercise Clause, which is considerably more than just carping about the challengers’ legal strategy and lower courts taking the bait:

  1. Does the law facially target religion?
  2. Does the law, in its general operation, result in a religious gerrymander?
  3. Does the law fail to apply analogous secular conduct?
  4. Does the law give the government open-ended discretion to make individualized exemptions?
  5. Has the law been selectively enforced?
  6. Does the law’s historical background show that the lawmaker’s purpose was to discriminate based on religion?
  7. Does the law discriminate between religions?

I’m proud of Becket, which I support, and which as usual did a principled, high-quality job.

It even strikes me that the Free Exercise Clause argument was more favorable to the challengers than an Establishment Clause argument, as two of the dissenting justices noted suspiciously uneven enforcement.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Encore!

This morning, I read an outstanding Rod Dreher blog that used the passing phrase “conscientious objector in the culture war.”

More than eight years ago, I wrote a long blog with almost exactly that phrase as its title, bearing this preface:

This may be the most controversial and polemical thing I’ve posted. I’ll tell you in advance, and in conclusion, that I’m disinclined to be dogmatic about most of it. Your mileage may vary.

Well, Dreher prompted me to find it and re-read it, and I would no longer endorse that preface:

  1. I have written much more controversial and polemical things since then.
  2. While “dogmatic” may not be the right word, the blog — almost every word of it — now reflects well-settled convictions, tested by eight years and buttressed (especially point 3) by the election of Donald Trump.

Everything else, I’d still endorse, So I’m indulging myself by re-publishing myself — a rare step that I don’t intend to repeat often.

* * * * *

One of the minor irritants in my life is Franky Schaeffer. I’ll go long spells without thinking of him, and then I get a catalogue from his publishing company, or maybe he pops up in the news (having once again found limelight). And I seethe.

But lots of people love limelight. Why does he, of all people, irritate me? Probably because his life is so parallel to mine, through all the twists and turns.

  • Evangelical: Check.
  • Produced the movie Whatever Happened to the Human Race; watched the movie as a turning point.
  • Now Orthodox: Check.
  • Religious Right activist: Check.
  • No longer Religious Right activist: Check.
  • 60-something years old: Check.

But he’s too strident and angry. He’s sort of a Christian James Howard Kunstler (another approximate contemporary of mine) but without Kunstler’s ubiquitous F-Bombs. Kunstler acknowledges that his speeches are a form of theater (listen to Kunstlercast #103 here); I think that’s true of Schaeffer, too, though he’d probably deny it.

I sense, too, that my reasons for dropping out of the culture wars are different than Schaeffer’s. I sense that partly because he seemingly just changed sides, now inveighing against his former friends, writing screeds, kiss and tell books, dubious fiction (his Calvin Becker fiction trilogy was quite calculatedly ambiguous about the extent to which it was autobiographical), paranoid apologies for Barack Obama, and sucking up to media personages who call him things like “a former leader of the anti-choice movement.” (They just love to get some sound-bites from an angry ex-whatever.)

But I really dropped out because:

  1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms.
  2. I suspect that the strident tactics make most things worse rather than better.
  3. I don’t really trust my former allies.
  4. I don’t really trust the candidates we’re supposed to vote for.
  5. I still don’t trust my former adversaries.
  6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas.
  7. Maybe I’m just a worn out old hippie pacifist.

1. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms. We may get a majority vote for the “right” side on this issue or that, but that will not end the war. There will be other battles. There will be guerilla warfare. There will be no peace, and there’s only a minimal chance for the “Right” to win. Not until the Right’s own culture changes.

Changing culture is the work I’m about now – feeling my way rather than barreling ahead. That’s much subtler work than culture war. I’m not sure how good I am at it. But I’m convinced, to take just one Culture War example, that we won’t stop abortion until we change the toxic combination of unchastity and avarice that gets women pregnant and then justifies aborting the innocent child to maintain prosperity (greater or lesser).

The Right is not with us on that. Fox Radio recently aired an ad, between Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly, for an online service for married men seeking adulterous affairs. (I didn’t hear it, but read about it from someone who didn’t note the incongruity of this appearing on a putatively conservative news source.)

Whaddya think? I’m betting that the ad wasn’t there for the 13 liberals who were eavesdropping on Fox that day, but for the red-meat, red state regulars.

TownHall.com syndicated columnist pages every day have ads for “conservative” slogan t-shirts draped on attractive young lasses, selling conservative politics, like everything else, with sex. Today there’s a sexy avatar for some video game, too. It’s all a racket.

This could as well go under the caption “I don’t really trust my former allies.” But on present terms I think the idiocy of modern pseudo-conservatives belongs in this “unwinnable” category, if only because their position on the sexual side of the culture wars seems to be “anything goes, so long as it’s not gay.” That’s a losing position long-term as well as being a sign of untrustworthiness.

2. The Culture Wars are unwinnable on present terms partly because stridency and contempt beget stridency, contempt and alienation.

Whichever side of the Culture Wars you’re on, think about the fundraising letters you get. Are you edified by their tone? Do you appreciate the sober, educational emphasis? Do you find yourself walking away with something of substance to ruminate on?

If so, I’ve got bad news for you: you’re an idiot. (Shall I write that slower? You. Are. An. Idiot.)

The groups who used to send me fairly sober letters have gone strident. The groups that used to send me strident letters are now frothing at the mouth. And I’m sure the other side is doing the same. Shrill is the new green.

I don’t care who fired the first volley. That’s lost in the mists of history like the instigation of the Hatfields versus the McCoys. I’d like the shooting to stop. I’d like artificial divisions to end. I suspect there’s more common ground than either side presently will admit because of how things have been framed. Let’s tone it down a bit and then explore what the real divisions are. The more we insult the other side, the more we paint both sides into corners from which dialog, let alone truce, is impossible.

[Update: We now teeter on the brink of civil war. I had no idea it would get so bad so fast. I commend Better Angels]

3. The culture wars are unwinnable on the present terms, too, because there’s darned little difference between the two sides on some of the deep presuppositions.

They’re both, ironically, secular. One side is secular because they don’t believe in any divine rules. You know which side I’m talking about. (Hint)

The other side – my side – is mostly secular because they functionally believe that God’s only presence in the world is His rules. They “honor” Him by keeping his rules – sort of the way a rank amateur “paints” by number. That’s why I don’t really trust them. The tranformative significance of the Incarnation: God the Son, Who took on our flesh forever – qui sedes ad dexteram patrem (who sits at the right hand of the Father) in resurrected human flesh – is lost on them. God is up to something more than commandment monitoring and forgiving transgression of the commandments. The incarnation changes everything. [Update: The seeds in this paragraph have grown into my episodic forays into the realism/nominalism distinction and explicit scorn for sub-Christian anthropology.]

“Love God and do as you will” would strike them as modern relativism. They’re very anti-relativist. Except on Ecclesiology. Then they’re apt to utter Babbitry like “Isn’t it swell that there’s a church for every taste!

At the other end from the relativist “conservatives,” there’s a Protestant Church in my home town that produces a disproportionate share of Religious Right activists. Several of them have been elected to public office. But they’re theonomists, or more specifically Reconstructionists. If they had their way, there would be 18 Old Testament Capital Crimes in our law books – including sassing parents. They’d shut down my Church and desecrate its icons. They might, for all I know, execute me for one of those 18 capital offenses for the icons in my home prayer corner. [Update: One of their ideologues brought disgrace upon himself and his wife via their religious “covenant” without a marriage license. I must spare you details of the breakup.]

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of …” the folks I encountered who dreamed of kingdoms, feigned righteousness, broke promises, shot off their mouths, tried to set fires, escaped the edge of euphemisms …. (Cf. Hebrews 11:32-34) These are the folks with whom I’d be a “co-belligerent” (Francis Schaeffer’s coinage to distinguish temporary and unreliable political friends from reliable “allies”) were I to continue in the culture wars. And they outnumber many-fold any well-formed Christians of historical and liturgical bent.

We Orthodox have been here before. After the attempted union with the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Florence (see also here), the Orthodox decided they’d risk rule by Sultan over rule by Pope.

That is not a throw-away line: I’m not so sure a secularist regime would be worse than what Christian Reconstructionists would bring upon me and my fellow Orthodox Christians that I’m willing to be bedfellows with Recontructionists.

4. In the current terms of the Culture War, the highest form of involvement, other than sending money in response to strident or frenzied letters, is to vote for Republicans. Any Republican.

In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.

Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief. And, oddly, Imam-In-Chief, as he assured us that “true Islam is a religion of peace.” (Well I’m glad he cleared that up!)

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declare as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.

Many Religious Right figures in 2008 backed Mitt Romney, Mormon and heir of a 50s moderate Republican, George Romney. Mitt was, deep down, one of us – despite his left-leaning administration as governor of Massachusetts – they assured us. Now they’re pushing Sarah Palin, about whom I’ll not say much except that I do not now support her and see no sign that she has the goods to gain my support later. (I don’t even think she’s all that “hot,” for whatever that’s worth.)

I’m not gonna play Charlie Brown the placekicker to the GOP’s Lucy Van Pelt any more.

[Update: Do I really need to belabor how right I was?]

5. I still believe pretty much what I believed before on what makes for good living and a just society. I’ve even kept a hand in the debates by writing letters to the editor on a few hot-button issues. Those letters are far less demonizing of the opposition than the sort of letters I used to write. But I check the online comboxes and see that the other side has no lack of equally-but-oppositely mad partisans of its own, leveling vitriolic attacks on me, no matter how reasoned my argument, just because I reach conclusions they don’t like.

But even at more elite levels than smalltown cyberpaper comboxes, I’m still convinced that the other side is untrustworthy. One occasionally will catch one of them committing candor, as has Chai Felblum of Georgetown law school. Imagine a constitutional case with this issue:

Whether the inferred right to marry a member of the same sex, which is inferred from the right to engage in homosexual sodomy, which is inferred from the right to privacy, which is inferred from penumbra of he 4th, 9th, 10th, 14th and other consitutional amendments, is of sufficient constitutional gravity to warrant compromise of the explicit constitutional command against laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

Chai Feldblum would answer “yes.” I’m not making up her response (though I did make up the highly tendentious – but brutally accurate – faux issue statement). I appreciate her candor.

But her candor tells me that there’s no home for me in the left where Frank Schaeffer has seemingly pitched his tent.

The Orthodox Wedding service includes, for just one example, “grant unto these Your servants …a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away.” You can’t pray that with integrity over a same-sex coupling, whatever you might think of it otherwise.

So while the Chai Feldblums of the world might not smash my icons like the Reconstructionists, they’ll soon enough take away my Church’s tax exemption, or otherwise put on the squeeze, because they’ll consider us a hate group for continuing the two-millennia-long practice of connecting marriage to procreation.

6. If I’m a prominent culture warrior, it will spill over harmfully into other areas of life. I was reminded Sunday how diverse my parish is. We have Romanians and Russians who were born, or even came of age, under communism. We have Greeks who think that 2nd Amendment mania is barbaric (in at least one case with justification that I can’t gainsay – a family member gunned down in cold blood by someone who went postal). We have young people and middle-aged academics who lean left. We have demographically unknown visitors most Sundays. I have something to learn from some of them.

Just as I don’t want someone to ask me “why are you here since you’re not Greek?,” I don’t want people of Right-leaning disposition to come up to me at Church and make some dismissive remark, which they assume I’ll find hilarious or profound, about a Left-leaning idea that may be held by another parishioner within earshot. I don’t want there to be ethnic, racial, socio-economic or political barriers to people. Political trash talk about trifles at Church is apt to drive people away though we have a faith in common and should be together on Sunday.

7. Maybe I should try a bit more empathy. Maybe I’m not angry because, unlike Frank Schaeffer, I have a day job, with a comfortable living, and don’t have to raise a fuss to sell my newest book. Maybe a brain or personality disorder prompted Franky to call Barack Obama’s election “miraculous” and to prophesy epochal political healing on Obama’s watch.

Maybe Frank’s suburban Boston parish (I think he’s in Brookline, Michael Dukakis‘ hometown) has a leftist litmus test and he caved in. Or maybe he’s rebelling against his upbringing in neutral Switzerland as I declare myself a Swiss-like neutral in the Culture Wars.

Or maybe I’m not angry, by and large, because I’m a child of the 60s, a former Conscientious Objector to conventional war, and now old enough that I’m kind of tired of fighting of all sorts – worn out, if you will. Maybe we really need young, testosterone-crazed Christian guys (and gals crazed by whatever crazes women) who still are eager for a fight. I see my role as one to ask questions of any such young hotheads from the perspective six decades gives. Such as the ones implied by what I’ve just written.

[Note: The rest of this is dated or refers to a blog template I no longer use.] So who am I hangin’ out with these days if not with the Alliance Defense Fund and the acolytes of R.J. Rushdoony? Check the bloglinks to the right – Especially Front Porch Republic (“Place. Limits. Liberty.”), Distributist Review  (guardedly). Small Is Beautiful has taken on new meaning for me. (My benighted generation got a few things right before we sold out or got complacent – and appreciating E.F. Schumaker was one of them).

I can’t even rule out Father Stephen. Nothing he writes is “about politics,” but everything he writes is about sane, human and humane living, which surely connects up somehow.

Basically, I’m going back and rethinking all things political and cultural. I’m wisdom-hunting. I read Wendell Berry essays and poetry, Bill Kauffman books, Russell Kirk’s Conservative Mind, Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, Scott Cairns’ Poetry, W.H. Auden (“For the Time Being” is now on my list for every Advent).

My conversion to Orthodox Christianity started it in a way. I soon realized that the Church has not always prevailed, and has produced martyrs in every century. And that’s okay. Better we should lose honorably than win by selling our souls.

* * * * *

I heartily recommend the Dreher blog I opened with as a complement to this.

What I miss these days

After Obama’s opening remarks, CEO Eric Schmidt — who would later endorse Obama and campaign for him — joined him on stage to lead a long and wide-ranging Q&A. While much of the discussion focused on predictable subjects, in the closing minutes Obama addressed a less obvious issue: the need to use technology and information to break through people’s ill-founded opinions. He said that as president he wouldn’t allow “special interests” to dominate public discourse, for instance in debates about health care reform, because his administration would reply with “data and facts.” He added, jokingly, that “if they start running ‘Harry and Louise’ ads, I’ll run my own ads, or I’ll send out something on YouTube. I’m president and I’ll be able to — I’ll let them know what the facts are.”

But then, joking aside, he focused squarely on the need for government to use technology to correct what he saw as a well-meaning but too often ignorant public:

You know, one of the things that you learn when you’re traveling and running for president is, the American people at their core are a decent people. There’s a generosity of spirit there, and there’s common sense there, but it’s not tapped. And mainly people — they’re just misinformed, or they are too busy, they’re trying to get their kids to school, they’re working, they just don’t have enough information, or they’re not professionals at sorting out all the information that’s out there, and so our political process gets skewed. But if you give them good information, their instincts are good and they will make good decisions. And the president has the bully pulpit to give them good information.

And that’s what we have to return to: a government where the American people trust the information they’re getting. And I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback — everything that allows you to do what you do, that’s what we should be doing in our government. [Crowd applauds.]

I want people in technology, I want innovators and engineers and scientists like yourselves, I want you helping us make policy — based on facts! Based on reason!

The moment is captured perfectly in Steven Levy’s book In the Plex, where he writes of Obama: “He thought like a Googler.”

Obama then invoked the famous apocryphal line of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Obama finished his speech by pointing to the crucial role that Google could play in a politics based on facts:

And part of the problem that we’re having … is, we constantly have a contest where facts don’t matter, and I want to restore that sense of decisions being based on facts to the White House. And I think that many of you can help me, so I want you to be involved.

Adam J. White, Google.gov, The New Atlantis.

This quote is not remotely representative of the whole long article (which I commend to those hardier than me or with even more time on their hands), but it evoked in me a nostalgia for Barack Obama, who for all his flaws (I particularly rued his tone-deafness on religious liberty) had a temperament that I miss terribly these days.

But lest it be thought that I have nothing good to say about Donald Trump, I note that one of my blog categories has fallen into disuse: “Zombie Reaganism,” my epithet for the prevailing Republican political posture for a decade or so.

Trump has cured the GOP of that, though I fear his cure is worse than the disease.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Re-ordering desire

“How has your experience as an LGBT+ person been a unique source of blessing in your life?,” she asked. The responses may humble you.

Okay, that click-baity paragraph (hyperlink deleted) is an artifact of when I thought this would be a Micro.blog entry, whereas it turned out more fitting for here.

“She” is Bridget Eileen, author of the blog “Meditations of a Traveling Nun.” She’s Evangelical, but the responses she got, recounted in God’s Unique Blessings in the LGBT+ Experience of Christians are notably ecumenical, focusing on improved interpersonal relationships and friendships.

Catholic Eve Tushnet writes what could be a fitting synthesis:

We’re constantly being told that same-sex sexual desire is disordered, which I accept, as I accept all that is taught by Holy Mother Church. But when people … try to tell you how to order your desires, they always try to get you to keep the expression of desire the same, but change the object. This is the “become straight” option, if “option” is the word I want. There is another way for desire to become ordered: same object, different expression. People who long for same-sex love and intimacy should maybe be encouraged to learn how to do that, since it is good, and holy, and beautiful.

* * * * *

I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

I first tasted actual worship in the Orthodox Church, in the Divine Liturgy. Prior to that heart-opening experience, my time in the churches of my youth felt more like attending a classroom accompanied by hymns. I suppose it was a matter of emphasis; whereas the other traditions limited their scope to, say, the renewing of the mind, as in thinking better thoughts, orthodox Services attend to the renewing of the nous, scouring clean that “intellective aptitude of the heart“ – as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware described it – and reconnecting the sin-severed constituents of the human person.

Poet Scott Cairns in Praxis, Volume 17, Issue 3, hyperlink added.

Why I’m not calling for Revolution

I cannot forgive or forget Trump’s praise for the most hideously totalitarian regime on the planet, for a bloodthirsty scion who conducts regular public hangings, keeps his subjects in a state of mind-control, holds hundreds of thousands in concentration camps, and threatens the world with nuclear destruction. To watch an American president give his tacit blessing to all of that, to laud Kim for being “rough” on his people, right on the heels of attacking every democratic ally, is an obscenity.

And this was the response of the secretary of State, when asked, inevitably, how the U.S. could in any way verify North Korea’s promised denuclearization: “I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous.” It’s ludicrous, he explained, because the president said there will be verification of denuclearization. And so there will be. Get that? Just lean into the delusion, and everything will be well. Trump’s various mouthpieces have resorted to exactly that formula, when asked difficult or obvious questions that assume a reality different from Trump’s. The empirical questions — those that reference the real world — are “ludicrous,” “inappropriate,” or “ridiculous.” But then when the Trump peons can’t answer the question, because it would reveal Trump as a fantasist, what else are they supposed to do? Show a propaganda video made by the National Security Council?

[Vaclav] Havel had a phrase: “Living in the truth.” In a totalitarian society, living in the truth can be close to impossible, and yet it was possible for someone, as Havel analogized, as lowly as a greengrocer to refuse to “live in a lie”:

The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the “dissident” attitude, then it is difficult to imagine that even manifest “dissent” could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.

No, that’s not Rod Dreher. It’s Andrew Sullivan, Trump Is Making Us All Live in His Delusional Reality Show.

We are not (yet) living in a totalitarian society, and a series of Tweets from POTUS falls short of actual (versus aspirational) authoritarianism.

But we are governed by a man who has a severe personality disorder and is, if not delusional, perhaps even scarier for that. As just one microcosm (called to my attention by my brother in a Facebook exchange), our President, self-proclaimed master deal-maker, apparently knows nothing of win-win; our adversaries and even our allies must lose for him to feel that he has won bragging rights.

Be resolute. Do not surrender to the lie. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

But on the other hand …

Although I may have overdone “Trump versus Clinton has God’s judgment written all over it” in the run-up to the election, it was because I discounted God’s graciousness and patience (scripture citations omitted), of which discounting I’m repenting.

But the “Resistance” party is scary — very scary — in its statist impulse to cut down every structure of civil society that doesn’t conform to the latest progressive pieties. Only the space inside the “four corners” of our homes is spared, and that only for now.

Consider Catholic Charities, driven from adoption licensure in several states because it won’t place children with same-sex couples (who have alternate agencies for adoption, be it noted), or Trinity Western University in Canada, a Christian University which cannot start a law school, and presumably will soon lose its other accreditations, unless it declares open season for fornication and sodomy among its students.

If it’s just me (or me plus some feckless institutions that won a government Seal of Docility) versus the government, then I’m as powerless as Roper when the laws of England were mowed down so he could pursue the devil. This conviction was germinating in me fifty years ago and has grown stronger as I gained vocabulary, added contexts, and watched the mowing down proceeding in ways I never thought I’d live to see.

God’s judgment or just the denoument of liberalism, we really are in a pickle. That’s why I’m trying to remain vigilant but not calling for revolution, the results of which are highly, highly likely to be, hard though it be to imagine, as bad or worse than the status quo.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Don’t worry: There’s still a northern border

Trinity Western University “asks its faculty and students to observe traditional Christian teachings on marriage through a community covenant.” What happened when it wanted to open a law school with a unique specialty in charity law?

Everyone agreed that Trinity’s program met all the requirements and would train competent lawyers. But law societies across the country held public meetings during which Trinity’s students and faculty were called bigots and worse.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, the nation’s oldest and largest, told the high court in Ottawa during oral arguments on Nov. 30, 2017, that accrediting any “distinctly religious” organization would violate the Canadian Charter, which is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights. It added that when the government licenses a private organization it adopts all its policies as its own. If these arguments had been accepted, they would have spelled the end of Canada’s nonprofit sector. In their zeal to root out the supposed bigotry of traditional religious believers, these lawyers were prepared to dynamite Canada’s entire civil society.

Thankfully the court passed over some of our opponents’ more extreme arguments. Instead, on June 15 it ruled that making Trinity’s faith-based community standards mandatory could harm the dignity of members of the LGBT community who attend Trinity. The majority of the court concluded that this potential dignitary harm to future LGBT law students was “concrete,” while the infringement on Trinity’s religious liberty from refusing to accredit its qualified law program was “minimal.”

Bob Kuhn, Canada Attacks Religious Freedom (emphasis added).

They used to sarcastically say about anti-anticommunism “Don’t worry: they’re still 90 miles away.”

It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

An infinity of angles at which one falls

I am convinced that there is a progressive apostasy on sexuality, which is marked by the affirmation of gay marriage. However, such a flagrant departure from the witness of Scripture and tradition at least has the virtue of being obvious. I have become convinced there is a ‘conservative’ stance on these questions that is more subtle in its capitulation to subChristian ways of thinking about sex and marriage, and more pernicious for being subtle.

… There is a Freudianism at work in [Denny] Burk’s account of sex … which corrodes his ethics. That is an ironic charge, I grant, given the frequency with which his associates have charged those who want to use ‘gay’ as capitulating to ‘modern’ understandings of sexuality …

In his famous description of “thrilling romance of Orthodoxy,” G.K. Chesterton suggests the early church found an “equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses.” She “swerved to the left and right,” leaving behind an Arianism that would make Christianity too worldly before repudiating an “orientalism” that would make it too unworldly. “It is easy to be a heretic,” Chesterton goes on, as it is “easy to let the age have its head.” After all, there are an “infinity of angles at which one falls,” but “only one at which one stands.” The whirling adventure of the emergence of orthodoxy required saying ‘no’ to distortions on every side, so that they might preserve an undiluted ‘Yes’ to the strange paradoxes of Christ’s life and witness. Such a situation is, I think, our own: it is possible to go wrong on matters of sex and marriage in ways besides affirming the licitness of same-sex sexual acts and desires. Indeed, it is possible to allow the spectacular transgressions our society’s broken anthropology has generated to make us inattentive to the same fundamental attitudes and dispositions present within our own midst, subtle and quiet though they might be.

… [A]ny denunciation of the ‘modern’ sexual ethic that does not address its most respectable, pervasive form in our churches will not have the confidence that can only come from consistency. My own work, published again earlier this week, failed abysmally in this respect. It is unconscionable how little I said in those chapters about the pervasive significance of procreation. I can only say that I regret the omission, repent earnestly of it—and have proved my repentance by writing a Ph.D. dissertation on the subject.

Burk and his organization have attempted to draw the boundaries of conservative evangelicalism around his understanding of sexual desire, such that to step anywhere outside of it is to capitulate to the spirit of our age. For Burk, the ‘neo-traditionalist’ attempt to affirm aspects of a ‘same-sex orientation’ or ‘gay identity’ is “doing something risky.” As he goes on to say, we “shouldn’t be surprised when [the neo-traditionalists] eventually reach the conclusion that same-sex behavior is ‘good’ as well.” This principle of inevitability is baked into Burk’s Manichean outlook on the world, in which the attempt to find and affirm virtues within our vices and goods within evils is one we are not free or empowered to undertake. The failure of one gay Christian to remain orthodox thus becomes evidence that the entire effort is flawed from the start—a principle Burk and his colleagues would (rightly) repudiate with the fiercest denunciations if an egalitarian ever accused their outlook of failure because a complementarian proponent was abusive. Burk’s account needs gay Christians to either renounce their approach or become progressives for its rightness to be vindicated. Is it any wonder that Burk’s organization has engaged in the culture war so vociferously during his and Owen Strachan’s tenure, despite the growing capitulation of heterosexual couples within their own communities to practices like IVF and surrogacy that reshape gender roles within marriages?

… It is a sign of evangelicalism’s frailty that it cannot abide by ‘risky’ attempts to affirm the goods of a life marked by a pervasive susceptibility to same-sex sexual desires, not of its strength or sanctity. Evangelicalism will only speak with the authority of true conviction on such questions when it remembers what chastity demands for its own marriages, and is unhesitating in risking the scorn and repudiation of its own members through naming the respectable sins we have let foster for the sake of our idolatrous commitments to sexual pleasure and biological children. When practices like IVF, surrogacy, and contraception are met with force equal to that with which we have met the great drama of gay marriage before us, I will begin again to trust the leaders God has currently given us. Until then, their denunciations of the world sound to this ear like resounding gongs, and their professions of love for gay Christians like clanging cymbals.

Matthew Lee Anderson. These were personal highlights in a very long essay — careful, critical and empathetic more than “erudite” — on the basis of which Anderson will next month present to the Revoice Conference. Meanwhile, Denny Burk and his Southern Baptist confreres are trying, bafflingly, to delegitimize the whole enterprise of “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”(!)

I think Anderson is “far righter” than Denny Burk, and he expresses movingly the reason for the Revoice Conference:

For those in the gay Christian community, how Christians have argued, taught, and spoken about these questions over the past thirty years has created an enormous amount of unnecessary collateral damage. Those who experience same-sex sexual desires have been left without a useful vocabulary to understand their own experience, except one that frames it in exclusively and comprehensively negative terms. This makes the qualifications by conservatives that their critiques of same-sex sexual desire are applicable to every form of desire sound like special pleading. The young man addicted to porn is allowed within his repentance the freedom to affirm the fundamental goodness of what he in fact desires (namely, marriage). On the most prominent account on offer right now, though, those who are gay are not allowed such an opportunity. Given this context, it seems reasonable to try—try—to extricate the theological and pastoral questions that such experiences raise from the grand cultural struggle, and to take them up anew on their own terms.

When even those participating in good faith are still arguing over terminology, some bumps and bruises were (and remain) inevitable.

But insofar as my own frequent forays into these topics have “created … unnecessary collateral damage,” I ask forgiveness. If I cause some of those inevitable bumps and bruises, I ask your charity. I’m conflicted even to post this, because we’ve just seen the disgrace of a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, illustrating (a) the intractability of sin, (b) the consequences when there’s inadequate context to give and receive non-genital love, (c) both, or (d) something else that I’m missing.

Talking, where both sides credibly profess adherence to historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality, seems worth the risk.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

McCarrick

We conservative Catholics had made such a big deal about the loss of authority within the Church, and had developed within ourselves a chronic reluctance to confront facts that called the integrity of the system into question.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, for example, once upbraided me angrily on the phone for publishing a story about Bishop James Timlin’s handling of the Society of St. John situation.

“The bishop told you there was no story there!” he growled.

I pointed out to Father Neuhaus that I had quoted the bishop saying that in the story. Neuhaus was aghast that I had published the story at all, given the bishop’s words.

“Father Neuhaus, why should I believe Bishop Timlin?” I said.

“Because he is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church!” Neuhaus shouted.

Really, he shouted ….

Rod Dreher, Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew. What “everybody knew” was the Cardinal’s homosexuality and exploitation of seminarians, not of children, but the massive lying and coverups is what eventually cost Dreher his Catholic, but not Christian, faith.

When I was working on these stories, I learned that most gay priests who are sexually active do not molest children or adolescents. The problem is that they — as well as straight priests who are sexually active — have secrets, and learn to keep their mouths shut as part of an informal system of self-preservation … A source — a devout young Catholic man — had been telling me that he left seminary because he couldn’t stand the constant pressure from priests there to have sex with them. One of the seminary leaders told him that if he’s not gay, fine, but to go get a girlfriend. To me, it was clear that the priest-professor was trying to lead the kid into his own web of corruption, one way or the other.

Dreher has lots more stomach-churning details. I’ve only quoted the parts that seem key to me on why this problem has been intractable: “everybody” has dirt to spill on “everybody” else if they break ranks.

Some of it, I admit, reads like an 80-foot blackboard, but so be it.

Orthodox lay Catholics are not overly inclined to have blind faith in our clergy leaders when it comes to LGBT issues. The Scandal was the first straw, but we haven’t yet reached the last. Actions speak louder than words, even when the words are a recitation of the Catechism’s teachings on the matter. And so far the actions all point to a continuing cover-up the scope of which may be more devastating than we can readily imagine.

Erin Manning, Why We Don’t Trust Them.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

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