Sunday, 9/25/22

Taboos versus ontology

Proper order here is defined by the Commandments through moral proscriptions, although the proscriptions, while a useful metric in some situations, cannot reach into ontology, into the places where desire is grounded

“Restoring Young Men to Manhood” in Healing Humanity (emphasis added)

I have long felt that my Christian boarding school offered little beyond the Ten Commandments and a list of extra-Scriptural taboos — nothing that operated ontologically. Most of the taboos, mind you, were sensible ways for maintaining sobriety and order in a residential institution full of adolescents. But they were not so presented; they were presented as the way all Christians should live, based on some unconvincing Bible prooftexts. Insofar as they “formed” young Christians, they formed legalistic prigs or, for those who saw what the rules really were about, cynics.

The contrast between that and what I’ve found in Orthodoxy is stark.


The man who “just feels” that total abstinence from drink or marriage is obligatory is to be treated like the man who “just feels sure” that Henry VIII is not by Shakespeare or that vaccination does no good.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

Alcohol was one of those taboos of the Evangelicalism that formed my childhood and early adulthood. It appears that my doctor is making it taboo for me again.

I’ve long thought that “if you can’t have a good time without it, then your relationship to alcohol is dangerous.” That’s getting put to the test now, and I seem to be passing.


Although both the Roman Catholic Church and the evangelical Protestant movement profess belief in Jesus Christ as God the Son, whose death on a cross provides propitiation for sins, there have been vast differences between the two Christian groups for more than 500 years.

Mark A. Kellner, Why the evangelical editor who called for Trump’s removal became Catholic, September 11, 2020.

I hate to break the news to you, Mr. Kellner, but in 1520, there was no such thing as an “evangelical Protestant movement.” (Yes, I’m aware that Luther used a German version of the word.) Evangelicalism was 200+ years in the future.

Gray world

I rolled on my tongue with a terrible joy, as did all young men of that time, the taunts which Swinburne hurled at the dreariness of the creed—“Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilaean, the world has grown gray with Thy breath.” But when I read the same poet’s accounts of paganism (as in “Atalanta”), I gathered that the world was, if possible, more gray before the Galilean breathed on it than afterwards.

G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy.

Yeshiva University

I thought the New York Courts were hair-splitting when they said that Yeshiva University was incorporated/chartered as an educational, not religious, institution. Now I’m not so sure:

Yeshiva University’s case could be complicated by the fact that it removed religion from its charter, essentially the text that gives it permission to operate in New York State, in 1967 in an effort to secure more state funding. Some in the Yeshiva University community, reflecting on the simmering tensions around the Pride Alliance, want the school to add its religious mission back to its charter.

(Terry Mattingly, emphasis added)

I don’t think this is conclusive, but it makes for a slightly tougher case.

When Yeshiva gets back to SCOTUS, though, I would give better-than-even odds that the high court won’t mention this fact.

Side comment: I’ve long been baffled (and apprehensive) at the refusal of state courts to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent consistently in the area of religious freedom. A recent Advisory Opinions podcast, though, suggested that defiance of precedent can be a sort of audition for a Supreme Court nomination when the political party in the White House changes.

Jesus and ego

Jesus did not die in order to rescue the ego: He died in order to put the ego to death. When I converted to Orthodoxy, a friend, nurtured in modern liberalism, opined, “Stephen became Orthodox because he was afraid of change.” In truth, I became Orthodox because I was afraid there would be no change – just more of the same negotiations year after year. A life defined only by the success and failures of a boundless ego.

Fr. Stephen Freeman


[E]vangelicalism is the form the Christian religion tends to take within modern American culture. It is impossible to be an American Christian without being heavily influenced by evangelicalism—I would even say that it is nearly impossible to be a white, American Christian without being an evangelical … As the proliferation of the so-called “ex-evangelical” online community shows, leaving evangelicalism isn’t always as easy it looks—even when you are keenly engaged in the process of religious deconstruction.

Kirsten Sanders, The Evangelical Question in the History of American Religion.

Sanders seems to be onto something, but I have nothing to add right now, if ever.

Finding existential justification (in all the wrong places)

I would venture to say that most of us have already adopted parts of these secular visions of fullness. To take the most personally convicting example, many of us who profess faith in Christ actually find most of our existential justification in romance or career success or intelligence or beauty or popularity, and we find our meaning in a secular telos of achievement.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

This seems apposite:

I have to tell you, spending time with the Bruderhof folks caused an unsettling reaction within me. I was glad that theological differences would keep me from considering living in a Bruderhof — glad because to be honest, I know that I’m too much of a coward to surrender so much autonomy to live in close community. For me, this was a real moment of painful honesty. The Bruderhof communities have some of the things I desire, but they have them because people have voluntarily given up a degree of liberty and autonomy that we all take for granted. I felt like the Rich Young Ruler of the Gospel — the one who wants what Jesus offers, but won’t surrender everything to get it. I talk a good game about community built on religious belief and mutual obligation, but if there were an Orthodox Bruderhof, would I join?

Rod Dreher, With the Bruderhof

False certainties

I remember in my youth delighting at the seeming clarity of comparative tabulations of what various Christian or quasi-Christian groups believed about what the tabulators considered the key points in a sound faith. The commonest uses I recall were comparing true Christianity (I don’t recall how they denominated it) with Roman Catholicism, or with Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, or other Christianish groups.

That memory makes me cringe now.

I have no doubt that one could prepare such a table comparing Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy. But who would pick the questions considered crucial? And what if the other side thought those weren’t the right questions? And when did we start considering a box-checking exercise the test of true Christianity? Bottom line is that an exercise like that would tell you virtually nothing about lived Orthodoxy.

Maybe it never told me anything about the interior experience of those other faiths, either.

[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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