I blame Trump

In a kinder, gentler age, C.S. Lewis pointed out that sex was unlike other appetites.

The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.

He continues:

You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?

But that was then. This is now.

I got home from Vespers tonight to find, as if our wont, my better half tuned into the Food Channel as she cooked. But the show finishing up was  new to us, Ginormous Food, which concluded with a donut roughly 24″ in diameter and 6″ tall, followed by another new one, Incredible Edible America with the Dunhams, which started with a $777 Las Vegas burger, which was definitely large, but really “justified” the cost by tricks like including paté from the livers of vestal virgins (or something like that).

I didn’t know whether to laugh at the happenstance, or marvel at the cheek of the music editor, when the $777 burger was introduced with the unmistakeable strains of the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem.

Translation:

Chorus: 
The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes,
as David and the Sibyl prophesied.

How great will be the terror,
when the Judge comes
who will smash everything completely!

The trumpet, scattering a marvelous sound
through the tombs of every land,
will gather all before the throne.

Bass: 
Death and Nature shall stand amazed,
when all Creation rises again
to answer to the Judge.

Mezzo-soprano and Chorus: 
A written book will be brought forth,
which contains everything
for which the world will be judged.

Therefore when the Judge takes His seat,
whatever is hidden will be revealed:
nothing shall remain unavenged.

The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes,
as David and the Sibyl prophesied.

Soprano, Mezzo-soprano and Tenor: 
What can a wretch like me say?
Whom shall I ask to intercede for me,
when even the just ones are unsafe?

Food porn: the latest wretched excess from a culture where wretched excess personified now sits in the oval office.

I think I need to go shower now. There’s sure not much to watch on TV anyway.

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“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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Cultural Liturgies

Let’s get this out of the way: James K.A. Smith reviewed Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option book in a way that struck Dreher and (assuming Dreher was truthful about Smith’s efforts to woo him to Smith’s publisher) me as low-down and deceitful. Since March 10, I don’t think Dreher has mentioned him nor, I believe, have I.

But I, too, have been accused of betrayal — unjustly, in my opinion, but this isn’t about me.  My devastatingly effective boycott of Smith must now come to an end. Smith is saying too many important things to ignore him.

For Smith, we are not primarily “thinking things” we are “loving things,” and people pursue what they love. Smith writes: “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. Our wants reverberate from our hearts, the epicenter of the human person.” This prompts an obvious question: what if you don’t love the right things? Going further, Smith observes that “you might not love what you think.” For fallen people, that will always be true to greater and lesser degrees. The remedy to disoriented loves is to be immersed in a liturgy that reforms your loves, pointing you in the right direction, to use Smith’s metaphor of the compass. The majority of the book then provides ways to work that liturgy down into your bones, so that you begin to long for the right things.

When hearts are pulled to negative things that work against flourishing, that life starts to be characterized by vice. Smith observes that humans “can’t not be headed somewhere,” and those liturgies, those stories, that capture our hearts move us to action for good or for ill. Unfortunately, many Americans are listening to a story that praises consumption over production and pulls people toward the path of least resistance, or sloth …

Smith is using this model to aid churches and communities in forming citizens of the Kingdom of God—pilgrims on the way to the New Jerusalem, paying attention to the liturgy of God’s people and letting it form and remold their affections. [Sen. Ben] Sasse wants to use the model to form citizens dedicated to republican virtues: commitment to neighbor, affection for their inherited Western tradition, engagement in Puritan-style industriousness, and appreciation for the diverse regions and cultures of the United States. Sasse proposes a liturgy to create mature, honorable citizens—and rulers—of the Republic. Indeed, he believes that this is not just an ideal that Americans could pursue it; it is a mandatory component of the American project. If families do not raise children who exhibit these traits, we might as well call it quits, warning that “if the idea of America is not reborn in our children’s hearts, we will all suffer a shared orphanhood.“

Sasse’s American liturgy is certainly not a know-nothing patriotism committed to “blood and soil.” Instead, it is one that is committed to the republican ideals of the Founding, which spoke of the American government as securing rights and privileges guaranteed by God. Indeed, the patriots made an “appeal to heaven” in their cause, believing they were engaged in a godly, and righteous movement. Sasse sees this American liturgy as a positive, and one that he, a Christian, can heartily embrace. Yet, Smith has emphatically warned Christians about the dangers of the American liturgy. In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith highlights that we are being formed when we are standing for the national anthem, reciting the pledge of allegiance, and praising members of the military for making the “ultimate sacrifice,” and for Smith, this forming tends to push Christians away from the Kingdom of God; instead of being compatible with the Christian liturgy, it, subtly, erodes allegiance to Christ and his kingdom by communicating that the defining characteristic of a person is his or her citizenship in an earthly kingdom. Though he allows that it can ‘make room for additional loyalties,” he believes “it is not willing to entertain trumping loyalties.”

If that is true, then patriotism seems to be antithetical to a religion that claims Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. Sasse and Smith, ultimately have a disagreement over the nature of the American liturgy ….

(Ben Sasse, James K. A. Smith, and Smuggling in Virtue, emphasis added) This article, by the way, summarized Sasse’s book in a way that sort of moots my prior mild dismissal:

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has written a book about raising children to be adults, and strangely for a book written by a sitting politician, it contains no concrete policy proposals. It’s a truism, especially on the political right, that politics is downstream of culture. From this perspective, politics and politicians are limited. The problems plaguing our society are rooted in communities and families; and the solutions must be formed by communities and families. Instead of passing the buck impotent politicians, Americans must take a long, honest look in the mirror. Sasse acknowledges this and writes from the point of view of a husband, father, historian, Augustinian, and American.

The aim of his book then is to help parents recalibrate their family culture in order to produce someone who is habituated toward doing virtuous deeds. Sasse wants to help parents in “nudging affections” toward a shared conception of the good ….

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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Hate update

Aided by a veneer of objectivity, the SPLC has for years served as the media’s expert witness for evaluating “extremism” and “hatred.” But while the SPLC rightly condemns groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Westboro Baptist Church and New Black Panther Party, it has managed to blur the lines, besmirching mainstream groups like the [Family Research Council], as well as people such as social scientist Charles Murray and Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islamic extremism.

How did the SPLC become the default journalistic resource on purported hate speech, racism and extremism? Morris Dees, still the SPLC’s chief trial attorney, founded the organization in 1971 along with Joseph Levin Jr. , now an emeritus board member. In its early years, the SPLC made a name for itself by winning some high-profile cases against the KKK and other white-supremacist groups. But over time its mission changed. In recent years it has focused on “tolerance education,” hate-group tracking (including an online “hate map”) and fundraising.

Although the SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and therefore statutorily prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, even a cursory review of its website belies its nonpartisan status. During the 2016 election, the SPLC posted “Margins to the Mainstream: Extremists Have Influenced the GOP 2016 Policy Platform” and “Here Are the Extremist Groups Planning to Attend the RNC in Cleveland.” The Democratic platform and convention received no such scrutiny.

(Jeryl Bier, Wall Street Journal)

I’ve noted this for years. When my state bar association invited and lionized Morris Dees, I stayed away because of SPLC’s having morphed via mission creep into a leftist racket that itself foments hate:

Last August SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok tied Donald Trump to David Duke, whom Mr. Trump had denounced. “Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations [of Mr. Duke] are not sincere,” Mr. Potok told the Huffington Post. “The sad reality is that David Duke and Donald Trump are appealing to precisely the same constituency.” Not quite. Mr. Trump took 58% of the vote in Louisiana. Mr. Duke, running for U.S. Senate on the same ballot, managed only 3%.

The SPLC’s work arguably contributes to the climate of hate it abhors—and Middlebury isn’t the worst example. In 2012 Floyd Lee Corkins shot and wounded a security guard at the Family Research Council’s headquarters. Mr. Corkins, who pleaded guilty to domestic terrorism, told investigators he had targeted the group after learning of it from the SPLC’s website. The SPLC responded to the shooting with a statement: “We condemn all acts of violence.”

Last week the SPLC found itself in the awkward position of disavowing the man who opened fire on Republican members of Congress during baseball practice. “We’re aware that the SPLC was among hundreds of groups that the man identified as the shooter ‘liked’ on Facebook,” SPLC president Richard Cohen said in a statement. “I want to be as clear as I can possibly be: The SPLC condemns all forms of violence.”

Legally, free speech remains on firm footing, but reckless deployment of the “Hate” bomb against innocent civilians threatens that:

It’s been a very good millennium for the First Amendment.

The modern [U.S. Supreme] Court has repeatedly and forcefully rejected attempts to narrow free speech based on new social norms or theories. [Examples omitted]

In short, the First Amendment is enjoying extremely strong support from the Supreme Court — arguably stronger and more consistent than any other constitutional right, and arguably as strong as the Court has ever been in favor of free speech. It’s a golden age.

So why are so many people so pessimistic?

On the cultural side, we’re mostly hearing stories of woe about free speech. Folks — and here I explicitly include myself — are emphasizing stories about intolerance, heckler’s vetoes, censorship, and academic hostility to different viewpoints …

But there’s substance, too. However clearly the Supreme Court recognizes free speech rights, they’re no good if the government refuses to acknowledge them, as universities have effectively done by refusing to protect unpopular views from violence or hecker’s vetoes. Justice Kennedy isn’t there to tell Dakota McScreamyface to stop hitting me with a bike lock if I engage in crimespeak. As Judge Learned Hand said in his “Spirit of Liberty” speech more than 70 years ago:

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.

The Supreme Court is upholding the black letter of liberty, but are Americans upholding its spirit? When college students, encouraged by professors and administrators, believe that they have a right to be free of offense, no. When Americans hunger to “open up” libel laws or jail flag burners, no. When our attitude towards the hecker’s veto becomes “let’s do it to them because they did it to us,” no. Not only is speech practically impaired, but in the long term the cultural norms necessary to sustain good Supreme Court precedent are eroded.

(Ken White at the Popehat blog) I’d love to see Morris Dees and Ken White in debate over the latter’s toxic Hate List. Meanwhile, the Media should stop relying on its tendentious list and try resuming the actual practive of journalism, an endeavor that I know isn’t easy or very profitable in our chaotic digital age.

* * * * *

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Channeling the Tradition

I’ve been out of blogging commission for a week because of vacation with a strangely buggy internet connection. Everything worked, albeit a bit slowly, except my WordPress blogging platform, which consistently wouldn’t let me save my work and presumably wouldn’t have let me publish, either.

It was a very eventful week in “public affairs,” but I was kind of glad for the excuse to take a break from commentary. And at least today, I’m focusing on things more eternal than urgently timely.

My traveling soundtrack with Mrs. Tipsy invariably includes Mars Hill Audio Journal, this time Volume 134, which included retired history professor Chris Armstrong, author of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis.

Excerpts, including a striking suggestion about the primary value of C.S. Lewis — a suggestion which makes a lot of things about Lewis fall into place for me:

Ken Myers: Now again, you repeatedly in this book, deal with mistaken assumptions that many Christian people have about medieval faith, and you’ve already alluded to one. And that is I’ve heard many Protestants say that before the Reformation, Christians weren’t concerned with all of life and one of the great boons of the Reformation was that, suddenly, people realized that the Gospel had consequences for all of life, and God begat Abraham Kuiper.

Chris Armstrong: Yeah, Grant Wacker said once, and I think this may have ultimately come from David Steinmetz, that ever since the Protestant Reformation broke Christendom, Protestants have been trying to figure out how to get back to that original concern for these questions, I suppose you might say, of Christ and culture. And so it’s certainly true that there was a great concern for that in the Reformation and after the Reformation, but it seems to have come not from a previous lack, but from having broken an earlier synthesis.

Chris Armstrong: … As it turns out, [C.S.] Lewis in fact was not just a professional medievalist, but what I call an intuitive Medievalist …

Ken Myer: His consciousness, if you will, was more Medieval than modern, or so it seems.

Chris Armstrong: In fact he claimed that … when in the ’50s he was made Chair of Medieval and Renaissance studies … when he said that “I am a dinosaur. I am an artifact, a creature of the past. You should use me as an example as much as a teacher.” … He uses the distinction between contemplating and enjoying something. If you contemplate something, you look directly at it in an analytical mode. If you enjoy it, you begin to look along it, like along the sunbeam, to see what it illuminates ….

Ken Myers: … Given Lewis’s popularity among Evangelicals, and particularly the popularity of the Chronicles of Narnia — but also I suppose you could include a lot of his books of apologetics — that given the popularity of this person with a pre-modern mentality, pre-modern disposition, who seems to be so affable and helpful as guide to seeing the world and understanding how we understand God, how is it that the Medieval mentality that he embodied is still regarded with such suspicion among people who otherwise might really like his work?

Chris Armstrong: I think that’s a wonderful question. What I would say is the more I read Lewis, the more I thought that his primary value is as a conduit of The Tradition. And I just don’t think that people have seen him that way often. They see him say something that deeply affects them, or that strikes them as being deeply true, and they assume … that he’s simply telling them in a clearer way what Scripture already says, and “Isn’t it good that he’s such a good rhetorician and that he helps us understand these things that are so clearly in Scripture.” What they don’t know is that what he’s doing is actually channeling The Tradition to them. They won’t read those sources, probably, most Evangelicals won’t read Athanasius’s On the Incarnation … of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. But he had read both ….

(Emphasis added)

A podcast I recently began following is Albert Mohler’s Thinking in Public. Last September, he interviewed Alan Jacobs, a regular on Mars Hill Audio Journal as well, following up on Jacobs’ Harpers article The Watchmen: What Became of the Christian Intellectuals?

One thread of their discussion reminds me that Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, insofar as it stands for building parallel consciously Christian institutions to preserve and channel the tradition, even at the price of less “public involvement,” is nothing new:

Mohler:  … I was reminded of the fact—and this was important to my response to your article—just how important Reinhold Niebuhr was in the Cold War, and the fact that his realism, in terms of prescriptions for American foreign policy, became very much appreciated by the Truman administration, also by the Eisenhower administration, and by Henry Luce who was the founder of TIME, who put Reinhold Niebuhr on the cover. But at the same time I was reminded again of how routinely Niebuhr was dismissed by the academy. I was reminded of James Conan, the President of Harvard, trying to bring him to Harvard and to no avail. This is such a mixed picture.

Jacobs: Yeah, it really is a mixed picture. In the article, there’s a point where I’m putting what I think to be the key issue, the key issue is this: for the Christian public intellectual, if there is to be such a thing, that person has got to be both audible and free. That is, if you’re going to be genuinely public, then you’ve got to be audible, you’ve got to be somewhere where people can hear you, people across the range of the culture can hear you. But you’ve also got to be free. You’ve got to be free to be able to speak out of genuine Christian conviction or else what’s the point of you? Why would you even be there if you don’t have that to say? And finding that audibility, along with the freedom, has been really problematic for a long time. And you can lose freedom, not because people are constraining you, but because you’re constraining yourself. And I think that is—you mentioned this in your response—the downfall of liberal Protestant establishment in America. And I think that that downfall happened. Now what a lot of people will say in the liberal Protestant world is that well, we lost our—people stopped listening to us, and so we became marginal. And my argument is that they stopped listening to you because you ceased to have anything distinctive to say; when you didn’t want to say anything that was distinctly or particularly Christian; when all you could really do was to say “Me too” to what the rest of the world was saying. Then why should they listen to you anymore? You became inaudible because you chose to speak in ways that were no longer particularistically, distinctively, recognizably Christian. So everybody else was already saying that stuff, who needs you? So I think they marginalized themselves in that regard. There was a certain self-marginalizing by evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics also, but for almost opposite reasons.

Mohler: … I want to ask you—because this is also something that engendered controversy in your essay—and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you basically say, or imply, that evangelicals, or Christian intellectuals, a better way to put it, willingly withdrew and that it’s largely our fault that there are no Christian intellectuals in the larger public square. And let’s go back to Mannheim for a minute with the cultural production. What didn’t happen that should have? Even trying to take it on those terms, I’m up against a hard place trying to answer the question, What didn’t happen that should have?

Jacobs: Well, Dr. Mohler, I’m not sure that there was anything that should have. Here’s what I mean by that: Christians—orthodox, biblical, Nicene Christians, evangelicals, yes, but also traditionalist Catholics—found themselves in a situation where the intelligentsia and educated classes were to some degree drifting away from them. It was becoming more difficult for them to get a hearing. They became concerned, I think, to make sure that their positions didn’t get lost, that their positions were passed down to the next generation of believers. They chose to do that primarily—not exclusively by any means—but primarily by building up Christian institutions, which in the post-war years with the economic boom there was some money to do. This is an analogy, rather than example. But, Father Hesburgh at Notre Dame was able to transform Notre Dame into a research university because those poor immigrant Catholics in the pre-WWII era, who didn’t have much money to support Notre Dame, had a lot more money after the war and were able to support it. And I think you see the creation of institutions like the National Association of Evangelicals, the founding of Fuller Seminary, and then, existing institutions like Wheaton College, where I taught for 29 years, were able to develop their resources to have, for instance, smaller class sizes, more individual attention to students. They were able to hire people who were more academically ambitious. They were able to build themselves up, and strengthen themselves in such a way that they were able to pass down core Christian convictions to the next generation. But the more energy you spend doing that, the less energy is left over to be a player in the larger, broader, especially secular, culture. And, I’m not sure, I don’t think any of those people were wrong to make the choice that they made.

(Emphasis added) After carefully transcribing audio, I discovered that Dr. Mohler has provided a complete transcript at the site above linked. Help yourself.

* * * * *

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.