Fr. Stephen snippets

A Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the Morning Prayers

I hear the heart’s cry in the prayer quoted above. The depth of its honesty provokes the hearts of those who read it. It recognizes the truth of our will and echoes St. Paul’s observations:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-21; 24)

There is, I think, an abiding temptation towards Pelagianism (the belief that we can will our own salvation). In Orthodoxy, the teaching of “synergy” often runs in that direction. We indeed “cooperate” with God in our salvation (“cooperate” is the Latinized equivalent of “synergy”). But our cooperation is best illustrated in the prayer above. It is the cry for help from the lips of the helpless. This is not nothing – it is synergistic. But it is not the imagined synergy that some profess. We are saved by our weakness, not by our excellence.

(May 2, 2018)

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

[A]ll of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense.

(May 4, 2018)

Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

(May 11, 2018)

Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. Such actions are incorrectly described as the “relief of suffering.” In many other cases Jesus specifically asks people to suffer: give away your possessions; forgive your enemies; take up your Cross; turn the other cheek; give without expecting in return. Again, there is no authentic Christian voice that does not demand suffering on the part of its adherents.

More important than this, is the fact that this voluntary self-denial, a willingly embraced suffering for the sake of others, is not a diminishment of our humanity, but a necessity of its fulfillment. It is this reality that modernity, in its truncated account of existence, fails to understand or to describe. The most popular ethic within the modern world entails the relief of suffering. In the name of that ethic, people are put to death. It cannot ask us to suffer without guilt. But if suffering is inherent to our existence, then only that which encompasses suffering is sufficient as an account of being human.

To be truly human is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And not just to the image of Christ, but Christ crucified. Anything less would make a mockery of our existence and a diminishment of the fullness to which we are called.

(May 15, 2018)

I have seen, more than once, the favorable outcome of a soul whose deepest hunger has, in an unguarded moment, been exposed to the light of the gospel. I know the case of a woman who found God when a priest called her by name unexpectedly. Just her name. The mercy of God is wonderfully opportunistic. I have often thought, “Give Him an inch and He’ll take your life!”

(May 19, 2018)

As I finished up, deciding what “categories” to assign to today’s blog, the quote “Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being” struck me as an instance of nominalism versus realism, so I applied that category. One characteristic tendency of nominalism was to see sin as sinful because it transgressed an essentially arbitrary divine decree. The consequence of sin was not non-being (spiritual death), but punishment by God. In this sense, the Orthodox understanding of sin is realist rather than nominalist.

* * * * *

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.

Paragons of … er, virtue?

I truly don’t think the Left understands how the relentless drumbeat of sexual scandal looks to Americans outside the progressive bubble. Left-dominated quarters of American life — Hollywood, the media, progressive politics — have been revealed to be havens for the worst sort of ghouls, and each scandal seems to be accompanied by two words that deepen American cynicism and make legions of conservative Americans roll their eyes at the Left’s moral arguments: “Everyone knew.”

Let’s put this in the clearest possible terms: For years, as Hollywood positioned itself as America’s conscience and as the media lauded its commitment to “social justice,” it was harboring, protecting, and indeed promoting truly dreadful human beings as leaders and taste-makers. Progressive politicians who proclaimed support for women’s rights on Twitter were groping women on airplanes or punching them in the bedroom.

All this was happening at the precise time that the dominant argument — particularly against social conservatism — was that “you people are haters and bigots.” It’s difficult to overstate the extent to which conservative Americans have felt scolded and hectored. So how do you expect us to react when it’s revealed that all too many of the self-appointed moralists weren’t just the kind of preachers who’d run off with the secretary, they were the kind of monsters who’d press a button in their office, lock the secretary in the room, and assault her?

And again, people knew ….

(David French)

* * * * *

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.

Vignette

[H]uman freedom, properly understood, tries to resist the forces of utility that devalue human beings.

[Patrick] Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

(Rod Dreher, emphasis in original)

* * * * *

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.

Fr. Stephen snippets

It is … difficult for those in the middle-class to understand the reason Christ would have pointed to the poor (with their seeming lack of virtue) so approvingly. Why should the entrance into the Kingdom be easier for them? The question has certainly dogged me for many years. My conclusion is fairly straightforward: their virtue is their lack of virtue.

My mind goes to the speech of the drunkard, Marmeladov, in Crime and Punishment. He is a sad character whose daughter has been driven into prostitution to support the family that his alcoholic addiction has failed. He describes his vision of the end of the world, and declares that he knows that Christ will forgive his daughter’s sins. He adds:

And He [Christ] will judge and forgive all, the good and the wicked, the wise and the humble … And when He has finished with everyone, then He will say unto us, too, ‘You, too, come forth!’ He will say. ‘Come forth, my drunk ones, my weak ones, my shameless ones!’ And we will all come forth, without being ashamed, and stand there. And He will say, ‘Swine you are! Of the image of the beast and of his seal; but come, you, too!’ And the wise and the reasonable will say unto Him, ‘Lord, why do you receive such as these?’ And He will say, ‘I receive them, my wise and reasonable ones, forasmuch as not one of them considered himself worthy of this thing …’ And He will stretch out His arms to us, and we will fall at His feet … and weep … and understand everything!

There are echoes in his speech of the Paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom read in every parish across the world on the night of Pascha.

You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, echoed in Chrysostom’s homily, it is the older brother, the well-behaved and faithful son, who refuses to come to the feast. He thought his brother unworthy.

(Can the Middle-Class Be Saved?, 3/29/18)

The Church’s liturgical actions are never memorials. They are a mystical participation in the ever-present reality of the events that they celebrate. In Holy Week, we are raised with Lazarus. We greet Christ with palms. We endure the cleansing of the Temple. With the Harlot, we bathe His feet with our tears. We partake of His Body and Blood. We betray Him and deny Him. We judge Him and condemn Him. In Him we are also betrayed and denied, judged and condemned. With Him we are mocked and scourged. We crucify Him and are crucified with Him. With the thief we find paradise in a single moment. We grieve with Mary and John and bury Christ’s most pure body alongside Joseph of Arimathea. We bury Him and are buried with Him. We descend into Hades and take our place with Adam and all those who through the ages have been imprisoned in death. We are raised from the dead with Christ as He takes captivity captive.

All of this is participation and coinherence ….

(The Mystery of Holy Week and Pascha, 4/2/18)

Reasoning is … something we largely do “after the fact.” Indeed, this psychological reality has itself been the subject of study and has been shown to be largely true. Reason is one of the sounds we make after the fact of the heart. It is a symptom of something else and we do one another a deep injustice when we reduce faith and unbelief to something they are not.

I believe that the death and resurrection of Christ are utterly universal in their reality. They are not isolated events, significant only within the Christian belief system. I believe they are the singular moments within space and time (and outside space and time) that reveal the truth of all things, of all people, and of the heart and nature of the God who created all things and sustains them. I believe this is true whether I or anyone else believes it. The death and resurrection of Christ are the most fundamental and foundational facts of reality.

I believe that Christians make a serious mistake when we begin to speak first about God rather than first about Christ and His death on the Cross and resurrection from the dead. It is a mistake because it presumes we know something about God that is somehow “prior” to those events. We do not, or, if we think we do, we are mistaken. The death and resurrection of Christ are the alpha and the omega of God’s self-revelation to the world. Nothing in all of creation is extraneous or irrelevant to those events.

When we stand before the Cross of Christ, or kneel before it and honor it, we honor as well everything that is contained within it. We honor the unbelief of atheists, the anger and bitterness of the wounded, the shame of those who dare not look at themselves. For Christ has not distanced Himself from such things. The Cross is God’s single point of ingathering, where “all things are gathered together into one in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:10). Unbelief is a wound of the human heart, a disease of perception, a noetic blindness. The Cross is not a stranger to cruelty or every form of mockery and perverted delight. All such things were and are present in that single moment.

(Unbelief and Good Friday, 4/5/18)

The secular historicization of the faith has distorted Christian believing. We treat the death and resurrection of Christ as past events and imagine that our accepting them as historically true is the nature of faith. But they are not merely historical in the secular sense. They are present and real now. As the beginning and the end, they are also always present. By historicizing them, we dismiss them and relegate them to the collection of historical “facts” (things done). They are rather present tense “facientes” (“things being done”). Our present tense actions, done in union with that present tense reality, alone constitute faith. We do not live in the past or because of the past. We live only in and by the death and resurrection of Christ. Because of these things, the commandments of Christ not only make sense, they alone constitute a sane course of behavior.

Christ says:

…If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (Jn. 8:31-32 )

The truth of Christ’s word, His commandments, is only revealed as we abide in them (keep them). When that truth is known, then we will then (and only then) see the freedom that is ours in Him. We are not the creatures of history, but of Christ.

(Bookends and the Resurrection, 4/12/18) This reflection also includes perspective on the interpretation of the creation narratives of Genesis.

When someone says that they “believe” in God, I’m not always sure what they mean. It is entirely possible (and even often the case) that they mean something quite different than what I would mean by the same statement. There is the acceptance of God as a theoretical construct, a mental assent, even a trusting mental assent to the existence of a higher being who loves, creates and provides for creation. That trusting assent may have a significant amount of content: the “God of the Bible,” or the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. In many cases (even most), however, trusting assent to the existence of such a God does not alter the shape or nature of creation itself: it remains the same neutral, secular world. This is the situation I have described as a “two-storey universe.”

[T]he content of the “superior being” in the two-storey universe is relatively beside the point. Such a God, regardless of content, is not the God and Father of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ: it is a lightly Christianized version of the ancient sky gods. And in the cultural perception of modern, secularized nature, it is an endangered species. Few attacks on the Christian faith sound as silly as those of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Their inaccuracies and caricatures are rivaled only by the rants of the adherents whose god they despise.

But Christians would do well to listen to their critique – for the god they don’t believe in was taught them by someone or the culture at large. To say, “I believe in the god described by Dawkins, only my reasons are very good,” is actually inadequate. What Dawkins, Hitchens and company reveal is an obstacle to faith. If the universe itself is the one they perceive – if it is truly inert, self-existing, self-referential and spiritually neutral, then the case against the God taught and made known in Jesus Christ is strong indeed. Positing a sky-god above and outside such a world is perhaps interesting, but it is not persuasive and, more to the point, not Christianity ….

(Obstacles to Faith in the Modern World, 4/14/18)

Among the dark little corners of the Orthodox world, particularly in its ethnic homelands, is a left-over trace of witchcraft (I don’t know what else to call it). It consists of a collection of superstitions, often mixed with semi-Orthodox notions. There are concerns about the “evil-eye,” “curses,” “spells,” and such. These things are “left-overs” in that they likely predate Christianity, having never disappeared from Europe’s earlier pagan past. These are not practices associated with dark powers, but simply folk practices rooted in bad theology.

It’s not just the Orthodox. My ancestors, Scots-Irish (certainly with a Protestant pedigree) were no stranger to such things. My mother’s mother was said to be able to “talk fire out of a burn,” and to “stop blood.” I was told that these little practices were based in the Scriptures, but they had a slightly occult feel about them. My great-grandfather could “remove warts” in the same manner. The hills here in Appalachia are home to many such things.

There are, however, more popular, modern versions of all this, cleaned up and mainstreamed. Much of it goes under the heading of “positive thought” and “successful living.” All of it is about exercising power over the world around us. It is contrary to the Christian faith ….

(The Power in Thought — It’s Not What You Think, 4/16/18)

[T]he narrative that is the story of modernity is fictional. It’s power and strength come from repetition. Modernity did not end war; human suffering has changed but not disappeared; prosperity has come to some but very unevenly; democracy has created universal suffrage to little or no effect; human dignity is a popular slogan, but largely without content. Has the world truly left behind superstition and ignorance in an ageless march towards a consumer paradise?

Modernity is only a story: it is a narrative disguised as history. The emptiness and pointlessness of the modern narrative begs for questions. I suspect it’s why our hearts ache from time to time and dream of Hobbits. The narrative of Middle Earth, though fictional, has a transcendent meaning and purpose, something that calls for the deepest courage and makes every sacrifice to be significant. That Mordor and Isengard both embody elements of the industrial revolution, endangering even the Shire, are not accidental. They intentionally represent the flaws of modernity. Tolkien’s mythology imagines that such forces can be defeated.

In Tolkien’s world, the characters of Sauron and Saruman make it easy to discern the dark and evil hand behind the engines of change. The diffuse and hidden character of modern powers, masked by the institutions that claim legitimacy, presents only the face of propaganda, the relentless cry of freedom, human liberation and prosperity. There is no spiritual center. Modernity offers freedom for an unknown purpose, liberation for the latest popular cause and a prosperity whose banality mocks the public welfare. The very same mantra has also given the world weapons of mass destruction and placed them in the hands of madmen (including our own). War has become a ceaseless business unlike anything in human history.

The most insidious part of the modern world order is its claim to normalcy …

The genius of Tolkien’s Shire was its ability to live as though the larger world need not trouble their way of life …

The technological consumerism of modernity is not the stuff of paradise, even though it advertises itself as such. The Shire is much closer to a proper ideal. Life is not made for managing but for living. It is this tender reality that whispers to the hearts of modern folk when they pick up Tolkien. It is not a demand that there be no technology, but that the spiritual center of the world be restored. We do not need to become Hobbits. We do need, however, to return to being human.

(Do You Ever Think About Being a Hobbit? 4/24/18)

* * * * *

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.

White man speak with forked tongue

Some religious liberty groups are sitting out the “travel ban” case. I think they’re right, and that Christian Legal Society and National Association of Evangelicals summarize why they’re right:

The CLS and NAE said the courts should decide whether the government intentionally discriminated against Muslims. If so, then the order is unconstitutional.

In their shared legal brief, however, the CLS and NAE remain agnostic about the president’s motives. CLS board member Carl H. Esbeck said it was outside the scope of their group to decide whether the president meant to discriminate against Muslims or Islam.

But, mirabile dictu, one group weighed in:

Not all groups were unwilling to choose a side. Those supporting the ban included the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian group led by Trump’s personal lawyer Jay A. Sekulow. ACLJ made the argument in a brief that the order is constitutional; the purpose of the order, it argues, is to protect national security by keeping out “foreign terrorists.”

That’s just as wrong as if CLS and NAE had claimed to know that the Order was to fulfill Trump’s promise to ban Muslims. But what do you expect: Jay Sekulow wears two hats, which probably is disclosed in ACLJ’s brief but won’t go unnoticed by SCOTUS even if it isn’t.

UPDATE: Here’s my source for the overall story, which I omitted inadvertently. Also, to clarify, “sitting out” doesn’t mean not filing Amicus briefs at all. These groups do have an opinion on how the court should approach the case (two leading groups called for remand to lower courts for further development), but not on the final outcome.

* * * * *

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.

Evangelicals and Trump

When Trump shows up and is happy to speak the language of apocalyptic pessimism, and promises to protect the evangelicals who feel besieged, they back him in droves.

(The Christian Humanist Podcast discussing Michael Gerson’s The Last Temptation) I appreciate that possible explanation, but I’m with David French on this:

Never Trump conservatives like me were asking our Christian friends and neighbors to make a considerable leap of faith — to boycott both major-party candidates and run the risk of considerable (and important) legal and political losses out of the conviction that the character of a leader ultimately matters more than the policies he promises.
But the story doesn’t stop there, and it’s discussing post-election evangelicalism where Gerson’s essay is most persuasive. It’s one thing to face a tough choice between voting for a morally corrupt man and staying at home. It’s another thing to join the morally corrupt man’s tribe. It’s another thing entirely to excuse in him behavior that you’ve long condemned in anyone — everyone — else. We’re treated to the utterly appalling, continuing spectacle of watching Christian leaders excuse Trump’s worst characteristics and rationalize away his most obvious sins. Some of the worst even turn Trump’s vices into virtues and revel in his combative, vicious rhetoric.

(David French discussing Michael Gerson’s The Last Temptation — emphasis added.)

It is hard to see how the name “Evangelical” can be redeemed any time soon. Evangelical support for Trump is just that notorious and scandalous. Would that Evangelicals had just held their noses, zipped their lips, and voted for the guy who seemed to sympathize with their awareness of being besieged! (If you don’t think conservative Christians were besieged, read the French piece to refresh your sorry memory.)

I’m not yet ready to endorse the Christian Humanist podcast, which I just discovered, but it looks promising and sounds tolerable after one episode.

* * * * *

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.

A weird little lawsuit

American Atheists today filed a lawsuit in the Common Pleas Court of Lake County, Ohio, alleging that a developmentally disabled child was forcibly baptized against the expressed wishes of his parents by a minister and a court-approved “Big Brother” mentor.

The child, referred to as “V” in the court filing, was taken to a church picnic in August 2016 by the child’s mentor. During the picnic, the mentor and the church’s pastor subjected V to a full-immersion baptism, against the wishes of V’s parents ….

(Atheists File Lawsuit After Child Forcibly Baptized by Court-Approved Mentor; H/T Religion Clause)

Let us grant that an 11-year-old, even without developmental delays, should not be baptized against his parents’ wishes. (She shouldn’t be able to get an abortion against their wishes, either, but that’s not how the law seems to roll. Go figure.)

Back in the day, forced Christian baptism could eventuate in outrages that are still echoing today.

Plaintiffs allege that the baptism of the child was a battery and that his immersion left him feeling like he was choking. So far, so good, though it hardly sounds like a big-ticket lawsuit.

But the lawsuit still puzzles me. Plaintiffs allege under various legal counts that they are suffering extreme emotional distress. That’s the puzzler. I don’t think “that really, really pissed me off” out to qualify because that puts a premium on ginned up outrage. So why, other than their wishes being disregarded, do they reasonably suffer extreme emotional distress?

Let me put it this way:

  1. Do they think the baptism made little V a Christian, ontologically and indelibly, ex opere operato? With Evangelicals, you never can tell, but I doubt that even Morning Star Friends Church, the offending religious body, believes that about its baptisms. They’d be far outside the Evangelical mainstream if they do. But if Plaintiffs do believe that, then shouldn’t they reconsider their opposition to a church with such strong magic?
  2. Do think the baptism made little V wet and breathless for a few minutes? Does that warrant extreme emotional distress?

If the latter, this really sounds like the “declaratory judgment” is what this is about, but the facts are so singular that I’m glad I don’t have to write the judgment.

* * * * *

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.

Vigilance or flippancy?

William McGurn, one of the Wall Street Journal writers whose basic worldview seems to be in line with mine, did not cover himself with glory today. Though he had some valid points, …

Let us stipulate that Donald Trump is unique … Mr. Trump tramples on the expected norms for a president.

Some detect in Mr. Trump’s brand of vituperation an assault on the values and virtues that democracy requires to thrive. In this line of thinking, Mr. Trump is morally unfit for the Oval Office. Some speak even more darkly …

There is, however, a flip side to Mr. Trump’s speech and behavior. It has to do with the willingness of those who know better (or ought to know better) to look the other way so long as Mr. Trump is the target …

… he also sounded this false note:

Meanwhile, week after week, the same people who accuse Mr. Trump of lacking depth and nuance toss off allusions to Hilter, Stalin and a parade of murderous dictators ….

It is no doubt possible to “toss off allusions” flippantly or as mere tribal talking points. But don’t be hasty with that accusation. As Father Patrick Henry Reardon said in a recent homily,

I must tell you that the Shoah — I regard the Shoah as the major human experience of my lifetime.

I understand all the Russians and Germans and Poles killed in war. I understand that. This was not “killed in war.” This was something very different.

In my opinion, we have hardly even begun to understand the significance of the Shoah. Maybe in a hundred years. But I fear we’re largely forgetting it already. One must not forget it … The Holocaust should haunt the modern mind ….

Insofar as tossed off allusions trivialize or just wear out the listeners, they are deplorable. But insofar as McGurn is calling genuine concern, informed concern, “toss[ed] off allusions,” or assuming that “it can’t happen here,” shame on him.

If we want to avoid an American Hitler, we must be vigilant, even hyper-vigilant. It can happen here. And anyone who doesn’t see Donald Trump (whatever the legitimate grievances that brought him to office) as the likeliest North American perpetrator is operating on an entirely difference frequency band than I am.

Michael Gerson provides immediate illustration, even a foreshadowing, essentially casting ICE as Trump’s jackbooted thugs:

The attitude of President Trump toward federal law enforcement is, to put it mildly, mixed. The FBI refused to bend to his will. So the special counsel team is composed of “hardened Democrats” engaged in a “WITCH HUNT.” …

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has passed the loyalty test. ICE’s enforcement surge “is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” the president tweeted. Referring to ICE acting director Thomas Homan, Trump said, “Somebody said the other day, they saw him on television. . . . ‘He looks very nasty, he looks very mean.’ I said, ‘That’s what I’m looking for!’”

This is territory more familiar in political systems of personal rule. The agency that defies the ruler must be discredited. The agency that does his bidding is viewed as a kind of Praetorian Guard.

Most of the professionals working in ICE would surely deny this characterization, pointing to an important legal role independent from any individual president. But they need to understand that their work is now being conflated with Trump’s nativism.

ICE is not an agency famous for its care and discernment. In releasing an immigration activist detained by ICE early this year, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest said, “It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust. . . . We are not that country.”

Accusations of abuse in ICE custody are numerous and serious, and they preexisted the Trump era. An investigation by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported cases of racial profiling, fabricated evidence and warrantless searches — all given little scrutiny by overwhelmed immigration courts. During the past few years, there have been hundreds of accusations of sexual abuse, racial slurs, abusive strip searches and verbal harassment in ICE jails, prisons and detention centers. For an institution that claims “zero tolerance” for such practices, it seems to get a lot of serious complaints. One asylum seeker, Gretta Soto Moreno, has called the facilities worse than normal prisons because ICE “feels like it can treat immigrants any kind of way.”

This is the bitter fruit of dehumanization — in a facility, in a system, in a country. It is unclear whether Trump would even regard such a reputation as undesirable. He has effectively given permission for bullying.

(Emphasis added)

Fr. Reardon has some recommendations of Holocaust literature for those who don’t want to forget. Start where the podcast countdown timer reads about -14:16 if you don’t have time for the whole thing, most of which has nothing directly to say about the Shoah. I’m buying three (skipping Primo Levi because Fr. Reardon didn’t call out just one or two or Levi’s large corpus).

* * * * *

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.

Primaries

I’ve got my absentee GOP ballot to complete before travel, but the choices this season seem harder than usual.

For Prosecutor, maybe I’m rationalizing, but the challenger appears to have made one promise of substance: to file charges anytime the police have worked up a plausible case.

Sounds great until you reckon with how the system actually works. Resources are limited. Exercise of discretion not to charge preserves resources.

But I have a bigger personal issue related to resources. Neither the prosecutor’s office nor the courts can take all those extra cases to trial. Most of them are going to be plea bargained. And therein lies a personal bugaboo.

Some of those defendants are going to be innocent. “Innocent” as in “didn’t do it,” not “could wiggle out of it.” For instance, setting aside police corruption and laziness (which do occur — visit the Innocence Project for a while if you doubt me), some cases are built of circumstantial evidence which can make an innocent-but-unlucky person look pretty guilty.

So imagine when (not whether; it will happen) an innocent person is charge with something that, if they’re convicted, is likely to land them in prison for 25 years. The prosecutor offers to let them plead to a lesser offense — perhaps negligent homicide instead of murder — with only a five-year sentence, only one year to be served according to the plea offer. Defendant has a family, and children. So why not take the deal? If he’s guilty, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

But for the innocent defendant, pleading guilty means committing perjury because, at least in my fair state, the defendant will be required to testify under oath that he committed each and every element of the lesser offense, which, in the case of an innocent defendant, will be be perjurious.

No, he won’t get charged with perjury, but he’ll be guilty in God’s eyes, won’t he? (I finally gave up the ambiguity about the sex of the defendant; it likely will be a guy.)

I’d much rather not have a Prosecutor who got elected by promising to file plausible circumstantial cases against even innocent defendants.

So my vote in the Prosecutor’s race goes to the incumbent, the considerable opposition to whom I don’t understand (although I know he can be a hard-ass and can forsake justice to please vindictive police at times).

Now for the harder case.

All three primary candidates for U.S. Senate promise to be loyal foot-soldiers in the Trump army, which is a turnoff since the only Trump agenda I know for sure is racial and religious demonization and demagoguery.

Do I vote for the Congressman who most seems equivocal, perhaps even insincere, in his promise, who the others accuse of being a liberal (and who seemed to have some troubles with John Barleycorn in his twenties)? Or do I vote for the one who’s an outsider, a successful businessman, with some state legislative experience but several lawsuits against his company alleging underpayment of workers in several state business outposts? (I definitely will not vote for my current Congressman, who lied like an S.O.B. In his first Congressional race, hasn’t stopped since, and even sports a smirk suggesting that he considers the voters rubes.)

I can tell you this much: whoever I vote for in the Senate primary cannot bank on my vote in the general election. This is one of the extremely rare times where there’s a Democrat I could vote for in good conscience, who has bucked his feticidal party on abortion extremism.

Speaking of which, I’m aware of my state’s shortcomings, but it warms my heart to hear the shared GOP mantra “pro-life conservative.”

Yeah, fool me ((2016-1973)/2) times, shame on you. Fool me ((2018-1973)/2) times, shame on me. I’ve figured out that the GOP is mostly talk on abortion, but if hypocrisy is the tribute paid to virtue by vice, it’s nice to know we’ve got a bit of cockeyed, arguably naïve virtue in our electorate.

That’s all I have to say, and don’t bet that I won’t change my mind. I’m not mailing my ballot until May 1, just in case more merde hits the air-mover.

* * * * *

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.

The secret of Dreherbait revealed

Rod Dreher has a propensity so notorious that he sometimes mocks himself for it. The propensity is commenting indignantly on certain types of stories that he calls “Dreherbait.”

Certain Dreherbait events at Dan Quayle’s alma mater caught his scornful attention a few days ago (here and here), and another, this from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, caught his attention in the wee hours of Sunday. Those all fell in the Dreherbait category “campus Social Justice Warriors.”

But in the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo indignation, he dove deeper, and explained why those stories are like flame to his moth, but without actually saying it that way.

Here’s why I fear and absolutely loathe the mob, especially racialized mobs. This really happened in my town. I know the identities of every white person involved (they’re all long dead), because one of them confessed on his deathbed to a friend of mine, who was shaken by the news. I do not know the name of the victim, and my attempts to discover his name went nowhere. None of this was publicly recorded.

Back in the 1940s, in my tiny Southern hometown, word reached the sheriff that a black man had been caught raping a white woman. The sheriff put out a call to some trusted white men to come help him track the rapist down and bring him to justice. The sheriff deputized two white men who showed up. They chased the black man through the woods, and upon catching him, bound him and took him back to the parish jail. There they lynched him. This was what they told themselves they had to do to protect the good order of the community.

A couple of days later, the truth came out: the black man and the white woman had been secret lovers. When they were discovered, she accused him of rape to protect herself. After his murder by the sheriff and his men, her conscience wouldn’t let her rest. She confessed all.

In their shame, the white family moved away. Of course no one — not the sheriff, nor his deputies — faced any kind of justice for their murder of an innocent man. That’s not how things worked under white supremacy.

The reason anybody alive today knows about it is because one of the murderers, as he lay dying decades ago, unburdened his conscience.

In a piece I wrote three years ago, “When ISIS Ran The American South,” I talked about what it was like to be a black person living under white supremacy, specifically in the sense of being powerless in the face of unaccountable power, a power that was eager and willing to inflict severe violence, even death, upon you. What prompted the comparison was the news that ISIS had burned a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot alive in a cage. I wrote:

No, the American South (and other parts of America where racial terrorists ran rampant) was never run by fanatical theocrats who used grotesque public murders as a tool of terror. But if you were a black in the years 1877-1950, this was a distinction without much meaningful difference.

I had the case in my hometown in mind when I wrote that. In that post, I quoted a recent report on lynchings in the American South, 1877-1950. One category of lynchings investigators identified:

Lynchings Based on Fear of Interracial Sex. Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault. The mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim, could arouse a lynch mob. The definition of black-on-white “rape” in the South required no allegation of force because white institutions, laws, and most white people rejected the idea that a white woman would willingly consent to sex with an African American man.

In the case I’m talking about, the mob — in this case, the sheriff and his deputies, as well as the (false) accuser — did not require a dispassionate examination of the evidence in the case. The accuser’s word was enough. It was assumed by white Southern culture of the day that every black man sexually desired every white woman, and that no white woman was capable of sexually desiring a black man. Even black male desire itself was enough to merit execution; if a black man and a white woman had actually been caught in sexual congress, as in this particular case, that was even stronger evidence of rape. Or so that culture thought.

But again: white culture of that time and place was so racially paranoid that all it took was for white people to feel that a black man sexually desired a white woman for that man to be at risk of extrajudicial execution.

This surely is why he refers to analogous “the Social Justice mob” so often, and the analogy fits. But he’s not a dispassionate observer:

It’s important to me to say one more thing here. Back in the summer of 2002, I was reeling from rage over 9/11, and over the Catholic sex abuse scandal. I was so overcome by it that I had to see a dentist to get a mouthguard made for wearing at night, because I was grinding my teeth so fiercely that my wife couldn’t sleep. She was so worried about what was happening to me on the inside. I couldn’t rest. The injustices of these two catastrophic events was eating me alive. She compelled me to swallow my pride and go see a therapist.

The therapist was a Catholic, and, as it turned out, a quack. Long story. But he told me something in that first session that was offensive and painful to hear, and that I furiously rejected. But years later, I came to see that he was right.

What he told me was this: “You need to accept that under the right circumstances, you could have been flying one of those planes. You could have been Mohammed Atta.”

No effing way! I said. No way! I refused to admit that I have anything in common with that monster. What is wrong with this guy? I thought. What kind of relativist is he?

He was right about that. I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. Not too many of us are the kind of sociopaths who choose evil for evil’s sake. We first dress it up as good — as justice, perhaps. Read the final words left behind by Atta.  This is a man convinced that he was acting for the sake of God, of justice, and his tribe (Muslims), against infidels, which at one point he described as “animals” to be slaughtered. It is one long rationale for mass murder as an act of high and selfless virtue.

If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. Nor do you know history, or the human heart. The men of my town who lynched that innocent black man slept peacefully every night for the rest of their lives — except for the man who, in his final days on this earth, confessed to his wicked deed, in preparation for meeting the great Judge. But they all escaped justice on this earth, because they were all living under a system that held the maintenance of  white supremacy as justice itself.

What progressives advocated in 1964 was progress. What they advocate today is not progress, but returning to the older corruption, this time with different supremacists in power. It is still unjust. It is still evil. It always will be. The Social Justice Warriors and their fellow travelers in power at universities, in corporations, and even in government (see Mayor Harmon above), are summoning up demons that they cannot control.

(Emphasis added) The panics brought about by things like drunken frat boys and sorority girls in black face (or anything that can be so misrepresented) is akin to lynchings (later, mere felony convictions) based on fear of interracial sex. As Rod says,

I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. …

If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

And that elite college students, the pool from which disproportionately comes our top leaders, know themselves so little is special cause for alarm, which Rod sounds often.

* * * * *

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.