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.

Alcohol

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.

Anachronism

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

Enculturated

[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

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 9/24/22

Big Weed

Activists thought they could have the best of all worlds: regulate legal weed so thoroughly that you make it perfectly safe, bring in lots of tax dollars to the state, make entrepreneurs rich, eliminate the illegal weed market, and make the new system inclusive of the formerly illegal operators who suffered under criminal laws that are viewed by today’s lawmakers and citizens as unjustly harsh. Recreational legalization has brought none of the above, anywhere in North America.

Nate Hochman, Cannabusiness Goes to Pot, quoting Daniel Sumner and Robin Goldstein, ‌Can Legal Weed Win?: The Blunt Realities of Cannabis Economics

On the other hand …

I commented the other day that Letitia James had made me very happy (by suing three or four Trumps). But the crypto-tribal Wall Street Journal has two points I can’t just wave off:

  1. “Ms. James ran for office promising to indict Mr. Trump, which is the opposite of the way justice should be done. You’re supposed to find a crime and then identify the perpetrator. Ms. James declared Mr. Trump could “be indicted for criminal offenses” and has hunted ever since for a crime to charge him with.”
  2. No one who has ever listened to Mr. Trump will be surprised if he hyped the value of his holdings in dealing with bankers. But then no one in New York finance would ever trust only what Mr. Trump claims before signing a document or lending him money … As far as we’ve seen, the lenders don’t seem to consider themselves victims. They made money on the loans, which didn’t default. The transactions were presumably scoured by auditors and bank due-diligence officers. There is enormous variability in real-estate valuations. The question Ms. James will have to prove is whether Mr. Trump’s claims amounted to intentional fraud.

I wonder if principled Democrats in New York feel about this the way I feel about most of the publicized antics of Indiana’s current Attorney General?

Schrödinger’s pandemic

President Biden apparently went off script in a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, accidentally expressing the closest thing to a normie take on the pandemic: “We still have a problem with Covid,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it . . . but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”

This comment was met with a resounding “No shit!” by most Americans—except for the screeches of outrage from the folx who just aren’t ready to say goodbye. The actual screech was faintly muffled by the N95s they are still wearing everywhere, but their tweets were loud and clear …

Among those disagreeing with Biden is Anthony Fauci, who I thought was already retired and sipping piña coladas on a beach in a hazmat suit somewhere, but apparently not. At the same time, the White House said that Biden was just stating the obvious, so who knows. Perhaps the pandemic, like war, is over if you want it.

Kat Rosenfeld

Not ready for Happy Acres

The biggest Election Night for my mother was 2008. She was 93. Dad was gone. We sat up late, TV on, looking at the big empty stage at Grant Park in Chicago, and then there was a roar from the crowd and Barack and Michelle and the two little girls walked out and Mother put her hands to her eyes, overwhelmed. With the appearance of that little family came the feeling that the country had cut loose from our dark racial past.

But it was too good to be true. The man set out to reform our wasteful, inefficient, infuriating health care system and he was expertly parried by McConnell and held to a draw and in 2016 Democrats nominated a woman for whom campaigning was a miserable chore and so in came the casino man who won reelection but was cheated out of it, despite what the courts said, and now we have Republican candidates refusing to say they will accept the results in November if they go the other way. This is the point at which we break with reality. Next stop is Happy Acres where we listen to the buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees by a great big soda fountain. I’m not prepared to go there yet.

Garrison Keillor

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us …

South Korean president overheard insulting U.S. Congress as ‘idiots’

Wordplay

Wastewater epidemiology

Analysis of wastewater to determine the consumption of, or exposure to, chemicals or pathogens in a population.

It’s interesting stuff.

Interoperability

Interoperability — a fairly fundamental tenet of the Internet. Simply, it means that different applications and devices can share the same data with one another.

Keyword: Interoperability – Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure

(Via Denny Henke on Micro.blog)


[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

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Hobbit Day 2022

I have it on reasonably good authority that today is Hobbit Day, and it turns out that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one to cash in on Hobbits.

Culture

How the Bobos Broke America — key excerpt

I tend to quote a lot of things without comment, but I’m going to say that the following strikes me as true, and so contrary to the recent history of the Democrat and Republican parties that it’s core to why I believe a major realignment is underway. Today’s Republican party is not the same Republican party I left in January 2005. For my taste, it’s worse, but that taste almost certainly is tainted by Orange Man. But I gradually came to see his appeal:

What causes psychic crisis are the whiffs of “smarter than” and “more enlightened than” and “more tolerant than” that the creative class gives off. People who feel that they have been rendered invisible will do anything to make themselves visible; people who feel humiliated will avenge their humiliation. Donald Trump didn’t win in 2016 because he had a fantastic health-care plan. He won because he made the white working class feel heard.

How the Bobos Broke America.

There’s no need to hold a pity party for me, but I’ve spent most of my life too Christian and too socially awkward to be comfortable with social elites, too elite to feel instinctively empathetic or entirely comfortable with the working class.

How unreality spreads

Wrong beliefs and wrong perceptions are contagious whether or not they are sincere, because dissidents tend to self-censor and act like believers. That is how entire societies, such as the Soviet Union, can be built on everyone’s publicly pretending to believe what many privately know to be false.

Jonathan Rauch, Echo Chambers and Confirmation Loops in The Constitution of Knowledge.

I think this has some contemporary relevance. I’ll say no more.

National Conservatism could be a boon for religious liberty lawyers

Here’s the national conservatism “Statement of Principles” on God and public religion, signed by dozens of leaders of the national conservatism movement:

No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition. For millennia, the Bible has been our surest guide, nourishing a fitting orientation toward God, to the political traditions of the nation, to public morals, to the defense of the weak, and to the recognition of things rightly regarded as sacred. The Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike. Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes. (Emphasis added.)

This paragraph describes a form of religious supremacy that relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting Christianity a position of powerful public privilege.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that the “moral vision” of the signatories broadly reflects the diversity of Christian belief and practice in the United States. After all, there are churches that host drag queen events, as well as churches that condemn drag queens. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are completely dependent on their Bible-believing, church-going base constituencies (white Evangelicals for Republicans and Black Protestants for Democrats).

Are national conservatives thus satisfied when either party wins, so long as a Christian (Joe Biden, for example) is at the helm?

Of course not. For the term “moral vision” to mean anything, it has to mean a particular version of professed Christian belief and practice.

David French

A polity that "relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting [a form of putative] Christianity a position of powerful public privilege" is inconsistent with current Supreme Court thinking, and I don’t think Trump’s nominees change that.

When did modernity begin?

For us, the real Middle Ages extend from the reign of Charlemagne to the opening of the fourteenth century, at which date a new decadence set in that has continued, through various phases and with gathering impetus, up to the present time. This date is the real starting-point of the modern crisis: it is the beginning of the disruption of Christendom, with which the Western civilization of the Middle Ages was essentially identified: at the same time, it marks the origin of the formation of ‘nations’ and the end of the feudal system, which was very closely linked with the existence of Christendom. The origin of the modern period must therefore be placed almost two centuries further back than is usual with historians…

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World.

What Putin lacks

[T]he death of Queen Elizabeth II and the wave of antique pageantry help illuminate one of the Russian president’s important weaknesses. He has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy.

Ross Douthat, Why Queen Elizabeth’s Strength Is Putin’s Weakness

This takes “self-deprecating” too far

We sat and watched the committal service, we who threw all this away in the 18th century, all the costumery, ribbonry, and titlery and iconic disciplines and endless dignity, in favor of the mess we know all too well …

[A]fter a couple hours of admiring tradition and ceremony and everyone knowing which foot to put where, it dawns on me that this elevation of bureaucracy to an art form is what America fortunately escaped and thus was better able to give the world the phenomenal techno advances of my lifetime, the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines. These things were not created by platoons of people marching in place but by brilliant gamblers and entrepreneurs, nerds of many stripes. (We also gave the world the blues and rock ’n’ roll, but that’s another story.)

An English major in college, I looked down on IT students because they all dressed alike and carried plastic pocket protectors for their ballpoint pens. I saw them as dullards. As it turns out they were at work on data technology that led to the internet, which changed my life and yours too. Meanwhile, the English department and other humanities march along beside the hearse and the horsemen.

I wanted to be eccentric and got my wish but the engineers in my family are more engaged with the real world.

Garrison Keillor.

Once again, I’ll opine.

I like technology entirely too well, but “the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines” do nothing to fill the void in the human soul, and I deny that they are the “real world” in a meaningful sense. Maybe monarchy doesn’t fill the soul-void, either; I don’t know (at least in part) because I’ve never lived in a monarchy. But I think monarchy says something true about reality that all the tech in the world misses.

So maybe we and Great Britain are still joined symbiotically at the hip; they provide the meaning, we provide the toys and the parties.

Correlation

This sort of thing is why I’ll probably renew Jesse Singal’s Substack:

Missed it when it was fresh

[I]t is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.

Boris Johnson, mid-2018, on Burqas.

Shorts

Journalism

Two formerly solid journals seem to have picked their tribes, and now assiduously pitch to the worst tribal instincts.

The Decline of First Things

There are many occasions for exposing hypocrisy these days. In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Florida home, we can point to Hillary Clinton’s private server. Asked to denounce Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, we can cite Stacey Abrams, who never accepted her defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia.

R.R. Reno opening his big monthly Editorial in First Things.

That is Whataboutism at 190 proof. I have no idea what he thinks the FBI (or someone) ought to have done about Hillary’s server 6-7 years ago, and he certainly doesn’t tell us. He just insinuates that what they didn’t do was hypocritical because of what they later did. As for Stacy Abrams, so far as I know she has dropped “they done me wrong” from her stump speeches, unlike Orange Man (who is dining out on it), even if she has never formally conceded defeat.

That was just the opener. Considering how the column continued, I’m inclined to think that Reno had a bad case of writer’s block, and so resorted to tendentious bullshit.

I am thus reminded why I still (barely, and decreasingly) consider First Things essential reading but have ceased giving its publishing corporation anything beyond the cost of my subscription.

Conservative Radicals

It’s interesting to see a tribe close ranks.

Ron DeSantis’ sending two planefuls of refugees to Martha’s Vineyard is morally indefensible trolling.

So how does his tribe defend it? By focusing on “why the Left went so bat-guano crazy” over it, and implying that DeSantis had effectively taken a chapter from Saul Alinsky:

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

Apparently “ridicule” is now National Review’s term for instrumentalizing humans who are unpopular with the GOP.

With Kevin Williamson defecting to The Dispatch, I’m almost out of reasons (I can think of just two remaining) to glance at the National Review homepage any more.

Politics

Wrong kind of diversity

Liz Truss, Great Britain’s new Prime Minister, has completed her cabinet. There are no white men. None. But that’s not good enough for Britain’s Left:

“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”

This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.

The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view …

The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn.

Pamela Paul, When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

War? Really?

“Even the people who are responsible for disseminating the laptop admit that, on a human level, what happened to Hunter is horrifying. ‘A lot of stuff I do, I don’t feel great about,’ says one of them, Steve Bannon. ‘But we’re in a war.’”

The Morning Dispatch, recommending a New York Magazine article on the Hunter Biden laptop saga.

Steve Bannon is a very intelligent but quite unprincipled. “War”? Baloney!

J.D. Vance ❤️ Donald J. Trump

Trump went off on a tangent about a New York Times story that said Vance’s campaign didn’t ask Trump to come here. “JD wants my support so bad. He’s kissing my ass.”

Andrew Tobias on Twitter

Is this why we’re to take Trump “seriously if not literally”? He certainly captured the essence of Vance’s metamorphosis.

A Moment of Pleasure

Seldom has a Democrat made me as happy as Letitia James made me on Wednesday.


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday 9/18/22

Liturgies

How Elizabeth experienced her coronation

Over here, people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the by the sacramental side of what we going on.

C.S. Lewis on the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II Regina, attributed to a personal letter.

In contrast to sacramentality, America developed …

Proto-Populism in the Pews

Simply put, the Antichrist now worked his evil machinations through elites of all kind, particularly the clergy.

Nathan Hatch, Thundering Legions in The Democratization of American Christianity

Or so Americans leaned to think. Bereft of sacrament, they invented tawdry substitutes, personal and collective:

C.S. Lewis on Christian patriotism

From Screwtape Letters:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

I think things would be better if supposedly serious Christian people stopped talking like demons, don’t you?

Jake Meador

What happens to churches that forsake liturgy

What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society

What happens to politicians formed spiritually in such churches

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, it was like witnessing a Walker Percy satire. Pence remixed Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17, by replacing “Jesus” with “Old Glory,” the “saints” with “this land of heroes,” and even interjected his own biblical gloss—“that means freedom always wins.”

In Love in the Ruins, the Roman Catholic Church has split into three groups, one of which is the American Catholic Church, whose new “Rome” is Cicero, Illinois. The protagonist Tom More attends church there with his mother to celebrate Property Rights Sunday, a major feast day for the church.

Unlike its forebear, the American Catholic Church “emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass, and plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the elevation.”

In response to Pence’s speech, some Christian leaders denounced his idolatry, a great start to warding off Percy’s “Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world.” However, if we want to avert the American apocalypse, we need better readers and thinkers of the Word. As Americans, we should prioritize reading well, learning what words mean, why context matters, and how to be comfortable with mystery.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Percy and Pence and the American Sense of Scripture

The Religion of American Greatness

Paul D. Miller, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, recognizes that most of the existing works on Christian nationalism “are rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” In The Religion of American Greatness, Miller, who identifies himself as a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer,” proposes to offer a “detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism.”

Mark David Hall, Christian Nationalism: An Existential Threat?

Deja Vu

I guess it’s time for somebody to mention, and even to elaborate upon, white Evangelicalism’s pathetic, unbiblical obsession with celebrities: Richard Ostling Is celebrity culture eroding American evangelicalism? This publishing insider says ‘yes’

Yes, I send “unbiblical.” Elevating novice Christian celebrities is pathetic and it’s dangerous to the celebrities themselves.

None of the periodic commentary on this weakness has changed a damned thing, of course.

Hidden life

Enough of my rough and critical thoughts on American religious life.

God Saved the Queen

In all of human history Queen Elizabeth II is the single person who has been most prayed for. From her birth in 1926 she was included in a petition myriads of people prayed day after day: It called upon the Almighty to bless and preserve “all the Royal Family.” From her accession to the throne in 1952, millions began to pray for her daily by name: “That it might please thee to keep and strengthen . . . thy Servant Elizabeth, our most gracious Queen and Governor.” A modern form introduced during her reign that is often used today pleads, “Guard and strengthen your servant Elizabeth our Queen.”

Prayers Answered: God Saved the Queen via Alan Jacobs. The author goes on with other notable things about the late Queen.

Learning to Let Things Be

We seem to be on the verge of choosing what and whether human life—and with it, all life—will continue to be on this planet. Whether science fiction or not there are a lot of brainy people with a lot of money behind them trying to turn us into something quite different than what we have been. I think they will fail. But I don’t really know, maybe they won’t. They will likely do tremendous of damage in the process regardless. Yet nobody is able to give a fully coherent explanation of what we are doing or why. Instead, we are drowning in partial, often unhelpful explanations. I have to wonder whether our situation even can be understood. Have we reached our cognitive and moral limits? Or are the cacophony of reasons we give merely an implicit way of admitting we don’t really know why we do what we do? Admitting our fundamental ignorance would at least be refreshing in its honesty. Instead, it is not unusual to find various deep, sincere, erudite, and eloquent views of our situation that are in nearly complete contradiction with one another. It actually is quite common. Many of them are done with the same air of certainty—where there likely is none.

I myself offer only the Arsenios Option, i.e., fleeing the world of distraction and ambition, being silent, and dwelling in stillness. I don’t offer it as way to understand our situation. It’s what you do when all explanations have failed and when talking turns to gibberish … It is the hope that we can go deeper than the problem itself. In silence, stillness not-knowing, we might possibly learn to stop trying to fix everything. Maybe thereby we can avoid the inevitable catastrophe our solutions themselves are causing. We can learn to accept that we don’t see things clearly and that we probably never will. We can accept that we don’t really know and that not-knowing is actually the better and more human way to live. We can live humbly with each other and upon the earth and with the Divine. We can finally learn to simply let things be.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

—The Cloud of Unknowing

Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden (footnotes omitted)


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Elevation of the Holy Cross (a/k/a 9/14/22)

Culture

Building on vice

As Augustine of Hippo noticed, what the Romans called virtue was really a vicious craving for glory, for the approval of others who think well of one. This vice helped prop up the Roman republic, because the political class could win glory by performing deeds of conspicuous benefit to the commonwealth. In this way, the vice of glory protected against other vices that were even worse. The problem was twofold.  First, this strategy worked only because some little bit of real virtue remained; otherwise, one might pursue glory by foul means rather than fair. Second, indulging the itch for glory gradually undermined that little bit of real virtue, so that one did use foul means, for example buying votes. At that point the entire motivational structure begins to collapse, as the political class comes to lust not after simple glory, but after wealth and power. The curtain fell on the republic.

… Our society has a version of the Roman strategy too, but in our case the vice that protects against still worse vices is the lust for wealth itself. As Adam Smith noticed, the sheer desire for acquisition, as though by an invisible hand, can motivate people to benefit others, not because they love them but because that is how they earn a profit. Just as in the Roman case, this strategy works only if there a little bit of virtue remains; otherwise, one might pursue wealth by fraud and by governmental favors rather instead of by making a better and cheaper product. Just as in the Roman case, indulging the itch for wealth eventually undermines that little bit of virtue; today our corporations compete by gaming the system of regulations and subsidies. And just as in the Roman case, at this point the whole motivational structure begins to collapse, and the elite classes begin to scratch far baser itches than simple desire for honest profit.

J Budziszewski, Why Do We Always Hit a Wall?

This has haunted me since I read it, in part because it haunted me maybe 55 years before I read it.

No, I wasn’t conscious that Roman “virtue” was built on vice, but I did know that our system was built on the desire for wealth, and that a system like that seemed unlikely to come to a good end.

The longer I live, the closer I come to internalizing a key truth: there are no “good ends.” That’s what it means to live in a “fallen world.” But another part of what a “fallen world” means is that we are drawn, (almost?) irresistibly, to shuffle the deck chairs as it all goes down.

See also Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden.

The demand to be political first

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! A piece of pop culture has been announced, one with a diverse cast of characters and themes of female empowerment. Some conservative idiots lose their minds because they’re conservative idiots. Liberals respond by taking to the ramparts to defend the honor of the piece of pop culture against MAGA or whatever. Meanwhile, the actual artistic value of the pop culture in question is completely lost. Aesthetic concerns are buried beneath the demand to be political first. If you aren’t actively singing the praises of worthless shlock that’s vaguely associated with progressive politics, you’re one of them. My god, that She-Hulk show is f***ing dreadful, and its feminist politics are warmed-over Sheryl Sandberg tripe, but people are like “actually the CGI is supposed to look like dogshit, it’s artistic” because they think defending Disney’s latest blast of entertainment Soylent Green is the same as storming the Bastille. Conservatives freak about diversity, liberals defend art without any reference to artist, rinse and repeat. I could be talking about 2016’s Ghostbusters, or I could be talking about the upcoming Little Mermaid remake. Nothing ever changes, and it is all so, so tiresome.

Freddie deBoer, Why Are Identitarians Such Cheap Dates? (bowdlerization gently added). That opening paragraph was terrific, and the title of the posting makes it even better.

The special costs of being poor

Early in Nickel and Dimed, the great Barbara Ehrenreich offered up a blunt observation. “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs,” she wrote. “If you can’t put up the two months’ rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week,” she explained. “If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can’t save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved in a convenience store.” For the poor this is no revelation, merely a description of daily life. For many others, though, it was something else, a glimpse into a world that could feel distant. Yet it was not so far away, as she understood: The poor were all around. They worked, they loved, they tried to make do. The poor carried America on their backs and debunked its self-mythologies. So, too, did Ehrenreich, who showed no patience for pretense. She always looked for the truth of a thing, and for decades, she shared her search with all of us.

Sarah Jones, Barbara Ehrenreich Knew There Was a Fight

The platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece

Maya Jasanoff’s idea that “The new king now has an opportunity to make a real historical impact by scaling back royal pomp and updating Britain’s monarchy to be more like those of Scandinavia” — because Colonialism! — is (a) the platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece and (b) a perfect illustration of Clement Atlee’s comment that “the intelligentsia … can be trusted to take the wrong view on any subject.” The pomp of the British monarchy is the point; the ceremony is the substance — for good reasons and bad. When the ceremony is discarded the monarchy will be too. And rightly so. 

Alan Jacobs

Sheer drudgery, with a dose of despair

Teaching has its own rewards, to be sure. But you’re a lot more likely to wax eloquent about the privilege of shaping the minds, hearts, and souls of our youth when you aren’t grading their papers.

Peter C. Meilaender, I Don’t Care If My Students Get Jobs

Not a promising review

[T]o their credit, the characters managed to exchange an endless series of ponderous aphorisms without giggling. So it was that we learned how ‘the wine is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it has fermented’; how ‘the same wind that seeks to blow out a fire may also cause it to spread’; and, more pithily, how ‘there can be no trust between hammer and rock’.

Will you be able to get through the ponderous aphorisms without giggling? The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power reviewed | The Spectator

Political (after a fashion)

The difference between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers

The fundamental difference between Ukrainian soldiers, who are fighting for their country’s existence, and Russian soldiers, who are fighting for their salary, has finally begun to matter.

Anne Applebaum

Dance with the one what brung ya

In the post-Roe era, Ramesh Ponnuru argues, the pro-life movement should remember the approach that got them to to where they are today: incrementalism. “Passionate pro-lifers, in their impatience at what they recognize to be a grave injustice, are forgetting the need for patient persuasion of the public,” he writes for Bloomberg. “Some pro-lifers have made a point of claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. That’s because they don’t consider ending an ectopic pregnancy, for example, as a ‘direct abortion’—an intentional taking of human life. That’s needlessly confusing, and pro-lifers should simply say they’re for an exception in such cases. They should also broaden their agenda to include measures to aid parents of small children—such as the proposals of various Republican senators to expand the child tax credit and to finance paid leave. Promoting a culture of life includes fostering the economic conditions that help it thrive.”

The Morning Dispatch

Wordplay

Taking leave of senses

[I]f you have paid much attention to the conservative movement and conservative media, you’ve seen a few formerly sober-minded men take off the bow tie, put on the red cap, and bark at the moon.

Kevin F. Williamson, Steve Bannon Charges: Gravy Train Derailed

Truth Social

Truth Social: The media penal colony to which Twitter and Facebook sentenced Donald Trump.

Frank Bruni

Words failed them

The families and former FBI agent William Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed in person by [Alex] Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy.

Associated Press story on a second civil trial against Jones arising from his claim that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. (Emphasis added)


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 9/11/22

Yes, it’s the 21st anniversary of the Twin Towers (and related) attack.

Orthodoxy

Strangers in Strange Lands

In traditional Orthodox countries, the general culture supports, or at least is not hostile toward, Orthodox phronema. But in other countries, Orthodox Christians are usually a tiny minority in a sea of other religious traditions. Acquiring and maintaining our Orthodox phronema in a very pluralistic society is much more difficult and requires real effort and dedication.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

Theodicy

God allowed suffering to enter the world. He did this not out of vengeance, but out of love for man, so that through suffering arising from self-love, sensual pleasure, and the resulting desire for created things, man might see through the illusion of his self sufficiency and return to his original designation: the state of pristine simplicity and communion with the Way.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

Repentance

Repentance is everything you do to get sin, those inborn passions, out of you. It’s reading, thinking, praying, weeding out disruptive influences in your life, sharing time with fellow Christians, following the guidance of the saints. Repentance is the renunciation of what harms us and the acquisition of what is beneficial to us, writes a holy counselor.

Dee Pennock, *God’s Path to Sanity

Five takes on Protestantism

I didn’t set out to collect critiques, but these all came to my attention (several through Readwise, which I enjoy and recommend), and they felt compelling.

I’ve been Protestant, remember — just one beggar suggesting to another that there’s no bread here.

Searching for Authenticity in All the Wrong Places

The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed. Imagination is not to be filled with [what are now thought of as] airy images.’ In their search for the one truth, both movements attempted to do away with the visual image, the vehicle par excellence of the right hemisphere, particularly in its mythical and metaphoric function, in favour of the word, the stronghold of the left hemisphere, in pursuit of unambiguous certainty. … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.

Iaia McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Performance Art

America is a Protestant country and we skipped the foot-washing, love-thy-neighbor aspects of the faith, preferring preaching, a performance art that lets you despise your neighbor and thereby raise yourself up. Our politics today is tortured by its Protestantism. The Sisters of St. Mary who founded this hospital may have inherited some dreadful theology but they took a better path, they lay hands on the suffering, they soothed the fevered brow, they lifted the fallen.

Garrison Keillor, reflecting on his medical procedures at a Catholic hospital in the Mayo Clinic system.

Happy imposture

It is an imposture—this grotto stuff—but it is one that all men ought to thank the Catholics for. Wherever they ferret out a lost locality made holy by some Scriptural event, they straightway build a massive—almost imperishable—church there, and preserve the memory of that locality for the gratification of future generations. If it had been left to Protestants to do this most worthy work, we would not even know where Jerusalem is to-day, and the man who could go and put his finger on Nazareth would be too wise for this world. The world owes the Catholics its good will even for the happy rascality of hewing out these bogus grottoes in the rock; for it is infinitely more satisfactory to look at a grotto, where people have faithfully believed for centuries that the Virgin once lived, than to have to imagine a dwelling-place for her somewhere, any where, nowhere, loose and at large all over this town of Nazareth.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (emphasis added)

Populism

What then is the driving force behind American Christianity if it is not the quality of its organization, the status of its clergy, or the power of its intellectual life? I have suggested that a central force has been its democratic or populist orientation.

Nathan Hatch, “Epilogue: The Recurring Populist Impulse in American Christianity” in The Democratization of American Christianity

Escapist Fiction

The pre-Tribulationist party eventually gained the upper hand for reasons that, according to Sandeen, had less to do with their superior skill at exegesis than with the attractiveness of their position that Christians would be raptured before the Tribulations.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals

Healthcare-sharing ministries

California congressman demands more transparency from health care sharing ministries

This question was bound to arise and probably needs to. If people aren’t already disguising their sketchy health insurance plans as “ministries,” they soon enough will.


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 9/10/22

Elizabeth Regina

There is not much use for me to try to explain my sense of loss at the death of Queen Elizabeth. Others have described reasons for such a sense better than I could.

I’ve been something of an Anglophile (is Britophile a word?) since discovering Lewis, and Tolkien, and the mystique of OxBridge. That was intensified when I arrived in London, for three weeks in the British Isles, in June 1968, after 3 weeks on the continent with languages I didn’t really speak (despite formal study of French and Spanish). It just felt like home to be among English-speakers again.

So these items probably won’t be my last on the topic.

Also: long live the King, two days my Junior, who nobody thought would wait 74 years for his coronation.

Sully plays my trump card, C.S. Lewis

You can make all sorts of solid arguments against a constitutional monarchy — but the point of monarchy is precisely that it is not the fruit of an argument. It is emphatically not an Enlightenment institution. It’s a primordial institution smuggled into a democratic system. It has nothing to do with merit and logic and everything to do with authority and mystery — two deeply human needs our modern world has trouble satisfying without danger.

The Crown satisfies those needs, which keeps other more malign alternatives at bay. No one has expressed this better than C.S. Lewis:

Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

The Crown represents something from the ancient past, a logically indefensible but emotionally salient symbol of something called a nation, something that gives its members meaning and happiness. However shitty the economy, or awful the prime minister, or ugly the discourse, the monarch is able to represent the nation all the time. In a living, breathing, mortal person.

The importance of this in a deeply polarized and ideological world, where fellow citizens have come to despise their opponents as enemies, is hard to measure.

Andrew Sullivan, An Icon, Not An Idol. The whole eulogistic first part of his blog this week is worth reading if it’s not paywalled. I’d rank it as the best I’ve seen so far.

Yet another perspective on Elizabeth Regina’s longevity

Born in 1926—the year A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” was published, and two years before the invention of sliced bread—Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952 at age 25. Winston Churchill was then Prime Minister, and Britain controlled over 70 territories around the globe from Tonga to Uganda, the Bahamas to Brunei. But as early as 1953, the Queen foresaw a changing world. “The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past,” she said. Her successor, King Charles III, will control only 14 realms plus the U.K. The Queen oversaw historic transformation, even as she was the embodiment of tradition.

Noah Blum

A proper old growth sovereign

I was just preparing for [an] interview … when I got the news. I’m not expecting you to be a monarchist or even interested in the English royals, but you will understand the tremors when a proper old growth sovereign dies. In an already hugely uncertain moment, England shakes yet again.

Martin Shaw

Culture

How bad was the pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic killed so many people that U.S. life expectancy fell from roughly 79 in 2019 to 76 in 2021—the largest two-year decline in nearly a century.

America Is a Rich Death Trap – The Atlantic

Where is the grass really greener?

Whatever the shortcomings are of a liberal democracy, you have to live with the shortcomings and not use them as a reason to grab the steering wheel and just go somewhere else. Because there is nowhere else which is as good. Nowhere else which is as humane ….

Tom Stoppard via Andrew Sullivan.

These are the kinds of words I need to hear sometimes, but it’s generally enough that I would not trust any of the postliberal/illiberal figures I know to hold the reins of power. And when schismatics or heretics propose a “Christian America,” I throw up in my mouth a little.

But we still have a lot of people who’ve been given a very bad deal in this globalized world, and we need to heed their complaints even if they propose intolerable solutions.

When they call you “racist,” they may just mean they’re clearly better than you

Oberlin College’s character assassination of a local bakery is a perfect analogy for how the new upper middle class language of social justice is deployed as class warfare.

Leighton Woodhouse via Noah Blum.

I literally heard a progressive clergyperson, a mere hours ago, say that a scheduled November 5 program celebrating (now posthumously) Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee would be offensive “to BIPOC people” because … empire, colonialism, whatever.

I got the message: she’s better than the rest of us for noting that.

Politics

Writing as politics

Nearly everyone today writes from a distinct partisan position. Some commentators write as allies of the Democratic Party, others as allies of the Republicans. Still others outflank the Democrats on the left or the Republicans on the right with an eye to dragging the parties further in those respective directions.

As a consequence, what we end up with is less writing about politics than writing as politics. Many pundits and columnists seem to be primarily concerned with advancing the prospects of one party, set of policies, or ideological agenda. Or put in properly contrary terms for our era of negative partisanship: They are primarily concerned with thwarting one party, set of policies, or ideological agenda.

Whichever way you put it, this makes these writers pro bono PR flacks for one or the other of the country’s primary political factions and its ancillary branches throughout the culture.

Damon Linker, who is not a PR flack.

Pat Buchanan as proto-Trump

Buchananism was never truly popular. Neither was Trumpism: With Trump, Republicans won power but not popularity — at least not a popularity they could translate into clear electoral majorities. The simple solution would be to return to Reaganism, to reconstruct that big, if still exclusionary, tent and win huge majorities. But recent efforts to recreate Reaganism and establish a more inclusive Republican Party, like George W. Bush’s appeals to compassionate conservatism and Mr. McCain’s insistence on immigration reform, met fierce opposition from the party’s base.

Nicole Hemmer, The Man Who Won the Republican Party Before Trump Did, an argument that the swing of the GOP to populism (which Hemmer considers as being to the right of Reaganism) can be traced to Patrick J. Buchanan. It’s pretty good, if occasionally off-key.

So much venom and no fangs

The Former, who has been trying for years to master the Churchillian scowl, is seriously humor-impaired. There are unemployed joke writers around but he never thought to hire one. He was a name-caller on a fourth-grade level (Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary) or he slapped a LOSER sticker on someone’s back and let it go at that. So much venom and no fangs to make it work for him.

The Brits do insult so much better. So we should steal from them. “A shiver looking for a spine to run up” could be applied to Mitch McConnell just as well as to Edward Heath, the original target. “A sheep in sheep’s clothing” fits any number of people. “He eats used toilet tissue in the hope that he will someday get used to the taste” fits Kevin McCarthy perfectly. And “He is the only man I know who immatures as he ages” is the Former in twelve words. It’s a poke in the snoot that disarms even as it raises a welt.

Never been such times as these before, I swear | Garrison Keillor


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 9/8/22

Culture

Bravery

“Many people praised me for my bravery for having done this — to which I could only say: Millions of people do this kind of work every day for their entire lives — haven’t you noticed them?” she said in 2018 in an acceptance speech after receiving the Erasmus Prize, given to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts.

From the New York Times obituary for Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich went “underground,” trying to live on various minimum wage jobs.

I’m sure I read some of her journalistic writing, and even looked forward to the byline as a harbinger of good writing, but I apparently missed how well-regarded she really was.

Conservative academia

Do ten conservative American academics even exist? (Try naming ten outside of Hillsdale College. I’ll go: Harvey Mansfield, Niall Ferguson, Ruth Wisse, Robby George. Struggling to come up with a fifth without Google.) Then again, we wouldn’t know because they are closeted.

Bari Weiss, Dissidents and Doublethinkers in our Democracy

Too stupid for ranked-choice voting?

It seems to me that Damon Linker is arguing “America is too paranoid and too stupid for ranked-choice voting.”

I agree, though, that it’s not likely to prove a panacea.

Todd Rokita does something right for a change

In a stunning development, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has done something necessary and with minimal fanfare:

Nineteen state attorneys general wrote a letter last month to BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink. They warned that BlackRock’s environmental, social and governance investment policies appear to involve “rampant violations” of the sole interest rule, a well-established legal principle. The sole interest rule requires investment fiduciaries to act to maximize financial returns, not to promote social or political objectives. Last week Attorneys General Jeff Landry and Todd Rokita of Louisiana and Indiana, respectively, went further. Each issued a letter warning his state pension board that ESG investing is likely a violation of fiduciary duty.

ESG Can’t Square With Fiduciary Duty

I am inclined to think that these (presumably Republican) Attorneys General are “on the wrong side of history.” I think the sole interest rule will fall because it ignores corporate externalities.

Think of it this way: would an institutional investor before the Clean Water Act have been morally justified in avoiding companies that used streams and rivers as a dumping ground for toxic byproducts? But it would have been unlawful under the sole interest rule.

Now draw analogies.

But meanwhile, we don’t elect attorneys general to be on the right side of history. We elect them to enforce the laws as they are.

A question not worth researching

Cable news is for idiots, so I’m not going to subject myself to hours and hours of watching it to evaluate whether the average political positioning of a CNN guest has changed. But I think the circulation of the particular Francesca Chambers clip you cite as supposed evidence of a Trumpy shift at CNN is weaksauce — and boy have I been seeing a lot of apoplectic liberals share it on Twitter. (Jesus, people, will you get a hobby already?)

Chambers, who covers the White House for USA Today, has been a fixture on cable news for years, not just on CNN but also on MSNBC and Fox News. That she made an inane jump to “optics” when asked about Trump bringing the aunt of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli on stage at a Pennsylvania rally — Hale-Cusanelli is the January 6 riot convict who praised Hitler and posed with a Hitler mustache (in order to be “ironic”, he says, of course) — does not say anything about CNN changing. It just reflects that cable news political panel discussions have always consisted of replacement-level-or-lower armchair political strategizing and posturing — there are hours and hours and hours of time to fill, and they have been filled with this crap my entire adult life. (By the way, Sara Fay and I wrote back in January about how to book an actually good political conversation panel, based on our experience at Left, Right & Center.)

Josh Barro

Politics

Metapolitics

The Right denies the reality of events, clueless to its eventual Emperor Has No Clothes moment. The Left, however, seeks to deny the very nature of humanity itself. Both worship at the same altar, but their beliefs are predicated upon differing hermeneutical approaches within the Cult of Progress. The former believes the fantasy of a technological harnessing of apparently limitless resources to produce an ever-expanding material prosperity, all without consequential damage to the society at large. The Left believes in the fantasy of a technological harnessing of the apparently limitless ability to refashion mankind itself, regardless of the demolition of existing societal structures, and again, all without serious consequences. This latter one, while indeed the more extreme, worries me the least, as it is the more difficult case to make—indeed, often farcical in its extremities—and seems likely to eventually collapse in upon itself. The former, however, I consider the more dangerous at this moment in history, as they appear fully ready and prepared to project and maintain their Will to Power. At these times, you cannot go wrong by referencing Shakespeare, “a plague of both your houses.”

Terry Cowan, Grand Delusions, Past and Present

Political promises then and now

It is, of course, true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do. Nothing ever does half the good—perhaps nothing ever does half the evil—which is expected of it. And that may be a sound argument for not pitching one’s propaganda too high. But it is no argument against war.

C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory

Our last Conservative President

When I hear politicians promising that we can have it all — particularly that our postwar “happy motoring” can continue forever, only electrified instead of gas-powered — I’m reminded that Jimmy Carter, who urged some voluntary austerity, was our last conservative President.

Election heuristics

Years ago my friend Bill, an Army officer and fellow grad student, hosted our department for a cookout. While everyone was happy to eat his food and drink his beer, most of our colleagues despised Bill’s beliefs. One of them—call her Jane—took Bill’s small children aside, taught them a left-wing chant, then led them, her eyes glittering with hateful glee, on a little protest march through the gathering. Ever since that day, I’ve found voting to be a snap. I simply identify the candidate most likely to embody Jane’s hopes for America, and I vote against that son of a bitch with everything I’ve got.

Tony Woodlief, The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium

That’s a pretty lousy heuristic, but a pretty good story.

Amtrack Joe’s Big Warning

Spare us the pieties while you knee-cap us, please

How can an American president go wrong in identifying threats to democracy? Biden offered a master class.

[I]n describing their goals, he cast a net so wide it included everyone from those who cheered the attack on the Capitol and the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to those who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage.

As categories go, this one is capacious.

It includes violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — as well as every faithful Catholic or evangelical Christian whose deeply held moral convictions bring them to oppose legalized abortion.

In other words, Biden claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them. That may resonate with partisan Democrats who have never seen a conservative they didn’t consider a bigot or a fool. But it gives the lie to the idea that dismantling MAGA Republicanism is the prime objective of the president or his party.

Bret Stephens, ‌With Malice Toward Quite a Few

I did not listen to the speech, but when someone as sober as Bret Stephens says Biden lumps together January 6 insurrectionists and faithful Catholics who vote Republican based on the abortion issue, I’ve got to think that’s a fair characterization.

And “devout Catholic” Biden invites just contempt for doing that.

Stephens again:

Is that smart as hardball politics? Maybe. But Biden could have spared us the pieties about timeless American values. As far as I can tell, he has yet to say a word in public against the [Democrat] ad buys [to elect MAGA candidates in GOP primaries], much less tried to stop them. Instead, his speech makes a neat bookend to a strategy of promoting MAGA extremists so they can be denounced as MAGA extremists. Some liberals took a similar approach in 2016, all but rooting for Trump to win the nomination on the theory that he’d be Hillary Clinton’s weakest opponent. Look how that worked out.

Dark Brandon

Surely it’s damning that what so many people seem to remember isn’t Mr. Biden’s message but the nakedly political use of the uniformed Marines behind him (calling Gen. Mark Milley)—and the neon illumination that made the stately face of Independence Hall look like the entrance to a bordello in some red-light district.

Even more striking was the tone. Gone was genial Joe from Scranton, the man who persuaded Americans that he would give them a calm and drama-free presidency. In its place was Dark Brandon, a superhero saving America from imaginary armies of fascism.

William McGurn, Biden is Angry, But Not Serious

Is his church the enemy?

Biden’s speech conflated the refusal to accept election outcomes with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — implying that the positions of his own Catholic Church are part of a “MAGA Republican” threat to democracy itself — while touting a State of the Union-style list of policy achievements, a cascade of liberal self-praise.

Ross Douthat, Does Biden Really Believe We Are in a Crisis of Democracy?

Realignment

Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.

Yuval Levin via Jason Willick

How small this narcissist is!

Yesterday, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump addressed a rally supposedly in support of Republican candidates in the state: Mehmet Oz for the Senate; the January 6 apologist Doug Mastriano for governor … [T]his was what led local news: “Donald Trump Blasts Philadelphia, President Biden During Rally for Doug Mastriano, Dr. Oz in Wilkes-Barre.”

Yes, you read that right: Campaigning in Pennsylvania, the ex-president denounced the state’s largest city …

The rally format allowed time for only brief remarks by the two candidates actually on the ballot, Oz and Mastriano. Its message was otherwise all Trump, Trump, Trump. A Republican vote is a Trump vote. A Republican vote is a vote to endorse lies about the 2020 presidential election.

On and on it went, in a protracted display of narcissistic injury that was exactly the behavior that Biden’s Philadelphia speech had been designed to elicit.

David Frum, Biden Laid the Trap. Trump Walked Into It.


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 9/4/22

Pray for your pastor

A pastor in Indiana told me that no one in her church denied the importance of Covid precautions, but the new demands that the pandemic placed on her contributed to a sense of burnout.

“I never got tired of pastoring or thinking about Scripture and preaching,” she said. “I just started associating ministry with having to learn new computer programs and having embarrassing, anxious moments around technology.” She continued, “Over time pastoral ministry started to seem like a total absurdity. The world around me was on fire and I was stuck in an empty church building figuring out Zoom.”

Tish Harrison Warren, Why Pastors Are Burning Out

Another difference between East and West

Even during the critical debates of the fourth century, when theological terminology was being fleshed out, Fathers such as Gregory the Theologian rejected the use of clever argumentation and Aristotelian syllogisms, preferring the philosophy of the fisherman, the Tradition of the Church.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

That the Christian Latin West turned eventually toward argumentation and syllogism is a major font of the differences between it and the Christian “Greek” East.

Therapeutic friendship

Since we last met, Marco lost his wife to cancer, and I lost mine to divorce. As I expected, my old friend was in great spirits. With Marco, he’s never faking cheerfulness. It comes from his faith. You can’t imagine faith like he has! When I was on French television a few years ago, the host asked me who my hero is. “Marco Sermarini,” I said, and it was true. I explained that it’s because here is an ordinary man, just like the rest of us, who loves life with great passion, and who has done extraordinary things because above all, he loves Christ.

Rod Dreher, The Gift Of Friendship

I’m glad Rod is spending some time with Marco. He needs it.

Blue Laws

Of course, “lowering religious participation” was always the intent and purpose of repealing blue laws, and this all negatively confirms that law is a teacher, and sometimes teaches what is false and demonstrably bad for a people. The activists who sought (in their hatred of Christianity) to repeal such laws, and the legislators and justices who did the repealing, failed to foresee how damaging the loss of such laws would be on “the social fabric of communities generally.” Among their findings is that the loss of blue laws depressed religious participation, and that this in turn made very significant portion of the population unstable, lacking the strength of “religiosity,” unable to deal with “enormous negative shocks” such as large-scale wars and natural disasters—which is to say, unable to deal with suffering.

Restoring blue laws is not a panacea. Yet as the authors show, the decline of religious adherence in America is not simply one correlative among many, but rather it is so highly correlative as to be reasonably considered the principal cause of our despair. Of course, as a theologian, I could’ve told you that, but it’s nice to have some confirmation from those who practice the dismal science as well.

Chad Pecknold, To Reverse Our Despair. (Emphasis added)

It’s sad to see Pecknold, a solid-enough guy most of the time, fairly obviously making shit up. I guess truth and sobriety come in second (or lower) behind promoting the "Postliberal Order."

Episcopalians

In the early 20th Century, there was extensive rapprochement between the Orthodox and Episcopalians. That eventually broke down, and the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has gone on to pioneer many deviations from historic Christianity, starting, by some accounts, with approving contraception. (What? You’re surprised that all Churches opposed contraception until a loosening began in the 1930s?)

For a variety of reasons, and increasingly as I grew older because of their deviations from historic Christianity, I have always been very leery of the Episcopal Church — so leery, in fact, that I could not quite imagine why a believing Christian from another tradition would become Episcopalian. (By “believing Christian” I mean to exclude those who would become Episcopalian to climb the social ladder.)

Yet I have seen that happen quite a few times in my life, and although I feel no personal draw in that direction, I think I have finally figured out why someone else might: revulsion at frivolousness or bigotry in their corner of Christianity, attraction to well-executed Episcopalian forms of worship, or both.

A large choir I’m in is preparing a celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Anniversary, and our repertoire is entirely music that was sung at Westminster Abby at her Coronation in 1953. Some of it is still sung by my local Episcopal Church choir (there’s a lot of overlap between our choir and its choir). I have viewed on YouTube grainy black-and-white videos from the coronation itself, and more recent performances of the same music, and I’ve got to say: if sacred worship music in western Christendom gets any better than that, I sure as heck don’t know where. In fact, it’s widely agreed that Episcopalians do liturgy better than Roman Catholics. (I used to jibe that “Of course they do; it’s all they’ve got.” I’ve softened on any hint that having that isn’t worth much.)

As for frivolousness or bigotry elsewhere, if you can’t spot that on your own I’m not going to wade into fetid waters to point it out. Not today anyway. (And I don’t doubt that Episcopalians are vulnerable to their own peculiar bigotries.)

For me, sound doctrine (as I then saw it) without sound worship was less unpalatable than the opposite. It would be a closer call today, but I’m in a place that has both.

I think that’s all I’ll say for now.

A certain catholic je ne sais quoi

After Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of Indianapolis did not comply with a directive to fire one of its teachers, Archbishop Charles Thompson tried to strip the school of its Catholic school status.

(Caption on an AP photo of the Archbishop, Lafayette Journal & Courier, 9/3/22)

“Tried to”? Really?

Brebeuf, by refusing to rid itself of a scandal as directed, is now just as Catholic as are the excommunicated schismatics styled “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.”

“Catholic” is not ineffable and interior, like “gender identity.”

Orwell in the Mediation Room

Maybe I’m missing something, but “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation” has always sounded Orwellian to me. Then came Covid, and reconciliation and grace seem to have gone away.

Doing politics Christianly

Christians seeking social influence should do so not by joining interest groups that fight for their narrow rights and certainly not those animated by hatred, fear, phobias, vengeance or violence.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post, via Alan Jacobs

True Christians and sin

A true Christian is made so by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the words of the Savior Himself. He deigned to say: ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to salvation’ (cf. Luke 5:32); ‘There is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety righteous ones’ (cf. Luke 15:7). Likewise concerning the sinful woman who touched his feet, He deigned to say to Simon the Pharisee: ‘To one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be required’ (cf. Luke 7:47). From these considerations a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and pay not the least attention to despair that is inflicted on one.

St. Herman of Alaska

A recurring cautionary note

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 9/3/22

Culture

Tolerance or acceptance?

One of the often repeated but seldom considered ethical maxims of our shallow age is the idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is what we really need …

The idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is better is bullshit.

… Acceptance is not a virtue. It is a cowardice that refuses to even acknowledge the importance of morality.

Tolerance is better. It does not deny the existence of objective reality. It is quite happy admit that a person might be wrong about something important to them; but does not assume that just because another person is wrong, you should have the right or ability to correct them. It knows that assuming unlimited power to correct the errors of others leads only to atrocities. Tolerance is not some easy first step. Real tolerance, the type that consists of more than just repeating whatever beige pieties the clerical caste are churning out this week, requires discipline and a willingness to sacrifice part of your own power over the world.

Flat Caps and Fatalism, Through a glass

Royal, not “famous for being famous”

It occurs to me that my soft spot for the British Royal Family may be rooted it its refusal — for most members, almost always — to act like celebrities.

Thence also my contempt for Harry and Meghan.

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

[T]he discovery that the healthy body parts of even a tiny handful of children were being intentionally removed by world class medical institutions [should] be non-stop national news. But the forcefield of denial and magical thinking around trans issues makes it so the removal of healthy organs is actually life-saving surgery performed by doctors carrying the banner of the next civil-rights movement. The media, of course, plays along or pretends there’s nothing to report here. 

After the Children’s National Hospital story blew up last weekend, NPR was more interested in anti-trans threats against hospitals than in looking into what was actually going on. A since-deleted statement on CNH’s website indicating that gender affirming hysterectomy was available to patients “between the ages of 0-21” was charitably waved off by The Washington Post as “an error that has been corrected.” Yes, well, mistakes happen.

Meghan Daum

Homicide or Suicide?

I spent a little time with a very cynical friend and realized, debriefing myself afterward, that he’s probably no more pessimistic than I am about our future, but he thinks there are malefactors actors doing this to us, whereas I think we’re almost entirely doing it to ourselves.

The difference probably ramifies politically, but I don’t want to attribute political views to him that I have calculatedly not asked about.

Mitch Daniels on student loan forgiveness

A very interesting guy lives a few miles away, across the Wabash River. His name is Mitch Daniels and he runs an operation called “Purdue University.”

He has thoughts about student-loan debt forgiveness. Student-Loan Forgiveness and the National Debt

I put this last in this section because, alas, there’s a paywall.

Wordplay

Fun

I heard some time back that other languages have no equivalent of the English word “fun.” I’ve puzzled over that claim, and over the meaning of the English word.

Today, a clue:

Fun (n.)

“A cheat, trick” (c. 1700), from verb fun (1680s) “to cheat, hoax,”… probably a variant of Middle English fonnen “befool”: (c. 1400s)…funny money “counterfeit bills.”

– Online Etymology Dictionary

Via Mark Botts

I’m not sure I can even consider this a clue, but it popped up and might (I’m far from sure: tl;dr, as they say) help triangulate “fun”: Here’s How to Have Fun. Also, What Is Fun? – The New York Times

Certainty vs. Certitude

Too often when I get a whiff of something, I find that someone else has already gone there and posted something about it. Thus, Certainty vs. Certitude.

Business-dude lorem ipsum:

… filler language that is used to roleplay “thought leadership” among those who have nothing to say: the MBA version of a grade-school book report that starts with a Webster’s Dictionary definition. Advanced business-dude lorem ipsum will convey action (“We need to design value in stages”) but only in the least tangible way possible. It will employ industry terms of art (“We’re first to market or a fast follower”) that indicate the business dude has been in many meetings where similar ideas were hatched. Business-dude lorem ipsum will often hold one or two platitudes that sound like they might also be Zen koans (“That value is in the eye of the beholder”) but actually are so broad that they say nothing at all. In fact, in a previous draft of this newsletter, I had initially gone through the blog post almost line-by-line to point out shining examples of corporate gibberish in action, only to realize that the negative information quality of the writing actually bogged down and leeched clarity out of my own writing like an idea vacuum.

Charlie Wartzel, Business Dudes Need to Stop Talking Like This

Iatrogenic

Pertaining to disease or disorder caused by doctors. But it has popped up under my nose as metaphor at least twice this week:

Like so much of what government does, it’s iatrogenic, inflating college costs as schools continue to pocket the subsidies Uncle Sam showers on them.

Mitch Daniels, Student-Loan Forgiveness and the National Debt

Politics

A Slam-Dunk Case Against Trump2024

Trump told the Wendy Bell show that if re-elected he would issue full pardons and a government apology to rioters who stormed Capitol on Jan. 6: “I mean full pardons with an apology to many.”

Meredith McGraw via The Morning Dispatch

Thank God, the man just can’t help himself. That promise should be in heavy rotation in Democrat ads if Trump is the Republican nominee.

A crude statement of the populist essence

I’m using the term “populist” in a very specific way, drawing on part of the definition offered by author Jan-Werner Müller in his book What Is Populism? (which I had a hand in publishing during my time working at Penn Press). A populist is someone, according to Müller, who declares that only some of the people (namely, his supporters) are the people. Everyone else is either a traitor to the true people or in some other way not fully of the true people.

So, for example, at a campaign rally in May 2016, Trump declared that “the only important thing is the unification of the people—because the other people don’t mean anything.” That is a crude statement of the populist essence.

Damon Linker

(I generally keep mum on populism, as opposed to keeping mum on today’s odd Orange populist avatar, because the populists have legitimate grievances that neither party has convincingly addressed.)

More Linker, from the same post:

Liberals and progressives think history moves in a certain direction (toward justice understood as ever-greater equality) and that politics should contribute to this forward movement. Conservatives believe in slowing and managing change without necessarily presuming history moves with any underlying logic or direction. And reactionaries think things were better in the past, that there’s been a fall from that Golden Age, and that it’s possible to return to that prior state through an act of political will.

How polarization gets worse — and worse, and worse …

37 of the 50 states, where three-quarters of Americans live, are ruled by a single party. The number where one side controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion has nearly doubled in the past 30 years. These one-party states are self-perpetuating, as the winners redraw electoral maps to their own advantage. And politicians with ultra-safe seats have perverse incentives. They do not worry about losing a general election, only a primary, in which avid partisans call the shots because they are more motivated to vote. The way to woo such partisans is to eschew compromise.

Hence the proliferation of extremism. Most Texans think their new abortion laws are too draconian, for example, even though most also think the old national rules were too lenient. If Texas were not a one-party state, its legislators might have found a compromise.

The Economist, American states are now Petri dishes of polarisation

Can democracy survive?

Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: Either they win or they were cheated.

Joe Biden

My main quibble with this was the convenient assumption that there are only two political sides. That’s why it’s good to keep reading:

If Biden truly believes that, he should let his political team know. PACs, committees, and nonprofits aligned with the Democratic Party have spent tens of millions of dollars this election cycle propping up those “MAGA Republicans” in GOP primaries, boosting their name recognition in the hopes they’ll be easier to defeat in a general election. Several of the more “mainstream” Republicans Biden lauded—Rep. Peter Meijer in Michigan, Aurora, Illinois, Mayor Richard Irvin, former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, and many more—have fallen victim to the scheme.

The Morning Dispatch: Biden vs. ‘MAGA Republicans’


[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 into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.