April Fools Day


I finally dipped my toe into ChatGPT, having been inspired by a story of a mom who used it to plan her child’s birthday party.

I had it draft a policy on delinquent tuition payment for a private school. High marks. Over the coming days, I’ll see what other logjams it can break on my project list.

I asked it “What are some real-world applications of the quadratic equation?” It gave a plausible answer, which I cannot evaluate since I haven’t used the equation since high school and cannot remember it. (If any kids are reading this, that’s probably because I became a lawyer, not an engineer.)

Since I get too easily enamored of technology, it behooves me to read smart critiques and concerns as they come along, if only to guide my personal conduct toward AI.

Nashville shooting

Journalistic lacunae

Why not explore [journalistically] how the attack on children and teachers in a Christian school affects Christians. This massacre may have been what some call a “hate-crime” against a religious group. And it’s odd that the community whose actual children were murdered seems less deserving of coverage than the community wrongly associated with a child-killer. It would be the equivalent of asking the Muslim community how they felt about a mass shooting in a synagogue, but never asking Jews.

It also seems legit to me to cover how violent memes and slogans and rhetoric can prime already-unstable people to commit violence. If it’s fair to call out the NRA’s materials after a mass killing (and I think it is), it’s also fair to note how common violent imagery and rhetoric has become in the TQIA+ world.

“Kill Terfs” is not a fringe slogan; it’s everywhere. A leader of the TQIA+ movement, Chase Strangio, has written that laws restricting child sex-changes are, in fact, laws to “criminalize known survival care for trans youth … That goal is akin to a goal of killing us.“ He has also claimed that his opponents “want to control and eradicate” trans people. Last weekend, a trans activist assaulted a gender-critical speaker with tomato juice in New Zealand, telling a crowd that “I want her to be full of blood, because that’s what she’s advocating for. She’s advocating for our genocide … our extermination.” The mob violently shut the event down. Then there are the many

grimacing skulls that promise “DEATH BEFORE DETRANSITION”, knives, baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire, assault rifles painted in the pastel tones of the trans flag, torrents of rape and death threats, the grim vow that “EVERY DAY IS TRANS DAY OF VENGEANCE.

And it would also be great if the press could fact-check not just the falsehood that trans people are more likely to murder, but also the idea, constantly reiterated by TQIA+ groups, of an “epidemic” of anti-trans, hate-motivated murders. That notion has been repeatedly debunked ….

Andrew Sullivan

Why don’t the police release the "manifesto"?

I was just about ready to join the demand for release of the Nashville Christian School shooter’s reported “manifesto” when this brought me up short:

consider this other possibility: Might the shooter’s manifesto contain accusations of some kind against family, school, church or others? If that’s the case, police and legal officials may be investigating these claims before airing them to the public.

That’s not an entirely idle speculation, as you’ll see if you follow the hyperlink, nor is it implausible: an extremely conservative Presbyterian church in my hometown badly mishandled sexual abuse in the congregation.

So, yes, sooner or later we need to see the “manifesto.” If they’re investigating claims of the manifesto, it would be nice to know.

The Trump Indictment

Selected quotes

I’ve written a bit about the New York case against Trump, now gone to indictment. None of it was particularly original, and neither is this, but then I’m pretty selective about what sources I’ll spend time reading.

That said, some notable commentary by others:

  • David Frum notes that the charges might not even be about Stormy Daniels. (Deciding what a grand jury’s up to is a bit like reading chicken entrails.)
  • In his statement responding to the indictment, the former president said, “Never before in our Nation’s history has this been done.” But never before in our nation’s history have we had a president as dishonorable, as unethical, and as malicious as Donald Trump. (Peter Wehner)
  • There’s something very, well, Trumpy about this: He has a way of making everything sordid. Instead of a dramatic discussion about the meaning of accountability for a president who sought to overthrow the will of the voters to stay in power, we’re arguing about the dirty mechanics of hush-money payments to an adult-film star. (Quinta Jurecic)
  • I worry that a failed prosecution might strengthen Trump. Yet I’d also worry — even more — about the message of impunity that would be sent if prosecutors averted their eyes because the suspect was a former president. [Paragraph break omitted] The former president’s fixer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison for doing Trump’s bidding, and a fundamental principle of justice is that if an agent is punished, then the principal should be as well. That is not always feasible, and it may be difficult to replicate what a federal prosecution achieved in Cohen’s case. But the aim should be justice, and this indictment honors that aim. (Nicholas Kristoff, I Worry About a Failed Prosecution of Trump, but I Worry More About No Prosecution)
  • There is a counterargument that this is America’s moment for prosecutorial discretion to allow the country to recover and move on. As a teenager, I was outraged when President Gerald Ford pre-emptively pardoned former President Richard Nixon, yet over time I came to think that it was the right call and allowed the country to heal. Yet one difference is obvious: Nixon in 1974 was already completely discredited, ostracized and broken, while Trump denies any wrongdoing and is running again for the White House. (Nicholas Kristoff, I Worry About a Failed Prosecution of Trump, but I Worry More About No Prosecution)


When someone on the Right accuses a progressive of being funded by George Soros, it damages my regard for the accuser more than for the accused. It’s a mark either of stupidity by the accuser or of his contempt for those listening. (The same goes for Lefties’ obsessions with the Koch brothers or Peter Thiel.)

Ron DeSantis is not stupid. You draw the necessary inference.

By the way, as Radley Balko points out, DeSantis famously removed a local prosecutor from office last year for declaring that he wouldn’t enforce the law as written for political reasons. That’s no different from what DeSantis himself is guilty of here [in claiming that “Florida will not assist in an extradition request”].

Nick Cattogio



I want to leave a note here, because I expect to have many occasions to link back to it in the next several months.

Americans and Republicans, remember: You asked for this. Given the choice between a dozen solid conservatives and one Clinton-supporting con artist and game-show host, you chose the con artist. You chose him freely. Nobody made you do it.

I will be reminding you all of that, from time to time.

Kevin D. Williamson, May 4, 2016, right after Donald Trump secured the votes to be the Republican presidential nominee.

But he was wrong about something: he has had “occasions to link back to it” for years, not several months.

Williamson has another epochal column, Witless Ape Rides Escalator with perhaps the most on-point succinct summary of that ape:

[W]hen Trump sings “How Great Thou Art,” he sings it in a mirror.

When Ruy Teixeira talks

When Ruy Teixeira talks (Republicans Really Are the Party of the Working Class), Democrats should listen attentively.

In a lot of ways, the reversal of party affiliation by the white working class, in increasingly by “POCs” in the working class, is the most astonishing part of the realignment since witless ape rode escalator.

Elite Populism

There is an elite version of populism that masquerades as technocracy.

Jonah Goldberg

Freddie on “all that politics is”

I’m not sure who first said it, but it’s been observed that Trump’s fundamental political proposition is not really populism, or foreign policy isolationism, or economic protectionism. Trump’s political pitch is, simply, “I will destroy your enemies.” Which is part of what makes him a monster, his zeal for attacking his targets and the targets he picks. But when I see people who favor police and prison abolition exactly up until the police and prisons become useful tools to them, it convinces me even more that “I will destroy your enemies” is all that politics is. When you scrape the surface even a little bit, that’s all that you find, the will to destroy the other side.

Freddie deBoer, May "Destroy My Enemies" Be All of Our Law

I do not agree with Freddie on “all that politics is,” but he’s got an awfully good point about Trump.

Freddie gems

  • I am waiting for someone to tell me what the radical left approach to law and order adds up to, these days, other than an injunction against ever calling the cops for anything and people screaming on Twitter that it’s fine if you smoke meth in a crowded elevator. No one has taken me up on the offer to explain how any of this works. Because none of it works, and it’s not clear if it was ever intended to work as an actionable set of proposals. It’s all pose, all fashion. Three years after “defund the police” became a ubiquitous slogan in left spaces, nobody knows what it means, nobody feels any pressure to figure that out, but everyone is still sure that if you expect any enforcement of basic order at all, you’re a fascist.
  • Trump stood for very little in any conventional political terms, barely attempted to define a political agenda on the campaign trail, and was most notable in policy terms for his willingness to defend Medicare and Social Security after Paul Ryan’s former stranglehold on Republican fiscal ideals. Instead, he offered the ritualistic scourging of the people his fans found detestable – first in the primary, mocking John McCain and Jeb Bush and whoever else stood in his way, then the effete liberals who were allowing immigrants and criminals to ruin the country. His potential successor, Ron Desantis, is something of an idea man, but he tilts those ideas towards the urge to destroy constantly. His signature policies are all oriented towards reminding voters that he will target their enemies and use government to oppose them. He has to; it’s a political necessity for a 21st-century Republican with great ambitions.
  • What all of us have to recognize is that the nihilism and score-settling of the past seven years are not the fault of a single awful man but emergent properties of a toxicity deeply embedded in the guts of this country. We can’t cure that toxicity if we spend all of our time diagnosing it in the other side. Of course I think Republicans are mostly to blame. But that belief tells us nothing about how to build a better, healthier political culture.

Freddie deBoer

Indirect evidence on gun control

Here’s the funny thing: while conservatives balk at even the mildest gun control efforts on account of it being a slippery slope (fine), progressives have absolutely no intention of enforcing even existing gun control laws. What could I mean by this? Just listen to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner this week on how his office won’t prosecute illegal gun possession:

We do not believe that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession is a viable strategy to reduce shootings,” the DA’s office said.

This is the ur-progressive prosecutor, saying gun control doesn’t stop shootings and that he’s just not going to do it. Because enforcing gun control laws would mean—it’s almost too terrible to say—enforcing laws. And that’s a line that America’s progressive prosecutors simply cannot cross.

Nellie Bowles

Gun control gets a boost every time there’s a mass shooting, especially of schoolchildren. But when you get into the weeds, the details, where the devil notoriously lurks, it’s far from obvious what to do. We can wish that we’d never become so gun-infatuated as a nation, but we did.

Kevin D. Williamson demolishes (as have countless others before him) the case against the AR-15 in The Washington Post Misfires—Again. The only thing particularly dangerous about the AR-15 seems to be its cool factor, its status as an icon of toughness.

So what now? “Do something! (however symbolic, ill-advised or constitutionally provocative)” is not an answer I’ll accept.


Purity … is NOT the one thing needful; and it is better that a life should contract many a dirt-mark, than forfeit usefulness in its efforts to remain unspotted.

William James

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

James 1:27

I’ve done the hard part, gathering the epigraphs. Would you now like to write the essay?

(H/T James K.A. Smith, by whose standard these epigraphs are far too direct for the essay I might write.)


Notable oddity to add a little seasoning to life: Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park


Anisogamy: Sexual reproduction involving two types of gametes that differ in size.


  • All horsepower corrupts. (Patrick Leigh Fermor)
  • Walking “is how the body measures itself against the earth.” (Rebecca Solnit)
  • I only went out for a walk and … going out, I found, was really going in. (John Muir)
  • I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees. (Henry David Thoreau)

Via Andrew McCarthy

If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.

Southern Baptist Seminary President Al Mohler, 2016. “By 2020, Mohler had nonetheless become a public supporter of Trump, even standing by his vote for Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection. ‘Based upon the binary choice we faced on November the third, I believe then that that was the right action to take,’ Mohler said on his podcast on January 7, 2021. ‘And going back to November the third, I would do the same thing again.’ To my knowledge, Mohler has yet to issue an apology to Bill Clinton.” (Robert P. Jones, Why a Trump indictment will matter so little to most of his Christian supporters)

Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

Isaiah 37:36 (King James Version)

‘Traditional art invites a look’, she wrote. ‘[Modernist art] engenders a stare’. The stare is not known for building bridges with others, or the world at large: instead it suggests alienation, either a need to control, or a feeling of terrified helplessness.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary. (I don’t recall who he was quoting.)

Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest [of America] is real.

Jean Baudrillard

The irony of Chat GTP asking me to verify I’m a human

@philbowell on micro.blog

… the difference between what Rowling says she believes and what her critics claim she does ….

J.K. Rowling Addresses Her Critics

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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.

Tuesday, 3/7/23



Following the herd

It also makes sense to assume that Fox’s behavior will change if it ends up losing this [Dominion] lawsuit. I certainly think it will. Specifically, the people who work there will take care not to put it in writing the next time they quietly conspire to smear someone into oblivion.

Murdoch’s shop has always followed the herd, a reminder that its core mission was and remains to advocate for its audience’s political priorities, not to provide them with news. Especially when the news happens to contradict those priorities.

If you happened to tune into Fox [February 2] you found [Tucker] Carlson still at it more than a year later, promising fans that he’s unearthed video that’ll soon prove the government is “lying” about the insurrection.

Nick Cattogio

Folk wisdom

  • “The time to decide whether or not you want to kill a deer is before you go hunting.”
  • “If you don’t want to get a haircut, don’t hang around the barbershop.”

Wisdom via Chris Stirewalt, who preaches a eulogy of sorts for Bill Sammons, late of Fox News, who definitely decided to kill the deer.


Flipping the script on its head

I ask Oizumi why he is so drawn to this country. “I like to go places where there are people with a real history. In Korea, that same tribe, that same culture has been there for a very long time.” “Well,” I say, “Europe has a long history too.” “No way! That place is frightening.” “Frightening?” “Yes. I went to Italy, Spain, Milan, Florence, and all the buildings were made from stone—the churches, the castle walls, and ramparts. Now, how did they make that? That would take a tremendous amount of energy. In those days there were no bulldozers. Everything was done by hand. A place with that many stone buildings would have needed some kind of slavery system to build them. When I saw that I thought, Wow, Asia was still relatively peaceful back in the olden days.

San Oizumi, profiled by Andy Couterier, The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan


We are offended only by those who are boorish in the way that working class people are boorish, not by those who are boorish in the way that our powerful classes are boorish.

J Budziszewski

Destined for obsolescence?

To the extent that a Disney production manifests the sort of obvious and literal-minded progressive messaging that might outrage some Republican official, it is already failing by the Mouse’s own standards and is destined for obsolescence no matter what. What survives to become fixed in the Disney canon has to feel deeply in tune with its vast and bipartisan audience even when there’s some kind of ideological vision underneath. Politics is welcome in the temple but never nakedly or openly, never crudely — only clothed in the robes of princesses and filtered through the lyrics of Howard Ashman or Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Ross Douthat

Teaching in Prison

I expected much less than College Should Be More Like Prison delivered. Excerpts:

Never have I been more grateful to teach where I do: at a men’s maximum-security prison. My students there, enrolled in a for-credit college program, provide a sharp contrast with contemporary undergraduates. These men are highly motivated and hard-working. They tend to read each assignment two or three times before coming to class and take notes as well. Some of them have been incarcerated for 20 or 30 years and have been reading books all that time. They would hold their own in any graduate seminar. That they have had rough experiences out in the real world means they are less liable to fall prey to facile ideologies. A large proportion of them are black and Latino, and while they may not like David Hume’s or Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on race, they want to read those authors anyway. They want, in short, to be a part of the centuries-long conversation that makes up our civilization. The classes are often the most interesting part of these men’s prison lives. In some cases, they are the only interesting part.

In many ways, it is the Platonic ideal of teaching, what teaching once was. No faculty meetings, no soul-deadening committee work, no bloated and overbearing administration. No electronics, no students whining about grades. Quite a few of our students are serving life sentences and will never be able to make use of their hard-won college credits. No student debt, no ideological intolerance, no religious tests—whoops, I mean mandatory “diversity” statements. And in our courteous, laughter-filled classroom there is none of the “toxic environment” that my friends in the academy complain about, and that I experienced during my own college teaching career.

The author gives a lot of credit to the absence of cell phones and internet connections.

Breaking Covenant

I think the truth is that we have been breaking our covenants with students for quite some time. The rise in student debt is a broken covenant. Adjunctification is a broken covenant. The fact that at some research universities a significant portion of student tuition pays faculty to not teach is a broken covenant. According to this study from Charles Schwartz, an emeritus professor at Cal Berkeley, 40 percent of student tuition at his institution goes toward funding departmental research.

Renewing Higher Education’s Covenants


Mind Blown

Pardon me while I briefly geek out on constitutional legalia.

As a threshold matter, I’m not even certain the Establishment Clause can be incorporated. … Akhil Amar has written … that this federalism provision prevents the federal government from interfering with state established churches. ‌But that ship has probably sailed.

Josh Blackman, Ending the Epicycles of the Establishment Clause.

I’m quite certain that the original meaning of the establishment clause was that the federal government could not lawfully interfere with state established churches. Fer cryin’ out loud, people, Massachusetts had an established Congregational Church into the 1830s and nobody thought it was uncontitutional.

Perhaps it also meant that the federal government could not lawfully establish its own national church; that would be nice.

But it never occurred to me that because the Establishment Clause was a federalism provision, it’s illegitimate to use the anti-slavery Civil War Amendments to apply it to the states (the “incorporation doctrine”).

So Indiana could still establish Preacher Boy Billy-Bob’s Landmark Baptist Church as the state religion. That would not be nice.


Damon Linker: Ron DeSantis Is Not a Fascist

Tens of millions of our fellow citizens don’t like where they think our country is headed, and they’re expressing that dislike at the ballot box. The response to them shouldn’t be you’re not allowed to dislike and attempt to change the country’s direction. The response should be here are reasons why you should be less hostile to recent trends and more fearful that the illiberal reforms you favor will end up making you less free in the long run, too

Damon Linker, Ron DeSantis Is Not a Fascist

One of the most impressive things about Barack Obama was that he could make the conservative case more eloquently than 90% of conservatives. One of the most infuriating things about him was he would then do the progressive thing — invariably in the Senate, oftener than not as President.

Damon Linker had replicated that impressive feat with contemporary right-illiberals, like Ron DeSantis. But he remains a liberal (center-left, I’d say). The linked column (and I think the link will get you to it for free) is one of his best and is food for productive thought both for right-illiberals (or those tempted by it) and liberals of both left and right.

The fashy essence of authoritarian populism

[P]er his keynote speech at CPAC on Saturday, it appears the coming campaign will be Trump Unleashed.

My hat is off to whichever speechwriter came up with the line “I am your retribution.” With remarkable efficiency, it divines the fashy essence of authoritarian populism.

Nick Cattogio

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Magic Mushrooms

Wednesday evening I watched a Netflix documentary titled Fantastic Fungi. The first voice in the documentary turned out to be the voice of Fungi, who returns for further narration (largely in the form of self-adulation) repeatedly over the 80 minutes of the show.

The last 15 minutes or so built to a crescendo which can only be described as religious in its fervor, leading me almost to expect an altar call. And fairly early in the program, I commented to my wife that there was a little bit "too much of the spirit of Carl Sagan" in the production — a foreshadowing, it proved.

However, there came a point when people described experimental treatment with magic-mushroom type stuff during terminal illness as the most profound religious experience of their lives. 
 At that point, my (Calvinist) wife expressed scorn. At that point, I (Orthodox, having read a lot in popular treatments of neuropsychology lately) thought I perceived an additional "data point" in my case against living life as if it was all made up of data points.

I’m influenced:

  • heavily and recently by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary.
  • Michael Polanyi’s coinage of "tacit knowledge"
  • the Saints of my Church, not one of whom was canonized for analytical rigor
  • the monastics of my Church, canonized or not
  • a lifetime of singing sacred choral music, mostly in Western Christian tradition.

There probably are other influences, too.

So I’m now going to advance a hypothesis, which has been taking vague shape in my mind over several months (or longer, as in Polanyi).

My hypothesis is that psychedelics, particularly including magic mushrooms or other fungi, subvert the dominance of the analytical left cerebral hemisphere — a dominance that has arisen in part from our adulation of science and its susceptibility of objective proof. Concurrently, our use of the right hemisphere has atrophied.

If I had to refine my hypothesis, it would be that psychedelics give a boost particularly to the more intuitive or emotional right hemisphere, with which we have become so unfamiliar as late modern or early postmodern humans, that the experience of meta-perception via the right hemisphere is overwhelming and perceived as a religious experience. Many people have never experienced such a thing at all and I hypothesize that vanishingly few of us have experienced it as intensely as occurs during a "good trip."

I find corroboration for this hypothesis in the long-lasting effects of a single trip, without a need to repeat the experience frequently because the sense of well-being persists, and in the evidence that mushrooms were almost sacramental in ancient practices we now would call “religious.”

I further hypothesize that the rebalancing of the two hemispheres is part of what can happen in a modern or early postmodern monastic life. And I confess (no longer hypothesizing) that an ascetic life is the approved Orthodox Christian manner of rebalancing the hemispheres (not referred to in those terms, though, and not the ultimate goal) and, particularly, activating that portion of the right hemisphere that our God-bearing fathers have identified as the nous — a capacity much disabled in our times.

I find a slight analogy to this in my increase appreciation of much poetry after a generous pour of whiskey.

If we do not regain a balance of the hemispheres through changes in our collective life, and if research on magic mushrooms continues (which research I support), I could imagine a day when the church would approve tripping to overcome the disability life has inflicted on us — to jump-start the ascetic life, in essence.

But my hypothesis is pretty far out there, and this is not that day. As a faithful Orthodox Christian, let alone a tonsured Reader, I’m not at liberty to take a stab at chemical or fungal shortcuts to theosis, especially when they’re marketed (for thinly-veiled marketing is what Fantastic Fungi was) as an alternative religion.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse


This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship


In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

Trade-offs of pluralism

I’m still bereft of worthy, fresh ideas for blogging since blogging for me is part of an iterative search for truth and I don’t have a good enough handle on coronavirus to say a whole lot confidently and truthily.

Except maybe this: If you think the coronavirus is a hoax and not very serious, pull your head out of those nether-regions where the sun don’t shine (i.e., shut off Limbaugh, Hannity and their ilk), get a few basic facts, and think about how many Chinese, Italian and Spanish people died, how many international organizations sounded alarms, in this elaborate hoax to dethrone King Donald. Does that sound plausible?

Lacking something fresh, I found another incomplete draft, from September 9, took it and dusted it off. Enjoy!

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Sohrab Ahmari and David French finally faced off live at Catholic University of America Thursday evening [September 5?], moderated by Ross Douthat.

In debating terms, it was no contest: French cleaned up. In fairness to Ahmari, his wife had a child on Wednesday, so he had things on his mind more important than a mere livestreamed national debate of sorts.

But again and again, French, in good Evangelical style, spoke of the freedom to preach the Gospel in a content-neutral public square, to lead drag queens to Jesus, and such. That’s pretty consistent with the forward-facing values of ADF, the Evangelical-leaning public-interest law firm for or with whom he formerly worked.

It started to sound as obsessive as Ahmari’s concern over Drag Queen Story Hour. So I was glad to see Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy argue for something a bit thicker than mere neutrality:

For most of the … campus ministries at Nebraska, …universities were convenient social institutions because they rounded up a large number of demographically similar young people into a single place where they would have broadly identical routines, all of which made it very easy to evangelize them. Many of these groups did not think anything of taking their students away from campus regularly on retreats, heavily programming their weeks (thereby cutting into their time to give to their studies), and even sometimes suggesting that their academic work was of mostly incidental importance. The real life happened in Bible studies and when you prayed and over coffee with your discipler or disciplee. College, much like one’s eventual career, was mostly a necessary evil that simply secured material goods for you.

While watching the French-Ahmari debate last night it occurred to me that French seems to have a fairly similar vision of the nation—it’s an incidental good that is useful for advancing certain strictly material goods but it pales in significance when set next to the work of the church …

The point is not necessarily that French should endorse some species of integralism, although it is worth noting that in his handling of rights and the nature of religious doctrine as it relates to public life French is far closer to the Baptists than he is the traditional views of the reformed tradition to which he belongs. But that point aside, French could preserve many of the rights he cares about preserving while anchoring his account of the political in something more real than the pragmatic adjudication of disputes within a pluralistic society.

… That the government could be something more than a mere arbiter who threatens to hit you in the head with a brick if you don’t play nicely with your neighbor seems to be unimaginable ….

There’s much more Jake wrote, but you can go read it yourself readily enough.

By lifelong mental habit and eventual initiation into the solemn mysteries of “thinking like a lawyer,” I don’t suppose I’ll ever be able to leave the camp of classical procedural liberalism, but the Ahmaris and Meadors of the world at least drive home that there are trade-offs in our pluralistic experiment.

One of the trade-offs is the risky one of declaring, a priori, that we must never agree on just what is the “common good” because we know that there’s no such thing as human nature, just humans with various and sundry natures, each, probably, as unique as a snowflake. I disagree with both dogmas, but for the foreseeable future, I’m a loser. It will take some undeniable anthropological catastrophe, the equivalent of COVID-19, to turn those tables.

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[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).


If I weren’t so compulsive, I’d probably say of my reading this late-morning, “That’s enough! Time to stop and chew on this for a couple of hours.”

Educated cynics suspect that all uses of … stock phrases are empty of thought; like a college professor whom I admired, they feel a burden to respond to every “How are you?” with a seven-seconds’ pause and measured reply. But imagine the strain, the impossibility, of trying to invent a unique response to every “How are you?”, a unique phrase for each circumstance needing “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “You have my sympathy”, a unique creed for every Christian. In this latter case particularly, pursuing freshness of expression would be _wrong. _A creed is not meant to express individual or innovative understanding and belief, but to give voice to communal, traditional understanding and belief. It is not expression but identification, not communication but communion.

That pedantic college professor is me, which is why I should chew on the rest of this very thoughtful and humane author’s insights.

And so the educated person must reassess, or risk the irony of his scorn of clichés becoming yet one more: the cliché of overeducated cynicism. Without denying Orwell’s point, could there still be an acceptable place for the cliché? Not in things meant to present and provoke fresh thought, but in circumstances that call for identification and communion? In circumstances when the rhythm of exchange, and not the reasoning of language, bears more weight?

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Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

A real deal Christian on the left

The year after [Shane] Claiborne graduated, he and five friends pooled their savings and bought a rowhouse in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest areas, where they had already gotten to know many of the residents. They filed paperwork to become a 501(c)(3) — an “antiprofit organization,” Claiborne later wrote — and moved there in January 1998, opening their doors to everyone who needed food or clothing. They dubbed their community the Simple Way and took inspiration from long-established “intentional communities” like the Catholic Worker and Bruderhof.

Nick Tabor, Washington Post

I would not have given their enterprise much chance of success. They beat the odds.


It wasn’t until 1995, after the Republicans had swept the midterm elections, propelled by the release of Newt Gingrich’s conservative legislative blueprint “Contract With America,” that Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition’s director, could say his movement was “thoroughly integrated and enmeshed into the machinery of the Republican Party.” In the short term, this partnership was a boon for both the GOP and the conservative faith leaders. But it had an unintended consequence: People who came of age in the ’90s or later learned to see the GOP and evangelicalism — or even religion more broadly — as almost synonymous. Rejecting one would mean rejecting the other.

(Emphasis added)

Because so many Evangelicals have sold their souls to Donald Trump, I’m especially glad that Shane Claiborne exists (though I knew about him long before Trump). At least a few for whom the Religious Right never held any charm (or perhaps lost its charm) have turned Claibornesque progressive Christian rather than leave the faith.

As for those souls of who left the faith because it was “thoroughly integrated and enmeshed into the machinery of the Republican Party,” the Ralph Reeds, conservatives and Trumpians who confounded the faith and partisanship will have to answer.

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All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Framing a guilty President-Elect

A dialog between conservative lawyers, one certifiable Never-Trumpish, the other too new to me for me to say, on the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation of the Trump campaign:

French: Do you think they thought it was gonna all come out fine because they believed they were gonna have the goods, and they were going to be the team that exposed it? Ummm. Because you know, when you have a successful prosecution — let’s say you send a Gotti to jail — there are often elements of that prosecution that are bad. You’ll have suppression motions that evidence was collected unconstitutionally, you’ll have a henchman who walks because that prosecution was so bad — whatever. But the fundamental bottom-line story is “We got him,” and everyone who’s involved in that is a hero … And it just feels to me like this is the kind of thing you do when you are pretty darn sure that you know what the ultimate outcome is going to be.

Isgur: Well, let me use a more concerning example. I have worked on cases where defendants, including one who was on death row, [were] framed. Prosecutors and police don’t frame people who they believe to be innocent — at least I have not seen that happen. They hide evidence or manufacture evidence against people they believe to be guilty. I have no doubt in reading all of this that they truly believed that this was true and it was just a matter of proving it. They were not using these investigative techniques against innocent people …

French: Well, let me make another argument for my theory about the malignancy of the Steele Dossier … If you look at the alacrity with which the ratcheted up the effort to get the Carter Page FISA after they got the Steele Dossier — I have long thought that what the Steele Dossier did effectively was create the blueprint of what they were going to prove ….

David French and Sarah Isgur in the inaugural episode of the new Advisory Opinions podcast from The Dispatch.

I think French and Isgur are right (and that their new podcast is very promising — better than one French did with Alexandra DeSanctis, not a lawyer, at NRO), and I think so largely for my convictions about human nature — essentially what Isgur says about prosecutors and police.

I also coincidentally read a review of Clint Eastwood’s new movie Richard Jewel that posits that it has no heroes and no villains — just ordinary people doing their jobs (and making life hellish for an innocent oddball). Then I read another that makes it a parable of the Russiagate investigation, with Trump being the oddball who ipso facto was guilty.

That Trump seemed such an oddball that he must be guilty (and that “oddball” is massively understated) rings emotionally true, but I’ll withhold judgment on whether Clint Eastwood is so clairvoyant that he’d make a parable based on Trump’s innocence, which was not then manifest (even if you think it is now).

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Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Liberal gerrymandering

I may have found a website that’s very relevant to a current preoccupation of mine: Postliberal Thought. For instance, apropos of my particular concern for religious freedom, what if the very definition of “religion” in our liberal order is gerrymandered in favor or the state waxing, religion waning?

To think that the liberal state allows for “freedom of religion” in some sort of metaphysical sense is quaint. In fact, the State is indifferent to particular religions because they operate within the stability of the juridical, public category of “religion,” and such variations are by definition socially irrelevant …

Within late liberalism, then, one has freedom of religion precisely to the extent that the State has defined religious content, per se, as not mattering to its order; as something private and so indifferent, like one’s favorite color. As soon as this is not the case, as soon as an opinion or action is understood to impinge on the rights of other legal personae or to affect their public options, these opinions or actions cease to be considered properly religious and are therefore eligible for regulation by the State, a phenomenon clearly on display in State action against bakers or florists who decline to participate in same-sex weddings …

It is imperative that we recognize the tautological nature of this discourse … “The secular” is really nothing more than a name for societies that use or operate “religion” in this manner – as a kind of holding pen for these private, personal actions that do not yet affect the State.

Within late liberalism, then, religions are simply voluntary associations relevant to particular aspects of their members’ private lives. As soon as a religion verges into non-religious aspects of members’ private lives, it becomes a cult; if it verges into coercion, it becomes a terrorist organization; if it mobilizes for political action it becomes a political party; and if it starts manufacturing and selling goods, it becomes a business. In a liberal order, these actions are generally understood as perversions because within its categorical schema the content of religion doesn’t belong in certain aspects of the private or in the public realms of politics or economics. So, liberal States tend to effectively outlaw such perversions. Or else, they must redefine the public to include them and the religious to exclude them … Hospitals matter socially and so they simply cannot be, in essence, religious – and so they must be eligible for direct state regulation. Such constant redefinition is the ongoing project of liberalism’s discourse on religious liberty which is necessarily as much about defining religion and keeping it in its proper private realm as it is about protecting it from public disturbance. The late liberal notion of religious liberty is ultimately about the maintenance of the irrelevance of the “religion” category itself. Religion is by definition free and can be identified as whatever we are free to do.

Religion is just one type within a whole category of similar phenomena, “morality” being perhaps the most fundamental. For example, for many decades now Christians have attempted to mount an effective opposition to what they have called “moral relativism.” What is meant by this concept? Christians can’t really mean that our late liberal opponents don’t believe in right and wrong. We know that isn’t the case … And yet, many Christians continue to talk about moral relativism. Why?

This behavior becomes intelligible when we understand that similar to religion, in the everyday liberal vernacular, the word “moral” is restricted in application to things that society is more-or-less relativistic about … It’s not that society has relegated all “lifestyle” choices to the relativistic category of morality. Light up a cigarette in polite company to prove that is not the case. Smoking is not a “moral” issue, it’s a public health issue, like obesity, and so an appropriate object of public disdain and censure. Rather, particular behaviors have become “moral” precisely because they are understood as socially irrelevant. The relativism comes before the morality; relativism is a criterion for the category … The word “morality” comes to mean something like: “things that we all know are relative and socially unimportant but concerning which Christians have historically tried to oppress us and would again if given the chance.” In this way, the late liberal concept of morality includes within it both moral relativism and the story of Christian opposition to moral relativism. And so, when Christians argue against “moral relativism” as if it were a real thing, they reinforce not only the liberal segmenting of human action into moral (i.e. relative) things and amoral (i.e. political) things, but the marginalization of Christianity as an ultimately tyrannical dogma that has been overthrown, but which remains a threat. They are paradoxically profoundly liberal in their illiberality because liberalism requires them for its internal coherence.

… One can “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” as long as one’s determination of that meaning, as D.C. Schindler has put it, amounts to nothing at all– at least nothing social. Liberalism provides a tidy, closed circle. This is what the so-called pluralism of liberalism ultimately amounts to. It is, in fact, a profound homogenization and enforcement of orthodoxies.

Andrew Willard Jones, What if the liberal concept of religion is the real problem?.

This blog was not light reading, but was very worthwhile. As I try to get some handle on American post-liberalism, I think I’ll be spending more time at Postliberal Thought.

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At the end of this blog appeared some utterly unfamiliar Latin, which I though might be fraught with meaning:

Cras mattis consectetur purus sit amet fermentum. Integer posuere erat a ante venenatis dapibus posuere velit aliquet. Aenean eu leo quam. Pellentesque ornare sem lacinia quam venenatis vestibulum.

So I ran it through Google translate:

Tomorrow a lot of tomato chili carrots fermentation. Whole to lay a previously sterilized protein was put outdoor bananas. Jasmine lion than football. Kids football television skirt and poisonous gas.

So I guess these guys aren’t always hyper-serious.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Feminization of Christianity?

I’ve been aware of, and tacitly agreed with, the theory that Christianity has been “feminized,” and that the feminization is the source of declining attendance, particularly among men.

Rod Dreher reprised the theme Tuesday. Read it all if you’re unfamiliar with the theory, which this more or less encapsulates:

We live in a society with a female religion and a male religion: Christianity, of various sorts, for women and non-masculine men; and masculinity, especially in the forms of competition and violence that culminate in war, for men.

(Leon Podles via Rod Dreher) In fact, I’d probably have said that everyone who has looked at the question knew that the feminization theory is true.

I should know better. One of Rod’s regular readers now has taken issue with this theory in her own blog (which I discovered because of her interactions with Rod in his blog’s comments):

Where I disagree is with the rest of the post, because it follows a pattern of thought that I’ve seen before. The pattern goes roughly like this:

1. In some bright age of the past, Christianity was for Real Men. Real Men who did all the hard, heroic, sacrificial things of life also brought that ethos with them to worship, and their manly, masculine churches reflected their understanding that men had a job to do when it came to the struggles (a word Rod uses throughout his post) of life.

2. Then, gradually, everything changed. Women were allowed to help out with more and more things at church, and worship started becoming unduly feminine. Men were pushed out by all the Female Stuff happening at worship.

3. Thus, fixing worship means making it masculine again. Churches that figure out how to appeal to manly men in their masculinity will thrive, while churches that fail to do this will end up with women “bishops” in silly hats trying to run things via estrogen-fueled services set to “Jesus is My Boyfriend” music.

The people who think this way seem to forget that even in the early days of the Church Christianity was mocked as a religion for women and slaves; they also forget the long time in American history when Protestants looked at Catholicism (and possibly Orthodoxy as well) with the celibate priesthood, the long, lace-trimmed vestments, the highly ornate and decorated churches, and saw–well, they didn’t accuse Catholicism of being too manly, that’s for sure.

Now, I thought about what I wanted to say for a long time today (too long) and a commenter over on Rod’s blog beat me to it. Since I don’t know her personally, I’ll paraphrase: why do so many men use “female” and “feminine” as synonyms for moral failings? What’s wrong with the church isn’t that it has been feminized; what’s wrong is that it has been infantilized.

She’s right, this commenter, and profoundly so. When liturgy is dumbed down, it isn’t done because the people in charge (in the Catholic Church’s case, male priests and bishops and cardinals, etc.) somehow have suddenly decided to make things more appealing to women. It’s done in an effort, however misguided, to reach the spiritual infants of both sexes who may be present in the congregation.

(Erin Manning)

I’m inclined to agree with Manning (and Antonia, the unnamed Dreher commenter) at least that “feminization” is not a very helpful label.

In fact, though I’m loathe to back off saying a true thing just because someone charges that it’s “hurtful” or “demeaning,” Antonia got my respectful attention with this:

I’m kind of tired of femininity being equated with moral failings. Talk about Gnostic!
For instance, narcissism is not feminine. Venus may have a mirror, but perhaps you should recall where the word narcissism comes from? In classical mythology, Narcissus was a MAN, obsessed with his own image in a pond. Point is, most moral failings are not masculine or feminine, nor are the moral virtues. Courage was a quality of ALL martyrs, St. Lucy as well as St. Stephen.

If “bridal mysticism” is a problem, then is Holy Scripture a problem? Last I read, “bride of Christ” is a biblical term for the Church.

C.S. Lewis, a man with a very masculine view of Christianity, said that we are all feminine in relation to God. On the other hand, Caryll Houselander, one of the most feminine of Catholic writers, often speaks in terms of spiritual warfare.

MTD [Moralistic Therapeutic Deism] is not the feminization of religion – it is the infantilization of religion.

(Emphasis added) During this Orthodox Holy Week, with “Bridegroom Matins” served nightly Sunday through Tuesday (some traditions do more) in a famously man-friendly Church, I can’t agree that Christ as “bridegroom,” the Church as “bride,” has any inherent problems. Such problems as it has seemingly come from bad cultural constructions of masculine and feminine.

There are a lot of sane people on the internet, and sometimes they change my thinking on what “everyone knows.”

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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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.