Abortion law, the Performative Jackass Caucus, Race, and more

Abortion Law

Politicization of the Supreme Court

In an exchange with Scott Stewart, the Mississippi solicitor general defending the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Justice Sotomayor had this to say:

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.

Here’s what one reader of mine had to say about Justice Sotomayor’s “stench” comment:

Whoever smelt it, dealt it. Sotomayor and Alito are the two most partisan, results-oriented members of the Court. It’s pretty rich of her, of all the justices, to be complaining about politics stinking up SCOTUS—in a soundbite that was clearly crafted to fire up the left.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Abortion and adoption

The last thing we should take from our nation’s debates about abortion is that adoption is a problem.

… the very idea that poverty—in this nation, of all places—could be the factor that causes a mother to part with her child is and should be a clarion call for action, both private and public, designed to facilitate family formation.

David French, Don’t Denigrate Adoption to Defend Roe

Politics, briefly

A guy can dream, can’t he?

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California is resigning from Congress at the end of the month to become CEO of former President Trump’s new social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group. First elected in 2002, Nunes served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015 to 2019, and would have been a contender to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans recapture the chamber next year.

The Morning Dispatch

This seems like an epic bad career move, but given my opinion of Devin Nunes, he’s certainly welcome to it.

I wonder if Trump can get Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rest of the GOP Performative Jackass Caucus to come work for him, too?

When the only meaningful correlation involves racial ambivalence

After January 6, a team led by Robert A. Pape, head of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, scoured the profiles of the capital insurgents:

Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.

Trump and some of his most vocal allies, Tucker Carlson of Fox News notably among them, had taught supporters to fear that Black and brown people were coming to replace them. According to the latest census projections, white Americans will become a minority, nationally, in 2045. The insurgents could see their majority status slipping before their eyes.

Barton Gelman, January 6 Was Practice.

This is a (the?) major article in a brand-new issue of the Atlantic largely devoted to the threat posed by the Trumpist Republican party. Recommended.

I apparently lead a sheltered life. I genuinely thought that frank racism (white people are better than darker people) had faded close to extinction, though I thought it likely that stereotypes remained (e.g., that black English did its speakers no favors in the job and other "markets").

Then came Barack Obama, and with it, birtherism and other unreasoning opposition.

Now, the "replacement theory" and the terrors it incites.

I’ve got to think this stuff was latent all along — just not obviously among my usual circle of mostly-Christian acquaintances.


Root causes

Mark Bauerlein and Tim Perry discuss the deterioration of Christian burial practices, for which Perry finds startling roots:

Bauerlein: You link this deterioration to a bigger conceptual trend, and that is what happened with eschatology in the 20th Century. What went on there?
Perry: I think it’s a twofold story and it’s a little bit ironic. On the one hand, the Church lost its eschatological vocabulary. In the mainstream Protestant Churches and perhaps in the Catholic Church, more immediate concerns came to the fore: keeping the machine going in the days of decreasing revenues, decreasing membership rolls. In the churches that I’ve been shaped in as a child, I think we became a little bit embarrassed at our eschatological excesses, where we stopped talking about the traditional last things — death, judgment, hell and heaven — and started talking instead about secret rapture, great tribulation, who’s the antichrist, what’s the mark of the beast. I think evangelicals have, perhaps rightly, become a little embarrassed at that kind of speech. But instead of going back to the far richer and far more important language of the traditional last things, we’ve just stopped talking about eschatology altogether.

First Things Podcast, A Proper Christian Burial.

Well, I guess if you’re coy about death, judgment, hell and heaven, and allergic to orderly "liturgies," you’ve got little but novelties and pabulum to preach at funerals.

God will never forsake chosen America

This occurs to me so rarely, but seems so fitting when it does, that I thought I should capture it this time: a lot of support for Donald Trump, particularly but not exclusively among Evangelicals, results from fear that Democrats are an existential threat to the country, so they should vote Republican because God would never so forsake (or judge) America that we are left with shitty and unsuitable candidates in both major parties. That simply is unthinkable, since America supposedly is some kind of new chosen people.

I disagree — so much that I’m tempted to cease voting for Democrats or Republicans. That would mean I sit out many individual races. It should send at least a teensie-weensie signal of discontent that some voter in my precinct voted American Solidarity Party in the Presidential race, Libertarian or some other third party where ASP has no candidate, and not a single D or R.

Verbal tics

“Look, I’m an up-front guy,” Bear Hobart said. “I have to be honest with you—” Here it comes, Dylan thought. He was pretty convinced that you didn’t ever have to be honest with someone; maybe you should, and maybe you wanted to, but “I have to be honest with you” was a self-defeating sentence, since it was never true.

Eve Tushnet, Amends

There’s a kindred verbal tic: "Do you realize that you just [e.g., accused all the teachers in this school district of being sexual perverts]?", addressed to one who asks unwelcome questions. The italicized portion is a signal that the speaker is going to twist words beyond recognition in order to paint the initial speaker as some kind of crazy.

Modernity’s faith

“[F]aith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.”

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Recently-acquired aphorisms

  • A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. —Edward de Bono, The Mechanism of Mind
  • I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers. —Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World

Via Philip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell.

I recommend this memoir (about which I wrote earlier), but read it to understand Yancey’s inner life, not to lay out a timeline of events in U.S. and American church history, which Yancey confuses or conflates at times.

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.

Organized Chaos


L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.

Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.

When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.

Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.

To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.

I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.

This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks

Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.

One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg

Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.

Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”

Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz

We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

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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.

Tuesday, 5/26/15

  1. American Meritocracy
  2. Science is bunk
  3. NPR’s low bar for scandal
  4. Fundamentalism and the (other) forces of modernity
  5. The business of America
  6. Today’s Carrie Nation
  7. Affirming the Body
  8. The Moral Dimension of Democratic Capitalism

Continue reading “Tuesday, 5/26/15”

The Righteous Mind

It may sound impious to say it on the eve of the Feast of Christ’s Nativity, but I just finished maybe the most important “secular” book I’ve read this year, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Frankly, I think the title may have overpromised on why good people are divided by religion, but I’m too concerned about our divisive (“Manichean” is how Haidt puts it at the end) politics, which he observes shrewdly, not to forgive him for that.

I’ve often had occasion in recent years to accuse liberals of being simplistic – a charge I especially savor since they started accusing conservatives of being simplistic about the time I was in college. It turns out that in a very important sense, I’m right in that charge.

In a prior iteration of moral psychologist Haidt’s work, he was testing only for five moral bases or foundation:

1) harm/care,
2) fairness/reciprocity (including issues of rights),
3) ingroup/loyalty,
4) authority/respect, and
5) purity/sanctity

You can see how you score by taking the Moral Foundations test at YourMorals.org

Liberals base their political views (instinctively – that’s how both sides do politics, with reasons being a sort of press agent to put a patina of intellectual plausibility on something much more visceral) on only the first one or two of those bases. Indeed, it sometimes appears that all they care about is helping folks they see as victims of oppression (the harm/care foundation).

Conservatives tend to use all five (now six, as liberty has been added) moral bases more or less equally.

Further, conservatives and moderates both understand liberals far better than liberals understand conservatives, who they caricature comically at times.

Now for my dirty little secret.  I’m not as well-balanced as the prototypical conservative. I’m almost as low as liberals on one foundation (and that’s lower than a snake’s belly). But I blow away liberals and conservative on another.

I’d say I’m weird, except Haidt uses WEIRD to describe Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic folks — who are total outliers in the grand global scheme of things. If you want to study human nature, find a lot of subjects who aren’t WEIRD.

This book surely will promote mutual understanding, and in this instance, Tea Party shenanigans of recent years notwithstanding, it’s the liberals who especially need to up their understanding game.

(* I’m not really impious. We had more than 3 hours of Church services this morning and we’ll do another few hours starting at 11 pm. I’m just killing time right now.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Morals Mashup

I’ve been reading and enjoying Catholic blogger Mark Shea a great deal over the last month or two since discovering him (whereas, before, I merely had heard of him vaguely).

One of his recurring themes recently has been voting as a moral act. He has declared his unwillingness to support or vote for “grave intrinsic evils,” and has thus ruled out voting for most of the Republican field because they support the grave intrinsic evil of torture. He even wrote a column with a title along the lines of “Why I will no more vote for Gingrich than Obama” (Obama, of course, being a support of the grave intrinsic evil of abortion as well as claiming the right to have Americans gunned down without trial if he thinks they’re terrorists – and who knows what else).

Meanwhile, over at The Public Discourse, Matthew O’Brien argues that natural law moral arguments without resort to mention of God are unconvincing:

If you are going to make a moral argument, whether in the seminar room or in the public square, people today expect you to avoid invoking God. Atheists and theists alike share this expectation, with atheists eager to show that their moral knowledge and action are uncompromised by disbelief in God’s existence, and theists eager to establish the rational credentials of their moral convictions and protect themselves against charges of fideism. This expectation is unwarranted, however, because God’s existence is directly relevant to moral knowledge and action: If appeals to God get ruled out, either by disbelief in His existence or reluctance to rely upon it, then it isn’t possible to demonstrate that there are moral absolutes.

A moral absolute is an exceptionless norm against choosing a certain type of action that is intrinsically bad. Recognizing a moral absolute therefore involves two stages of evaluation: first, seeing that some act, such as killing an innocent person, is intrinsically evil, and second, seeing that one ought never to do evil. My contention is that a demonstration of this second stage of evaluation will need to appeal to God’s legislation against doing evil that good may come. This appeal of course assumes that God exists and that He legislates the moral law. Without this appeal, it remains logically possible for someone to think that there are intrinsically evil acts, and to think that virtuous people will habitually refuse to consider committing such acts, while yet refusing to infer that such acts must be avoided in every situation whatsoever.

[I]ntuitionism is as far as I think non-theological ethics can go. Receiving the correct upbringing will get you to see that certain acts are intrinsically bad, and you ought never to choose them; but in order to go further and demonstrate why this is true, you need to be able to appeal to God’s legislation of the moral law, which is what proves the reasonableness of forbearing from evil in the extreme tight-corner situation ….

I find O’Brien’s argument uncongenial as does Robert T. Miller, again at The Public Discourse:

The difference here is not merely one of temperament or rhetorical strategy or intellectual sophistication; it goes much deeper, even to the very foundations of morality. For some people—including many Protestant Christians under the influence of Martin Luther—believe in what might be called a divine command theory of morality. On this theory, it is not that some actions are right and others are wrong, with God commanding us to do the right ones and avoid the wrong ones, but that right actions are right precisely because God has commanded them and wrong actions are wrong precisely because God has forbidden them. God’s commanding or forbidding makes actions right or wrong. On a theory like this, it is obviously impossible to argue that a particular action is wrong without invoking the divine command, for there is nothing else to which to appeal. No wonder, then, that people who accept a divine command theory are quick to invoke God and His commands in moral argument.

That said, I think O’Brien is on to something important here. For, in our fallen state, when we are faced with an action that, although absolutely prohibited, has consequences that seem to us to be on balance very good, we are sorely tempted to ignore the absolute prohibition or to rationalize some exception to it and proceed with the action …

Mark Shea seems to side with O’Brien in this dust-up among kindred spirits, and to do so in the starkest terms:

It is not “perfectionism” to demand that we not be asked to support grave evil.  It is absolute bare minimum human decency.  I’m not looking to elect St. Francis of Assisi.  I’m looking to not be asked to put my soul at risk for everlasting damnation.  No matter how it’s spun, I do not believe I should take my puny penny of choice and give to the service of grave evil that Mother Church warns is worthy of the fires of hell.  And frankly, if everyone thought the way I do, we would not be stuck with the utterly dreadful political class we have because we would not stand for being manipulated into a perpetual choice between two parties who try to force us to support their preferred grave evil ….

Oh, my! “Fires of hell!” This has, I think, “divine command” written all over it (although I can map a convoluted course whereby it does not imply divine command theory).

Back to Robert T. Miller:

But divine command theory is in many ways unlovely. Suppose God had commanded us to slaughter our firstborn sons and feast on their roasted flesh marinated au jus; would this be morally permissible? On pain of inconsistency, the divine command theorist must say that it would be not only permissible but obligatory. If his good sense takes over and he says that God could not or would not command such a thing, then there must be some reason for this, and that reason almost certainly is a reason why such actions are morally wrong. But if there are reasons independent of the divine command why certain actions are morally wrong, then divine command theory collapses. Thus, philosophers going back to Plato in the Euthyphro have generally rejected divine command theory.

My every instinct cries out against the divine command theory in Shea’s stark terms. I don’t expect to be able to cut the Gordian knot, nor do I feel confident that Miller’s word will be the last on the topic at Public Discourse. But let me offer that “God will punish you with hellfire if you don’t do as he says” strikes me only a prudent reason to do what God says; I don’t see how what He commands is more moral because He commanded it than if He had not.

But the idea that morality can exist independent of God, or that there’s a reason why “God could not or would not command such a thing,” struck me when I was a Calvinist as a claim that there was something or someone higher even than God.vI no longer think that, but I can’t say exactly why. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve grown more tolerant of ambiguity, and less fixated on the need to “demonstrate that there are moral absolutes.”

I write mostly to note, and to publicize at least a bit more widely, that fideism and the divine command theory of morality are not the undisputed view of all Christians, your Tipsy scribe being one of many dissenters.

And I also note that – perhaps because the “Christianity” we have rejected in our post-Christian American world is a kind that did imply the divine command theory –  that O’Brien is indeed “onto something important” about how we’re functioning these days. As belief in God fades, with no concurrent rise in serious philosophy, moral behavior may indeed slip among those who were divine command theorists until they lost the divine.

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Standing advice on enduring themes.

Poetry roundup

Part of an occasional series, I point to poetry I’ve encountered and enjoyed in one way or another.

Most of this material is copyrighted, and I don’t care to get permission for use, so I’ll link to Writer’s Almanac, which did have permssion.

Let’s start with love and romance.

Poor Gerald Locklin can hardly get started with a new girl without an old friend showing up, but as he says, “I’ve Always Enjoyed Her Sense of Humor.”

In Complaint, James Wright utters sentiments that make me cringe. I guess it’s a sort of love, but a sort I’d sooner avoid.

In Half-Rack at the Rendezvous, William Notter paints what for me is a vivid, frank and believable picture of two passions and their connection: devouring ribs and “delirious honeybees working wisteria” (wink, wink).

Having been married for nearly 40 years now, I am touched by Epithalamium, by Thomas Lynch, involving the end of a marriage after some 70 years.

Personal relations short of love.

William Notter in Breakfast at the Road Runner Cafe does some people watching a feebly reaches out. What’s he supposed to do? Charles Bukowski’s the finger reminds us of how common a less friendly approach has become. It puts me in mind of how much public affairs coverage proceeds these day: Fox fingering MSNBC and vice-versa.

Reverie and despair.

In I Ride the Greyhound by Ellie Shoenfeld, the locutor is not alone, but (it seems to me) might as well be. Dorothea Tanning in Secret chooses to be alone when she need not be.

Three male poets reflect variously on aging and death:

  • Brotherhood (X.J. Kennedy) is somber, but I’ve been there, too.
  • Maybe if the Jobholder (David Ignatow) would tune in one of the bread and circus channels instead of reading some stupid book, he wouldn’t have noticed what he has noticed.

My final choice seems the most theological and sacramental too me: The Gardener by Ken Weisner.

Your taxonomy of these poems might vary.

As the California SSM case sinks in

When a judge takes a hotly-contested definition of marriage and labels it a “finding of fact,” we have not discovered an ingenious end-run around the turmoil of our culture wars. We have simply witnessed another volley in those wars. Tempting as it may be, the rule of facts cannot escape the moral controversy enveloping the marriage debate. Pretending otherwise serves neither the long-range interests of same-sex marriage advocates nor the vitality of our political community. (Robert K. Vischer) Continue reading “As the California SSM case sinks in”

A few links to others’ comments on same-sex marriage decision

First, Stephen Chapman, conservative and supporter of SSM, shows how extremely libertarian his position is (he would legalize polygamy) but also make good points about the “who decides” issue and the likely backlash.

Second, a Yale law professor (one of several “experts”) points out the odd “factual posture” of the case and actually thinks that despite his efforts, “Judge Vaughn Walker left us with a remarkably limited and vulnerable opinion”:

The invalidation of California’s Proposition 8 is based on the U.S. Constitution’s due process and equal protection clauses — not the California State Constitution — and is potentially of national consequence. But while he rehearsed every nuance of the evidence introduced at trial, Judge Vaughn Walker left us with a remarkably limited and vulnerable opinion.

Because Proposition 8 came out of California’s idiosyncratic ballot initiative process, it lacked the careful legislative record that most state statutes would enjoy. It was evaluated instead by reference to the sometimes unscientific or intolerant public claims of anti-gay campaigners. An impressive factual showing at trial was therefore essential to the legislation’s survival.

The largest part of Walker’s opinion is devoted to the evidentiary inadequacies of the defenders’ case. Observing that their evidence was “dwarfed” by that of opponents of the proposition, and dismissing the testimony of key supporters’ witnesses as “unreliable,” the judge concluded that “the trial evidence provides no basis for establishing that California has an interest in refusing to recognize marriage between two people because of their sex.”

Disappointed supporters will no doubt try again, arguing that this decision is a limited assessment of one particular factual record. As written, the decision lends itself to the conclusion that the failure was not with Proposition 8’s legal content but with its supporters’ sorry lawyering. This ruling is not going to settle anything.

Third, some Republican strategists are recognizing the peril of overplaying the issue — which I thought would be hard to do.