Potpourri 9/3/20

Kyrie
Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake—Lord have mercy. 

Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief—Lord have mercy. 

Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves—Lord have mercy. 

And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we are half-way down—Lord have mercy. 

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

Thomas has not been on my radar as a poet. This one blew me away (there’s a great deal more to it), as did Tell Us.

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

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

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“The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility,” Jackson writes. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.

Wes Jackson via Wendell Berry via Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

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In Pittsburgh on Monday, the Democratic presidential nominee responded forcefully to President Trump’s charge that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” … “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” Mr. Biden asked. “He can’t stop the violence—because for years he has fomented it.”

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

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… Christopher Lasch is someone you cite a lot in this book, and in his work there’s a real sensitivity to the importance of these cultural issues. For educated people, the conflicts over busing or religion or sexuality or whatever reinforce the sense that working people are not really worthy of our concern because they’re authoritarian, behind the times. And then for the working class, it really drives home this perception that they are held in contempt. And Lasch seemed to believe that this tension was baked in because the values of the managerial elite were precisely the values of liberal-capitalist meritocracy: individual autonomy, self-development, personal liberation, etc., the flip side of which is a suspicion of working-class values like solidarity and thick ties like family and religion and neighborhood. The working-class view is more conservative, in a sense, but it’s also a product of a real class difference in how people see their place in the world.

Well, yes, I totally agree with that. I thought you said you were pushing back.

What I’m trying to get at is: There’s a sense in which this is a very real dividing line between more affluent, college-educated Democrats and members of the white working class and even sections of the non-white working class, where the former are often socially liberal and economically conservative/centrist and the latter are often economically liberal but more conservative on issues like abortion, immigration, crime, etc. How do you think Democrats or the left more broadly should try to navigate this divide? Do you think that open conflict over these issues can be avoided if you just focus on economics? Or does something eventually have to give — working-class whites moving left on culture or educated liberals deciding that they need to accept people with more conservative social views — say, a pro-life, gun-owning Catholic — as a part of the coalition?

This is a problem, of course, but I also think it is possible for people to come together on a common cause without agreeing on everything. The problem is getting the Democrats to acknowledge that common cause. Up until now, the Democrats have spent all their resources reaching out to those affluent white-collar people in rich suburbs. Those are the only “swing voters” they’re interested in. This bunch gets everything. It’s all crafted to please this group — economic policies, culture-war stances, everything. I happen to think a really robust program for reclaiming middle-class America from the forces that have wrecked so many people’s cities and lives and health would be immensely popular. It would be so popular that lots of people would be willing to overlook, say, one’s views on gun control in order to get behind it.

What’s the Matter With Populism? Nothing. (metered paywall – New York Magazine)

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Baron Trump looks like the world’s most miserable child.

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[A]nother narrow Trump victory, especially one in which the popular vote goes for Biden, is going to kick off civil unrest that will make this summer look tame. Trump’s opponents will ping-pong even harder between the two fever dreams of the first term. The first, that Trump is a foreign pawn and opposed to everything that makes American great. This charge comes with a complimentary retweet of James Comey standing near the Liberty Bell. The second, that Trump is the final, rotten fruit of a rotten American tree that must be uprooted altogether. This one comes with a retweet of 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah Jones explaining that arson isn’t violence.

My assumption, however, is that Trump’s second term may prove to be more difficult than the first for him. While some progressives are trying to moralize themselves for the November election by predicting a second term flowing with dictatorial power aimed at undermining democracy forever, I predict more slapstick incompetence.

Instead of hiring the best people, Trump has relied on whoever is nearby. This cast of characters has included people with their own firm agendas (such as John Bolton) or people who just seemed to have the Trump vibe (such as Anthony Scaramucci). Many of these people have had short careers in Trumpville — and leave it quickly to write scathing memoirs of their time within. About a dozen former White House officials or other flunkies have left Team Trump to write hair-raising tell-alls.

Trump already had problems with hiring enough people to fully staff the Executive Branch. His inability to do so is part of what allows the “deep state” to undermine, dodge, or contravene his authority as president. His reputation for administrative neglect, sudden reversals, and micromanaging has dissuaded qualified people from joining the administration. It leaves the presidency weakened.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, Donald Trump Second Term: What to Expect | National Review

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Reporters standing in front of scenes of arson, flames billowing behind them, not very far from scenes of shooting and murder, insist that the protests are “mostly peaceful.” National Public Radio and a multi-billion-dollar global media conglomerate team up to bring you an illiterate “defense of looting.” The president comes to the defense of a dangerously stupid teenager who went looking for trouble illegally armed with a rifle in his hands and, to no one’s great surprise, found the trouble he was looking for.

But if there is a case to be made for looting, how about we start with NPR and its affiliates? The NPR Foundation reported holding $342 million in assets in 2018, and NPR’s management and on-air talent are splendidly compensated, many of them in excess of a half-million dollars a year. You can commission a shipload of lectures on income inequality and the salubrious effects of looting for that kind of “just property.” NPR’s headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., is “just property,” too — property NPR isn’t even much using at the moment, because of the epidemic. Would NPR object to someone burning it down to make a political point? Would looting NPR’s property be defensible? Yes? No? Why or why not?

… The same people burning down grocery stores today will be complaining about “food deserts” in 18 months.

… the petulant children in Portland want only to play-act at being Jacobins, and the petulant child in the White House requires a full-time culture war lest he be forced to run for reelection on his record of spotless administrative excellence and confidence-inspiring leadership. If ever two clutches of fools deserved one another, these are they.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

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Peter Viereck: American Conservatism’s Road Not Traveled | Front Porch Republic was very good.

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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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.

Miscellany

From the official U.S. Department of Justice account:

During this sacred week for many Americans, AG Barr is monitoring govt regulation of religious services. While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs. Expect action from DOJ next week!

— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) April 12, 2020

Donald Trump has led by example. The example is to announce trivia by Tweet and to put exclamation points at the end.

This is why we can’t have nice things!


Wall Street Journal story headline:

Your Favorite Celebrity Will See You Now

If I cannot think of a “favorite celebrity,” does that make me a bad person?


Cyrus Habib had a good chance of becoming Governor of Washington before age 40, with higher offices likely to come. But he glimpsed his his metastasizing ego and is taking the cure.


Memo to Max Boot:

“President Trump and his loudmouth media enablers” ≠ conservatives.


There has never been an American president as spiritually impoverished as Donald Trump …

Trump is a spiritual black hole. He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival.

Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this. He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system.

The humorist Alexandra Petri once likened Trump to a goldfish, a purely reactive animal lost in a “pastless, futureless, contextless void.” This is an apt comparison, with one major flaw: Goldfish are not malevolent …

… With cable news constantly covering the pandemic, he seems to be going through withdrawal. He needs an outlet for his political glossolalia, or his constantly replenishing reservoir of grievance and insecurity will burst its seams.

… Trump begins every one of these disastrous briefings by hypnotically reading high-minded phrases to which he shows no connection. These texts are exercises in futility, but they at least show some sense of what a typical person with friends and a family might want to sound like during a national crisis. Once he finishes stumbling through these robotic recitations, he’s back to his grievances.

… Each of these presidential therapy sessions corrodes us until the moment when the president finally shambles away in a fog of muttered slogans and paranoid sentence fragments.

Daily, Trump’s opponents are enraged by yet another assault on the truth and basic human decency. His followers are delighted by yet more vulgar attacks on the media and the Democrats. And all of us, angry or pleased, become more like Trump, because just like the president, we end up thinking about only Trump, instead of our families, our fellow citizens, our health-care workers, or the future of our country. We are all forced to take sides every day, and those two sides are always “Trump” and “everyone else.”

… As Jennifer Melfi, the psychotherapist for HBO’s fictional mob boss Tony Soprano, realized at the end of the series, when she finally threw him out of her office, counseling someone incapable of reflection or remorse is pointless; it makes the counselor into a worse person for enduring such long exposure to the patient.

Likewise, Trump’s spiritual poverty is making all of us into worse people.

Tom Nichols

And you can repeat such insights only at the cost of still further making it all about Trump.


When I was young, I confess that I didn’t care much about Easter. I mean, I appreciated it. In the semi-abstract way that many young people who’ve been brought up in the church appreciate the resurrection. You believe in it. You don’t really comprehend it. Belief in the resurrection is one of those boxes you check. Virgin birth? Yup. Sinless in life? Sure. Blameless in death? Absolutely. Resurrection? Of course. I’m a Christian, and that’s what Christians believe.

David French

This is exactly where I was when on the cusp of my 20th birthday. How I came out of it is so different than how French came out of it that I can barely relate to his version.

Part of it is intramural: Orthodox Christians versus Reformed Christians (though in musical tastes, French is much more like a mainstream Evangelical than like the Reformed I knew) who used to be Charismatic Christians.On the other hand, my initial “how I came out of it” was into Evangelicalism, and I remember it pretty well. It wasn’t like what French describes.

Part of it is that French seems to have decided to call “resurrection power” any life that changes suddenly and dramatically for the better. Such changes are wonderful, of course, but that’s turning resurrection into something way too metaphoric for my tastes.


75 years ago, FDR died and a nobody became President of the United States. He had no Twitter followers. He’d never even heard of Reality TV. But he was a nobody who understood politics, and took responsibility:

[C]ompare Roosevelt and Truman, hailing, it seems, from different planets. Roosevelt was a New York aristocrat whose forebears owned a chunk of an island called Manhattan, land on which the Empire State Building rose. Reared in mansions, educated at Groton and Harvard, Roosevelt married a favorite niece of a U.S. president, who gave her away at the altar. And here was Truman, a Missouri farm boy, schooled mainly by the stacks of a small-town library. He moved into the White House having never even owned his own home. Mrs. Roosevelt required 20 trucks to vacate the premises; the Truman family just one to move in their belongings.

What the men shared was politics. It’s a dirty word today, as we look for leaders on social media and reality television. Politics isn’t perfect; it smells of swamps and tycoons, elites and establishments, corruption and compromise. Roosevelt and Truman had both inhaled these odors on the way up (for human nature never loses its distinctive scents). They navigated a world dominated by urban political bosses, teaching them that special interests, inside traders, patronage hunters, double-dealers, hypocrites, weaklings and bullies all feature regularly in the public’s business. A leader says no to most but yes to some — enough to make measurable progress for the community.

Politics taught, above all, accountability. Bosses and their candidates made promises before Election Day, then tried to keep enough to be reelected. They sought and embraced responsibility, whether it was Roosevelt saying, during hisfirst inaugural address, that he would shoulder extraordinary risks to confront the Great Depression, or Truman promising that all the world’s buck-passing would end at his desk. Responsibility created a record; a record made for a future.

Not everyone knew it on that stunning April day, but Truman’s leadership had been tested repeatedly during the decades before “the moon, the stars, and all the planets” fell on him, as the new president described his sudden responsibilities. His entry to politics had come thanks to his performance as a captain in World War I; an admiring junior officer was the nephew of the Kansas City boss. Truman’s record of delivering roads on time and below budget boosted him to the Senate. His case to be vice president was helped by his senatorial reputation as the scourge of war profiteers.

Full disclosure: I am a volunteer board member of the foundation that supports Truman’s presidential library. I concur with history’s high opinion of him. But marking this date when his record was yet to be written, I emphasize his pragmatic preparation. Look around: The world is reminding us that politics have consequences and results genuinely matter. A nation run by people without records, who take no responsibility, who claim to be better than politics, is destined to be in a world of trouble.

David Von Drehle


Maritain believed that these challenges needed to be faced with moral clarity and intellectual energy because, at the moment when he was speaking, and on all political sides, education was assuming what he believed to be an unnaturally and inappropriately central role:

As a result of the present disintegration of family life, of a crisis in morality and the break between religion and life, and finally of a crisis in the political state and the civic conscience, and the necessity for democratic states to rebuild themselves according to new patterns, there is a tendency, everywhere, to burden education with remedying all these deficiencies.

In a properly functioning society, those other institutions (family, church, politics broadly conceived) play a role in forming persons for service to the community and for their own inner flourishing. But those institutions had been gravely damaged by those anarchic and despotic forces that he sees as enemies to true personhood. It is surely unfair to expect education to heal such vast and complex afflictions, especially since the very attempt “involves a risk of warping educational work”; moreover, as we have seen, Maritain believed that “the saints and martyrs are the true educators of mankind.” But in these exceptional circumstances “extraneous burdens superadded to the normal task of education must be accepted for the sake of the general welfare.”

It is, however, vital not to accept these “extraneous burdens” on behalf of the state and its interests: “the state would summon education to make up for all that is lacking in the surrounding order in the matter of common political inspiration, stable customs and traditions, common inherited standards, moral unity and unanimity.” But if education is recruited by the state “to compensate for all the deficiencies in civil society,” then “education would become . . . uniquely dependent on the management of the state,” and as a direct consequence “both the essence and the freedom of education would be ruined.” The well-educated person will always and necessarily, in an age afflicted by both anarchic and despotic tendencies, be in tension with the surrounding society: “The freedom enjoyed by education . . . will not be a quiet and easygoing, peacefully expanding freedom, but a tense and fighting one.” There will be, especially in the years following the war, a danger of shaping people not in a “truly human” way, but rather making them merely into “the organ of a technocratic society.” …

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis pp. 129-30


Why am I soooo loving The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis?

Partly because I don’t know enough about Maritain, Eliot, Auden and Weil as Christian humanists.

But it surely is partly, as well, because the fundamental issues that we’re dealing with are not all that different, and their insights matter.

Finally, it’s because that era was unlike ours in that there were still Christian Public Intellectuals who were respected. Would that it were still so! (And that, gentle reader, is an appropriate use of an exclamation point.)

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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

[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

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.

Anytown Ecumenical High

It’s been a while since I blogged, but I found an old draft, never completed, and dusted it off.

Back in my Calvinist days, and when I had a child of school-age, I thought how wonderful it would be for there to be an ecumenical Christian high school in town as we had some hesitancy about sending our son to a Catholic High School (particularly since the local Catholic High School had a reputation for binge drinking with parental connivance).

Even apart from the existence of that Catholic High School, I had no idea how impossible or unacceptably minimalist the Christian standards of such a high school would be if it attempted to take in every Christian tradition (with or without Roman Catholicism). Even excluding merely cultural Christians, there’s not much in common.

Here’s a playful stab at the statement of beliefs:

  1. Human life began better than it is now. Human disobedience is what made things worse. Go ask your respective clergy whether “better” and “worse” are predominately moral, mortal, ontological or something else.
  2. There followed maybe four millennia, maybe more. A people called Jews emerged and were called God’s chosen people. Go ask your respective clergy what continuing relevance they have, if any, to the Christian story.
  3. There was a man, who also was God, named Jesus, who came from the Jews to fix our problem. Go ask your respective clergy how His coming had something to do with saving us from our problem.
  4. Jesus’ mother was a virgin. Go ask your respective clergy whether she remained a virgin or whether that would be creepy and subversive of the sexiness we so dearly love.
  5. Without having sinned or committed any capital offense, Jesus nevertheless was crucified some 2000 years ago. We all agree that this was very important, but we can’t entirely agree why. Go ask your respective clergy what Jesus’ crucifixion has to do with saving us from our problem.
  6. Early Sunday after His Crucifixion, this Jesus came back to life, not just a little but totally.We all agree that this was very important. It foreshadows that we won’t stay dead forever, at least if we’re Christians. Go ask your respective clergy whether, beyond that foreshadowing, that just proved Jesus really was God or whether it had something more to do with saving us from our problem.
  7. 40 days later, Jesus left us in something called Ascension in churches that care about things like that. Go ask your respective clergy whether that’s important in saving us from our problem. Extra credit: Ask your clergy why you don’t commemorate it if it’s important but you don’t commemorate it.
  8. After he went away, somebody sent something or someone called the Holy Spirit. Go ask your respective clergy whether it was God the Father from whom He/it proceeded or whether it was from both from the Father and the Son.
  9. While we’re on this Father and Son and Holy Spirit business, go ask your respective clergy to explain the Trinity to you. Watch this video first and you can have fun playing “Name That Heresy” with most clergy.
  10. After that the Church grew. Go ask your respective clergy whether it grew on the basis of the Old Testament, the teaching of the Apostles (written and oral), the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament  that hadn’t been written yet, none of the above, all of the above, or what?
  11. The early Church worshiped rather formally as did the Jews of the Synagogue. Or they sat around on the floor, strumming harps and spontaneously bursting into choruses like Kum-Ba-Ya or “Our God is an Awesome God” in Aeolian mode and Aramaic language. Go ask your respective clergy how the early church worshiped.
  12. The Church had and has somewhere between one and seven or more ordinances, sacraments, mysteries, or whatever you call them. Go ask your respective clergy how many, what you call them, why that particular number.
  13. The Church soon had or didn’t have Bishops and a structure that extended beyond individual congregations. Go ask your respective clergy how the early Church was governed.
  14. One becomes a “Christian” (an encomium) by asking Jesus into his or her heart. Or one becomes a “Christian” (a fact that has little or nothing to do with being nice and middle class or even acting like a Christian) by baptism. Yeah, go ask your Clergy. Sheesh!
  15. Around the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, God dropped the ball, the Church got seduced by secular power, and nothing more good happened until Martin Luther. Or there were always true Christians, who basically were Baptists, but history and fake Christians have suppressed that fact. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the Bishop of Rome started putting on airs and eventually tore the Church. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the other four Patriarchs decided to rebel against the Pope in Rome, who everybody knew was the penultimate boss of the whole Church (second only to Christ, whose vicar the Pope was), and thus those rebellious Patriarchs eventually tore the Church. Or something. Go ask your respective clergy.
  16. Someday, Jesus is coming back one or more times. Go ask your respective clergy why He’s coming back and whether He’s coming back once, twice, or multiple times, and whether any of those will be a secret (except for the tantalizingly suspicious disappearance of every Fundamental, King-James-Bible-Believing Baptist in the world).

I think you’ve got the idea by now. And I haven’t even touched on what the school’s sports teams pious nickname would be, whether and what Christian symbols would be allowed, or other thorny issues.

Jesus’ desire that we all may be one is not faring all that well. Go ask your pastor how it can possibly be God’s will that His Church fall into such cacophony.

Or maybe the Church is faring just fine, but “we” is narrower than everybody who says “Jesus” with a little fervor.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Caveat Emptor

Michael Pakaluk proposes a prefatory disclosure to David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, implying that the book is a sort of theological fraud:

Warning. St. Basil the Great, a doctor of the Church—who loved Origen but nonetheless did not embrace universalism—as early as the fourth century, warned the faithful against teachings like those which you will find in this book by David Bentley Hart.

Basil taught firmly that such views could only be entertained by those who had, as it were, lost sight of the plain and repeated teachings of the Lord. It would be the height of daring to believe such things, he said—and so, obviously, to teach and promote them would be much worse. To do so, Basil would say, amounts to collaboration with the Devil, who, in his characteristically deceitful ways, would like nothing more than for people to suppose that the everlasting punishment of hell does not exist.

Pakaluk is presumably Roman Catholic. Hart, like me, is Orthodox.

But Hart, as brilliant as he is, is an increasingly arrogant and abusive provocateur, and this book is outside the Orthodox consensus, which I take to be that we may hope for the salvation of all, but we should not expect it.

I do hope for the salvation of all. I do not expect it.

It is also worth noting that Hart is an Orthodox layman and a philosopher, with no known credentials as a theologian (though one not infrequently sees him so identified).

Let the book-buyer beware.

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Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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God bless the socialists

Something extraordinary has happened.

On August 19, the New York Times published its “1619 Project” — a conscious re-writing of the arc of American history so radical that they had to completely ignore the top experts on American history to come up with something so tendentious.

They’re printing hundreds of thousands of reprints for school use, and some school districts are going to use it.

Consservatives responded with “stupid liberals, promoting identity politics again” and left it at that. No conservative publication seemed to think of actually talking to the top experts on American history that the Times ignored.

So far, dog bites man.

But now the Times is coming under attack from its left, as the World Socialist Web Site objects that by falsifying history to create a purely racial narrative, the Times is consciously trying to help the Democrat party and is suppressing the importance of class, so as to make almost impossible the formation of a multi-racial coalition of proletariat victims of capitalism.

That’s the ax they have to grind, but they ground it by interviewing the top experts on American history that everyone else had overlooked (as well as writing some pointed critiques of their own):

I’m indebted to Rod Dreher for calling this extraordinary set of articles to my attention, but we’re all more deeply in debt to the cantakerous socialists for doing the work nobody else thought, or cared, to do.

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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)

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Musings from the Progressive Era

It’s stimulating, and a bit unsettling, to read Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (my long-overdue antidote to Howard Zinn) during impeachment hearings (which I won’t watch or audit closely, but cannot avoid entirely).

The professionalism of our Diplomats in contrast to the grubby demagogues trying to interrogate them gives me a vastly heightened appreciation of the early 20th Century progressives, whose main cause (besides breaking up or regulating trusts) was to remove administration from politics, entrusting it to neutral professionals.

I have half a mind to advocate abolition of primary elections and 17th Amendment, too — two other Progressive initiatives that I think have not stood the test of time all that well, judging from election grubby demagogues like Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan in the House, Lindsey Graham in the Senate.

* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, 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.

Weaponizing History

[H]istory is increasingly employed as a simple bludgeon, which picks its targets mechanically—often based on little more than a popular cliché—and strikes.

The best example may be the evergreen argumentum ad Hitlerum … The detention centers on America’s southern border should be called “concentration camps,” according to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When questioned, the young, irrepressible Democrat advised Americans: “This is an opportunity for us to talk about how we learn from our history.” But that history isn’t ours. By invoking such an emotionally laden term, she was playing on a potent theme, but in a way that underscored the limited range of her historical reference, as well as the public’s.

A more disturbing example is the pell-mell rush to pass judgment against heroes of the past and tear down or rename the monuments to them … Are we really so faint of heart that we can no longer bear to allow the honoring of great men of the past who fail in some respects to meet our current specifications?

… [T]he transformation of history into a weapon depends upon a brutal simplification of the historical record. Such is the approach of the New York Times’s audacious “1619 Project,” which argues “that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”

The weaponizing of history corresponds invariably with a remarkable hostility to history. Its practitioners are content to slice a single fact out of a web of details, then repeat that fact with the stubbornness of protesters who have memorized a chant.

… Once history becomes a club, it quickly loses its credibility as history. The grossly exaggerated claims of the Times’s “1619 Project” are likely to bring on just such discredit.

… Our task is to recover the humane insight of Herbert Butterfield, who taught that the historian should be a “recording angel” rather than a “hanging judge”—let alone a summary executioner.

Wilfred M. McClay, The Weaponization of History.

Although McClay’s examples are from the Left, this is a game anyone can play, and we have been. Mark Bauerlein of First Things (which has been making high-stakes wagers with its credibility lately), for instance, very recently interviewed the old-but-still-irrepressible David Horowitz, who flung around “communist” with reckless abandon and referred to Dostoyevsy in The Brothers Karamazov writing a “damning portrait of the Roman Church” and its indulgences.

Entropy lives! (And kills.)

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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).

Imagine there’s no sovereignty

To us moderns, the secular is fundamental. Even when religion is considered a universal sociological category, we almost always first translate it into something secular, such as its function: it synthesizes diverse perspectives and experiences, it knits people together, it makes the world coherent, it assuages the fear of death, it provides legitimacy for power, it constructs social roles, and so on. In this way, we are perhaps willing to accept that every society has a religion, but only if we first reduce religion to yet another aspect of the fundamental secular, to yet another ideology or worldview.

I contend that the Middle Ages were neither religious nor secular because the religious and the secular are two features of a single construction: the modern, Western social architecture of “Church” and “State,” “private” and “public,” “individual” and “market,” and so on. The societies of the Middle Ages had a different architecture based on different assumptions and different concepts, ultimately on a different vision of the cosmos.

One of the central arguments of this book is that we should abandon the use of “religion” and “secular” “Church” and “State” understood in their modern senses in our attempts to understand the Middle Ages, in this case the thirteenth century. This is not because the terms have no meaning—in our world they have a great deal of meaning. Rather, it is because one cannot get too far along in building a thick description of the thirteenth century before concluding that everything was religious or, if one is inclined to come at it from the other direction, before concluding that everything was secular.

Peter Berger has written, “By secularization we mean the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols.” The problem, however, is that institutions and symbols are recognizable as religious only from the vantage point of the secular. This means secularization might be just as legitimately understood as being the process by which sectors of society and culture were construed as religious institutions and symbols. In other words, secularization is the process through which the “religious” as we conceive of it was created. Along these lines, Brent Nongbri has accurately remarked that we call religious “anything that sufficiently resembles modern Protestant Christianity,” and when Charles Taylor states that the British were more religious in 1900 than ever before, we might consider him to be, in a sense, defining the term “religious.”

[T]hirteenth-century France was built as a “most Christian kingdom,” a term that the papacy frequently used in reference to it. I do not mean that the kingdom of France was a State with a Christian ideology. I mean that it was Christian, fundamentally. There was no State lurking beneath the kingdom’s religious trappings. There was no State at all, but a Christian kingdom. In this kingdom, neither the “secular” nor the “religious” existed. Neither did “sovereignty.” I do not mean that the religious was everywhere and that the secular had not yet emerged from under it. I mean they did not exist at all … The people of thirteenth-century France, however, were not trying to figure out how to build a “Sovereign State” and they were not trying to disentangle the “secular” from the “religious.” They had never heard of these things. Their world made sense, and it was a world that did not contain these concepts. This is the world that I am after.

Continue reading “Imagine there’s no sovereignty”

Life goes on — and maybe gets better

I have been enjoying Jake Meador and the other young folks who write for Mere Orthodoxy for several years now, as it accelerates its publishing pace and the breadth of its author pool.

I can’t say for sure I’ve encountered Bart Gingerich more than once before, and that one encounter was at Mere Orthodoxy, too. Now I’m recommending another article from him, this time for orthodox Christians who are feeling anxious about their future in a world where the new civic religion, Pride, forces itself on one and all for the full month of June, and where woke capital guard against excessive virtue the remaining 11 months as well.

Young Gingerich’s message is twofold:

  1. We’ve lost on the sexual revolution, humanly speaking, for an indeterminate future. Get over it. We have plenty of rot in our own church environs to occupy us for the duration.
  2. We are not helpless economically against the predations of woke capital. There are things we can and should do.

Excerpts:

Be Holy

In a certain sense, our current “post-Obergefell moment” presents an opportunity to take stock of ourselves as American Christians. With such an important battle for sexual morality lost, now is a time to turn our focus and attention to things matters of holiness afflicting the Church. In being so focused on the homosexuality issue and the political fights that took place in legislatures and court rooms, I fear many Christians have ignored other pressing matters of holiness that are just as deleterious to the Church and to the nation at large.

Having a fulsome Christian sexual ethic that is enforced consistently across the board in our ecclesiastical contexts makes our teaching on LGBT issues credible to up-and-coming generations. But the main motivating factor for us to pursue sexual holiness corporately is because it pleases the Lord. So let us not waste our Obergefell; let us recommit ourselves to holiness.

Be Strong for Others

This is an old maxim from the days of chivalry: might for right. In this case, I have economic might in mind. I beseech those in the Church who are talented and enterprising: consider bulking up to provide shelter to the brethren …

This is not to say that enterprising Christians should not pursue old stand-bys: the trades, contracting, real estate, farming, and more. The goal, as Pastor Chris Wiley says in his excellent little book Man of the House, is to acquire productive property …

This is part of what it means to be strong for others … [W]ith ownership comes liberty. This is why political concerns still matter. Lawsuits against Christian bakers, photographers, and more will have a big effect on other Christian business owners. But many decisions on this front have been encouraging, making self-employment and ownership of productive property a desirable alternative to laboring for a progressive institution.

… [A]cross the board, this is likely going to involve making households productive again. No longer will households be simply centers of recreation, which is where we find ourselves today thanks to the Industrial Revolution and other shifts. The homeplace will once again be the workplace, and that will be a good thing …

Be Anxious for Nothing: Love One Another

At the heart of the previous section and this one is this: no one is going to starve. Plenty of vitriol in Christian reactions to the LGBT+ agenda has been fueled by disgust for homosexual and transsexual promiscuity and its effect on our families, communities, nation, and world. But there is also a desperation apparent in the rhetoric and activism that springs from a fear for survival, both materially in terms of livelihood and spiritually in terms of the Church’s continued existence in the United States. I would like to tackle the former fear first: no one is going to starve.

… If things continue on their current trajectory in the United States (and that is a big “if,” for history if full of surprises), the individualism and isolation that has become so typical of the American Church is going to come to an end due to necessity.

Bart Gingerich, Traditional Christians in America Post-Obergefell: Now What?

This is serious analysis. I’d paraphrase part of his “Be Strong for Others” as “stop thinking about jobs and start thinking about vocations.” And I’d also note that this vision for economic well-being at a more intimate scale than that of the progressive corporations is essentially Distributist.

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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).

Does “Constantinius” rhyme with “Obama”?

Caveat: I’m not sure this is even half-baked yet.

Rod Dreher invoked in a Polish context and I’m extending to our American context a possibly instructive historic type, involving the epochal replacement of one dominant religion by another:

Constantine died in 337, and civil conflict followed. Roman leaders faced pressure from more radical Christians to step up the de-paganization, and tried to walk a balance between their demands and not upsetting the still large pagan population. In 356, Constantius stepped up the anti-pagan laws.

Interestingly, the pagan elites didn’t take all this too seriously …

Towards the end of his reign, Constantius’s anti-pagan laws grew even stronger, but paganism was still such a vivid and powerful presence in daily life that the pagan elites felt confident that the danger would pass when the emperor did …

Constantius was succeeded in the 360s by Julian the Apostate, so called because he had been raised a Christian, but left the faith and sought to re-establish paganism. He rolled back some of his predecessor’s pro-Christian laws, and most controversially, promulgated a law that would have prevented Christians from teaching in schools. Watts points out that these laws were strange, in part because Julian involved the state in regulating pagan belief in ways that it had not been before, even when the Empire was pagan. The laws didn’t survive Julian. According to Watts, the reality of the Empire, at least among the elites of that time, was such that pagans and Christians were already knitted together in a social fabric that could not effectively be sundered by imperial decree. That is, pagans didn’t want to see Christians thrown out of their jobs, or punished.

One of the young conservative Catholics I met in Warsaw expressed his deep anxiety over what he sees as essentially a “Julian the Apostate” move by the current populist conservative government (for which he voted!) to reinstate the Catholic faith as the source of political and social norms. This man told me that he agrees with those norms, but what older Catholic conservatives don’t understand is how thin those norms, and the faith on which they are based, are within his generation. This was the guy who told me that he believes that Catholic Poland will go the way of Catholic Ireland within a decade or two.

Rod Dreher (emphasis added)

Now imagine orthodox Christians as the passing pagan order, Progressives as the ascendant faith (and remember: history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes):

  • Was Obama our (effectively pagan) Constantinius, conducting the funeral of orthodox Christendom on behalf of Progressivism in its liberal Christian manifestation?
  • Is Trump making a Julian the Apostate move, trying to suppress Progressivism and to revive Christendom as imagined by his Evangelical base and “historian” David Barton)?

The rhyme is imperfect, of course. For instance, some people on the Left do want to see Christians thrown out of their jobs, or punished, merely for refusing to offer their pinch of incense (e.g., bake the custom cake). That complicates things.

And there’s a third America for whom the new religion combines NASCAR and NFL (Ivan Illich wrote of such things), with overlap between them and the other two constellations of rites. There dwell some people — some very prominent people — who want heretics (those who won’t stand when the standard hymn is sung at the preliminary patriotic orgy) cast our of their jobs.

But I think I’m onto something even if counter-narratives can be spun and even if our left coasts and our flyover land in this grand empire have competing religions.

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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).