Tuesday, 10/11/22

Come out from among them and be ye separate

Between two worlds

The people here were heart-broken over the shelling going on in the Donbass. I saw a video posted by an American in Ukraine showing a march of parents in Donetsk carrying photos of their children who had been killed as a result of the shelling. I had tears in my eyes watching. We all knew it was the U.S. that blocked efforts to implement the Minsk Accords set forth by France and Germany which called for the cessation of the shelling. The people in the Donbass are essentially Russians living in Ukraine. I’ve stated several times that Ukraine refused them independence after the coup removing the democratically elected president of Ukraine. The residents were not allowed to speak Russian, their native language, or, in some cases, even to worship in the Russian Orthodox church. Yet it is still a practical requirement that journalists refer to Russian troops going into Ukraine as an “unprovoked invasion.”

Hal Freeman, an Orthodox American expatriate living in Russia. He is probably too credulous about Russian news of the war, as are most Americans about the American-flavored version, but I consider his blog that of an honest Christian living between two worlds. He’s especially valuable for things like reminding Americans that the U.S., through proxies, subverted and overthrew a democratically-elected Ukrainian government we considered too pro-Russia — things our press will rarely remember.

His final paragraph, as he updates his personal status (his younger Russian wife died leaving him an aging widower with young children) is worth chewing on:

I have had some family members in America encourage me to come back there. But I still think it would be too disruptive to the children. And, furthermore, the U.S. does not look like an attractive place to live anymore. It continues on a trajectory that I do not want to move my children back to. I wish it were not so. I would love to see my family there and have not given up the dream that my toes will be in the South Carolina sand when we hopefully can visit next summer.

(emphasis added)

Why Conservatism failed

The modern conservative project failed because it didn’t take into account the revolutionary principle of technology, and its intrinsic connection to the telos of sheer profit. Decrying left-wing revolutionary politics and postmodern anarchy, conservatives missed that the real moral relativism was to believe that one could change the material form of society without directly affecting its substance or its ends.

In between great-books seminars, conservatives have decried any interference in what technologies the all-knowing market chooses to build, while taking no stance on what technologies we ought to build and accepting with equanimity massive research investment from the private economy and military-industrial complex, at most wringing their hands about the speed and direction of social change (while accepting its inevitability). Not for nothing did the Canadian philosopher George Grant, in an essay on “the impossibility of conservatism as a theoretical stance in the technological society,” describe them as “those who accept the orientation to the future in the modern but who want to stop the movement of modernity at points which touch their special interests.”

Geoff Shullenberger, Why Conservatism Failed.

Shullenberger adds more weight to the argument that to live conservatively is deeply counter-cultural and might even require substantial withdrawal from society — maybe as Hal Freeman has. But even Hal has American Social Security.

We’re all complicit even when we’re not guilty.

Anaxios!

Of the Georgia Senate race:

We don’t know if Reverend Warnock himself has ever personally facilitated an abortion, but we do know he will do everything in his power to keep facilitating them for countless women he will never know. And this is supposed to give him the moral high ground? An old Norm Macdonald line comes to mind, from the scene in Comedians With Cars Getting Coffee where he’s discussing Bill Cosby with Jerry Seinfeld. “The worst part is the hypocrisy,” Seinfeld says earnestly. “Huh,” Norm goes, poker-faced. “I kinda thought it was the rape.”

So, in the end, neither candidate can hide behind a veneer of moral respectability here. This is a choice between two evils. And yet, many voters who share my convictions remain convinced that they must choose …

… My concern is those earnest voters who have still constructed such a consequentialist frame around their vote that there truly seems to be nothing that would cause them to withhold it from a Republican, provided the Democrat was always worse.

I hate to bring him up, but Trump obviously hovers behind all this. Cards on the table, I didn’t vote for him in 2016 or 2020. Many people didn’t vote for him in 2016 but decided to do so in 2020. Now, in the wake of Dobbs, they feel vindicated …

I have seen this presented as a “conundrum” for the conservative voter, something that has to be reckoned and wrestled with. This might have an effect on some people, but I’ve always been singularly immune to this sort of challenge once my mind is firmly made up. I cheered the fall of Roe as loudly as any Trump voter. Yet, in my own mind, I remain quite happy not to have cast a vote for Trump in either year. Because a vote, to me, is more than a utilitarian ticking of a box. It’s more than getting the right warm body in the right seat so that he can vote the right way. To me, a vote is a statement: This candidate is worthy.

When the game is this cynical, we are under no obligation to keep playing. What happens next, whatever happens, is not on us. It is on the people who forgot what it means to be worthy.

Bethel McGrew, Notes from a Christian Humanist (emphasis added)

The mystic among us

Community life loves to flog mystic.

Martin Shaw, commenting on the Inuit story The Moon Palace.

This is my favorite Martin Shaw podcast yet.

Working with What We’ve Got

In stark contrast to the impulse to withdraw for Christian or conservative integrity is the impulse to seize control. There are Christian people who aren’t stupid or notably power-hungry who advocate that option.

Return of the Strong Gods

The way we do education in America results in the “overproduction of elites,” [Patrick] Deneen declared. “There need to be fewer people like me, with jobs like mine.” When I laughed at this, he smiled and said: “I mean, gosh! Just try getting someone to do brick work on your house.”

“So instead of stripping society down to atomized individuals in a ‘state of nature’ and then building up Lockean rights,” I asked Deneen clumsily, “you’re starting with the family, and then society grows out of that?”

“That’s exactly right,” Deneen told me. “It’s conceptually and anthropologically different from liberal assumptions. If you begin by building from that point and you think about the ways that those institutions are under threat from a variety of sources in modern society… to the extent that you can strengthen those institutions, you do the things that someone like David French wants, which is to track a lot of the attention away from the role of central government. One of the reasons liberalism has failed in the thing it claims to do—which is limiting central government—is precisely because it is so fundamentally individualistic that radically individuated selves end up needing and turning to central governments for support and assistance.”

[C]itizens, [R.R.] Reno argues, will not tolerate a society of “pure negation” for long. The strong gods always return. Public life requires a shared mythos and a higher vision of the common good—what Richard Weaver called a “metaphysical dream.” Human beings long to coalesce around shared loves and loyalties.

Jordan Alexander Hill, Return of the Strong Gods: Understanding the New Right. I apparently read this before it was paywalled.

We must pass a law — many laws!

J Budziszewski replies to an anguished postliberal, who’s ready to take some real action against the perceived existential threat of secularism and bad religion. This strikes me, with my long interest in religious freedom law, as a key part of the reply:

It is one thing to say that moralistic monotheism should enjoy some special recognition or privilege over and above the protections that all systems of belief receive through the Free Speech and Assembly Clauses.  It is quite another to say that systems of belief outside of it should be denied freedom of speech and assembly, or that we should round up their adherents and put them in jail.

I would add that I always thought “we must pass a law!” was an anti-conservative impulse.

Five proposed Constitutional Amendments

National Constitution Center Project Offers Constitutional Amendment Proposals with Broad Cross-Ideological Support

Miscellany

NYC

Anarchy is in the water here, like fluoride, and toilet alligators.

Jason Gay, ‘Anarchy’ Is Not a New York City Crisis. It’s a Lifestyle.

Pandemic apocalypse

The pandemic has illustrated all too vividly the meaning of terms like systemic racism and structural inequality in a way anyone can grasp: “Oh, you mean black people are at greater risk from Covid-19 because they’re more likely to be working in supermarkets or other essential jobs, and to use public transportation, and to live in housing that doesn’t allow for social distancing? And their mortality rate is higher because they’re more likely to have pre-existing health conditions?”

Black Lives Matter and the Church: An Interview with Eugene F. Rivers III and Jacqueline Rivers

Wordplay

It isn’t only Hart’s view of the world that has been consistent. It’s also his style. Clause follows clause like the folds in a voluminous garment, every noun set off by beguiling and unusual modifiers (plus some of his old favorites, like “beguiling”). In one way, at least, he is the least American of writers, in that adjectives and adverbs do not give him that twinge of guilt that so many of us have picked up from Hemingway and Twain, the suspicion that we are using them to distract the reader from our failure to describe some particular action or detail—some verb or noun—precisely enough.

Written of David Bentley Hart by Phil Christman, via Front Porch Republic.

I feel that twinge of guilt, but so far as I know, I picked it up by precept from Strunk & White, not by example from Twain and Hemingway.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Wednesday, 7/20/22

You didn’t miss anything. I didn’t publish yesterday because I just didn’t have enough material. That’s likely to recur, as I’m gradually correcting my incorrigible habit of poring over news that seems especially shareable.

Polling

The survey also found that 32% of Latino Catholics said their religious faith dictates their views on abortion, compared to 73% of white evangelical Protestants.

A new survey found Latino Catholics overwhelmingly support abortion rights. Here’s why.

I would be a pollster’s nightmare, as I find so many polling questions unanswerable if not unintelligible.

Orthodox Christianity is opposed to abortion, but I was anti-abortion before I became Orthodox, and (heaven help me, for this may mean that I’m an American individualist) I would affirm that at no time in my life has my religious faith "dictated my views" on abortion.

I have difficulty getting into the mind of anyone who would listen to that polling question, note the import of "dictate," and then answer in the affirmative. Thus the question is a — what? litmus test? ink blot test? I certainly don’t see useful information coming from it.

I don’t consider myself a rebel against my Church. I don’t think it has ever said what an Orthodox political position on abortion should be, though in my parish we especially pray regularly for an end to abortion through changed hearts.

My religious faith does "dictate" some things — say, my rejection of monothelitism and monoenergism and suchlike — important Christological questions of import on which the Church’s position is longstanding and plausibly reasoned (e.g., those teachings effectively denied the full humanity of Christ by saying that He had no human will or energy). Countermanding what the Church says about such theological nuances is above my pay grade and, unlike David Bentley Hart, I’m not arrogant enough to "go there." (I was a Protestant for two-thirds of my life and don’t care to try it again.)

But abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Eugenics? I can’t help but form my own opinions on those, informed by the Church but not dictated to.

Notes from a roving raconteur

I beat myself up because I’m an old fundamentalist and self-mortification is our specialty. And I’ve been having too much fun lately, which confuses me, doing shows in red states to crowds that include a good many Republicans who voted for the landslide winner in 2020 but nonetheless were warm and receptive to me who voted for the thief. In blue states, audiences are listening to make sure you check the boxes of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism. These are people who don’t mind that many theaters refuse to do “Our Town” because the “Our” does not acknowledge that Grover’s Corners was stolen from indigenous people. I use the possessive pronoun in singing “My country, ’tis of thee,” which audiences in red states enjoy singing with me, and also our national anthem, ignoring the fact that Francis Scott Key did own slaves.

Back in the Sixties, when I was in my twenties, we sang “We Shall Overcome” and clearly we did not overcome, we only created new hairstyles. So we pass the torch to the young, some of whom feel the word “person” shows gender bias and want to change it to perself. To which I say, “Good luck with dat.”

Garrison Keillor, national treasure.

Vignettes

There’s no apparent common theme to this two vignettes, but I thought each of them was interesting in different ways:

  • A young Hungarian academic I dined with last evening told me how jarring it was to get his master’s degree at a western European university, and to be congratulated by fellow grad students on how lucky he was to have grown up in a country that had been blessed by Marxist government. His own family had had everything taken from them by the Communists, yet these privileged nitwits could only imagine that life had been glorious under Communism. This has something to do with the fact that he’s living back in Hungary now, though he could make a lot more money working in the West. He can’t bear to deal with such ignorant people.
  • [A correspondent was one of] a bunch of very conservative Catholics who wanted to live rurally, and went out and bought land in the same area. This reader said he has been mostly grateful for having had the chance to live there and raise his kids there, but he’s not sure he would do it again if he had the chance. The reason, he said, is that he was too optimistic about how life would be there. He says he had not counted on the fact that the kind of Catholics who would make such a radical choice — strong-willed Catholics like himself, as he conceded — would find it unusually hard to get along. The reader told me that there were frequent disputes within the community over purity — not strictly sexual purity, but over whether or not it was licit to do things like let your daughters wear pants, or keep them in skirts and dresses. He said it got to be exhausting, dealing with these communal neuroses.

Rod Dreher’s Diary, Sisi, Queen Of The Magyars

Indestructible lies

… There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years ….

Mark Twain via Alan Jacobs

When Wystan met Hannah

“I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends.”

Hannah Arendt, explaining (it seems) her refusal of a marriage proposal by the poet and friend W. H. Auden (via L. M. Sacasas). I was unaware of that episode, which rather complicates my recollection that Auden eventually gave up trying to resist his homosexuality.

Sacasas continues on other topics:

The examples I have in mind of this receding of materiality arise, not surprisingly, from the most prosaic quarters of daily life. As a bookish person, for example, I think about how the distinct material shape of the book not only encodes a text but also becomes a reservoir of my personal history. I remember where I was when I read it. Or I recall who gave it to me or to whom I have lent it. In other words, the presence of the book on a shelf recalls its contents to mind at a glance and also intertwines an assortment of memories into the backdrop of my day-to-day life. At the very least, it becomes an always available potential portal into my past. I don’t mean to be romantic about any of this. In fact, I think this is all decidedly unromantic, having to do chiefly with the meaning and significance of the stuff that daily surrounds us.

The digitized book by contrast may have its own advantages, but by being the single undifferentiated interface for every book it loses its function as a mooring for the self. It’s not that the e-reader has no materiality of its own—of course it does. Perhaps the best way of conceptualizing this is to say that the device over-consolidates the materiality of reading in a way that smooths out the texture of our experience. Consider how this pattern of over-consolidation and subsequent smoothing of the texture of material culture recurs throughout digital society. The smartphone is a good example. An array of distinct physical objects—cash, maps, analog music players, cameras, calendars, etc.—become one thing. The texture of our experience is flattened out as a result.

He’s not wrong about this (insider joke to one of my readers). Yet, because of the Readwise service, I’m developing a preferential option for eBooks. That and my shelves having filled to overflowing with regular books several times.

It’s helpful to be reminded of what’s lost, though. I hope Warren Farha of the world’s greatest brick and mortar bookstore, Eighth Day Books in Wichita, will forgive my my opinion if he’s reading this.

Awkward

Barton and WallBuilders argue that Jefferson and the Founders, outside of some exceptions, meant for the “wall of protection” to operate in one direction. It also, the group and its founder suggested, applies mostly to the federal government, not the states.

Jack Jenkins, The activist behind opposition to the separation of church and state

Well! This is awkward! I have a bad impression of David Barton, who I’ve understood as a grifter, dining out on "America is a Christian Nation."

But Barton is almost completely correct in what I first quoted. What Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" was meant to protect the churches (I’d prefer "religion," though both terms have shortcomings in this context) from the state; and it was, at the time the First Amendment was ratified, intended to apply only to the federal government ("Congress shall make no law …"). Heck, Massachusetts had an established Congregational Church for 30 more years after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, and that letter was well after the Bill of Rights!

Where Barton may be wrong is in in the report that he thinks that amendment "applies" rather than "applied" mostly to the Federal Government. The First Amendment has been incorporated in the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the states. Thus Saith the Courts.

Thus, it seems to me, Barton may be telling half-truths to embolden crypto-theocrats by whose concepts of Christianity I have no desire to be governed — unless the alternative is the Wokeworld religion. I would almost certainly pick the Bartonites in that contest.

Like I said: awkward.

Is the tide turning?

… there is something undeniably more powerful about reading critiques of contemporary sexual morality that arise not from traditional religious spaces, but from within secular feminism and and from elite media. That’s when you know the tide might be turning.

I bring this up because in every single argument and controversy under the sun, reality gets a vote. Culture wars are ultimately won or lost not by online arguments but through their real-world consequences, and the position that leads to greater human misery tends to lose.

To connect with the issues at the start of this piece, when speaking about the wave of intolerance that’s swept the academy, philanthropy, Hollywood, and much of mainstream media, I’ve told conservative friends that they have no idea how miserable it was making most of the people in those organizations. Something had to give, and the immiserated majority is going to be intimidated by the motivated minority for only so long.

When speaking of the reality of porn-influenced consent culture, there’s a similar dynamic in play. It’s immiserating people by the millions.

David French, in an encouraging column: we seem to have hit bottom and started back up in several ways. At least that’s what French thinks.

Imagine my arse

Comments such as these convince me that John Lennon captured a common liberal dream in his haunting song “Imagine.” Imagine if there were no countries, and no religion too. If we could just erase the borders and boundaries that divide us, then the world would “be as one.” It’s a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. I think conservatives are on to something.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

I absolutely hate that song, and I was glad to learn I’m not alone.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Monday, 7/18/22

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Okay, the good news it is: There won’t be a civil war in the U.S.

However, the Trumpist right is working a plan to take over by things like

  • death threats against election officials,
  • who then resign and
  • are replaced by Trumpists, who intend to steal the election if the vote doesn’t go the Trumpist way.

Some 100 of these crypto-insurrectionists are already in election offices.

Government by threat of violence doesn’t strike me as much better than actual violent insurrection.

See: Rachel Kleinfeld, There Won’t Be a “Civil War”

Not moving the Overton Window

After describing in some detail how relatively benign Ron DeSantis is in comparison to Orange Man, and criticizing DeSantis where he has lacked the politically suicidal courage to denounce contemptible things, Andrew Sullivan sums up a legitimate case that DeSantis’ means of getting to his goals is within the Overton Window:

I’m deeply uncomfortable with much of this.

But how different is it really from the Biden administration rigging Title IX to impose trans ideology and end due process for the accused in schools and colleges? Or from the federal government mandating active race and sex discrimination for the sake of “equity”? Or trying to ban any mental health therapy for gender-dysphoric kids that doesn’t instantly affirm the self-proclaimed gender of a child? Or proposing vaccine distribution by race? Or imposing mask mandates and lockdowns with a fervor that lasted far beyond the need to control the first and second waves — and that were instantly and conveniently waived when BLM arrived on the scene?

More generally, look at the broader context. The imposition of woke dogma throughout corporate America, the government, the nonprofit sector and our educational institutions has been a deeply authoritarian movement, brooking no dissent. The Democrats have embraced this putsch, with Biden among the most strident, deploying federal government power to advance far-left ideas. None of his underlings can define what a woman is. All seem to view America as a form of “white supremacy” — and want to teach this as fact to kids. Do Democrats really believe that all this is simply government-as-usual, and any attempt to balance this out on the right is inherently some kind of authoritarianism? I don’t.

At some point, we really do have to fight back and defend a liberal society. The Dems are attacking it. Trump can’t do it — he merely empowers and legitimizes the woke. DeSantis has shown he can actually beat them — at their own game. A conservative seeking some swing of the cultural pendulum back to the center is not a fascist.

Jayber Crow excerpts – and an added thought

NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR


Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory. Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.

And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.


(This one, which I’ve modified, reminds me of my Christian boarding school. We even had “a hundred or so” in dormitories, plus 150 or so who commuted from nearby.)

[W]hen, to be fair, I ask myself what I would do if confronted with a hundred or so orphan children adolescents of two sexes and diverse ages and characters all to be raised and educated together, then I remain a critic, but I can’t say with confidence that I would do better.

I came under suspicion of complicity almost immediately when it was discovered that my sophomore roommate was slipping out after I fell asleep, meeting up with his junior girlfriend who’d slipped out of the girl’s dorm, and making the beast with two backs in a tunnel under the education wing (🎶 Isn’t it romantic? 🎶).

After they were caught (they really shouldn’t have set up permanent housekeeping, candles and alarm clock), the administration, having forgotten how adolescents can sleep, couldn’t believe I’d slept through it time after time — but I had.

So I had the whole room to myself for a while.

Following the Science

[I]n 1922, when the popularity of eugenics was at flood tide. Respectable opinion on both sides of the Atlantic embraced the concept: a scientific approach to selective breeding to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the category of people considered mentally and morally deficient. From U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, eugenics policies — including involuntary sterilization — were hailed as a “progressive” and “compassionate” solution to mounting social problems.

A hundred years ago, [G.K.] Chesterton discerned something altogether different: “terrorism by tenth-rate professors.” For a time, he stood nearly alone in his prophetic assault on the eugenics movement and the pseudo-scientific theory by which it was defended.

In the end, it would require the discoveries at the death camps at Auschwitz and Dachau for most of the world to finally reject the horrific logic of eugenics.

Book titles help tell the story: Social Decay and DegenerationThe Need for Eugenic ReformRacial DecaySterilization of the Unfit; and The Twilight of the White Races.

“The man-molders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique,” [C.S.] Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man. In such an age, he predicted, man’s supposed conquest over nature would not lead to his liberation — quite the opposite. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.

Joseph Loconte, Eugenics, the ‘Science’ of a Century Ago (emphasis added)

Can Chivalry be resuscitated?

Men are stronger and more aggressive than women, but the difference lies not just in faculty. Men want to use their strength. Bemoan the fact if you will, but if they don’t use it to protect others, they will probably use it to take advantage of them.

Given this fact, the obvious and natural way to keep men from taking advantage of women is to teach them chivalry. Don’t suppress their manhood, ennoble it. Don’t tell them not to act like men, tell them to act like proper men. Teach them that the right use of strength is to cherish, protect, and assist the weaker sex.

You don’t make men good men by telling them how poisonous they are for being men.

J Budziszewski.

The ellipsis comes from my feeling that I shouldn’t quote the full short post, but you probably should go read it for yourself.

Teaching men to behave like proper men? J Budziszewski is a voice crying in the wilderness.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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, 7/5/22

There sure as heck was a crack in Leonard …

… yet, oddly, that seems to be how some of the light got in.

Even while living it all out, Cohen felt—and documented—the emptiness of the sexual revolution. His most apocalyptic, almost Ginsberg-like commentary on the world he and his fellow revolutionaries had created was the 1992 song and album, The Future, which ended with these verses:

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder

Leonard Cohen lived long enough to see the freedom of the sixties turn into something else—something that, despite his enthusiastic personal participation, was poisonous, especially for the vulnerable.

Jonathon Van Maren, Leonard Cohen’s Lost Children.

I discovered Leonard Cohen quite late in my life (and his). I enjoyed his lyrics so much that I bought a volume of his poetry, only to find that volume full of adolescent sexual obsessions and hints (or more) of promiscuity. I won’t again make the mistake of straying beyond his music.

Punish the hated standards!

A lesbian law student in Idaho, offended by the sexual standards of the Christian Legal Society chapter and its sponsor, got the university to issue no-contact orders against them. The targets of those orders sued and, it should go without saying, won:

In a footnote, commenting on a faculty member’s statement that religious beliefs are not an excuse to deprive others of their rights, the court said:

Phrases such as this have taken root in recent years and paint an overtly negative picture of religious liberty. The assumption such phrases implicate is that people use their religion to mask discriminatory conduct and then try to “hide” from any legal consequences by invoking religious protection. The Court will not dissect why this assumption is a shallow look at religion, and fails to provide any substance to numerous individual constitutional rights. Suffice it to say, in a pluralistic society, people should honor differing viewpoints and build bridges of understanding instead of arguing that opposing viewpoints are inherently discriminatory and must be punished or excluded from the public square.

Religion Clause: University’s No-Contact Orders To 3 Christian Students Violate Free Speech Rights

The route to the Celestial City

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.

— Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

Via Alan Jacobs.

I’ve got to read about my doppelgänger, Jayber Crow, sooner rather than later.

Pax Anglo-Saxonica

For European officials and politicians, a great fear gnaws at the back of their minds when they look at the ongoing war in Ukraine: What happens if the United States loses interest?

Despite the war being in Europe, involving European powers, with largely European consequences, America remains the essential partner for Ukraine. For most of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Britain, in particular, the reality that Ukraine would likely already be lost were it not for American military support has only proved the intrinsic value of living in an American world order. For others, including the French, such dependence is now a source not only of shame, but of long-term vulnerability. America might care enough to supply Ukraine today, but with Donald Trump limbering up for his second shot at the presidency, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture a time when this is no longer the case.

And as French President Emmanuel Macron has warned, whichever American president is in office when this is finally all over, Russia will remain, its preoccupations, fears, interests, and myths the same as before.

Tom McTague, America’s Necessary Myth for the World.

I feel that I have one foot in in Orthodox civilization. (I don’t know a metaphor for less than the half implied by "one foot." If I did, I’d use it.) I have read enough about Russia that I was starting to think I understood it.

Then Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine, and my conceit went away.

But McTague is writing about us, not Russia, and this is clearly his central point:

The great paradox in the world today is that the “dumb simplicity” of America’s self-perception, as one senior European government adviser put it to me, is both obviously bogus and fundamentally true. The story that America tells about itself is both the source of many of its foreign-policy disasters and the necessary myth without which much of the world would be a more brutal place.

[As a] government adviser put it to me, “show me a foreign minister in the West who really wants less America.”

The dumb simplicity of America’s interventions is often infuriating and obtuse, or even disastrously naive and destructive. It exists in people like Neal and Holbrooke, Bush and Biden. And yet if America stops believing in its myth, if it scurries back into the safety of its continental bunker, having decided it is now just another normal nation, then a cold wind might start to blow in places that have become complacent in their security. When the dumb simplicity is removed, the complexities of the world start growing back.

This is what Ukraine fears and others in Europe expect. In the end, though, what really matters is which story America believes, and for how long.

I wish we had enough internal stability that our allies could feel confident that the next President wasn’t just going to repudiate all foreign alliances, and in fact would do nothing that was both substantial and abrupt.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

The Blame Game

I blame Star Wars and Harry Potter

American political commentary has for some time been dominated by pop culture references, in particular those two great modern fables, Star Wars and Harry Potter, which have replaced the classics as the source of communal knowledge. I’m not convinced that children’s books or films aimed at selling toys, enjoyable though they are, have that much to offer in the way of deep wisdom, compared to more ancient texts; I may be a declinist, but it is not commented on enough that America’s most-praised public intellectual didn’t know who St Augustine was.

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time

I blame Trump (look what he made these nice people do!)

After Trump’s election, many commentators expressed anxiety that his followers would plunge the country into far-right authoritarianism. Instead, it is the class of college-educated Democrats that now openly argues for the value of blind submission to authority and the elimination of personal freedoms. The trend [Christopher] Lasch wrote about in the 1990s has metastasized. It no longer poses a mere threat to democracy—it has become a full-fledged attack on basic democratic principles. Far from upholding civil liberties, the self-proclaimed “resistance” to Trumpism has itself exhibited many hallmarks of authoritarianism: suppression of dissent, demand for unquestioning obedience, and tight control over the flow of information. While scapegoating Trump supporters, a nexus of billionaires, woke corporations, public intellectuals, and Democratic officials have sparked the very descent into authoritarianism they claimed would emerge from the populist right.

This is not simply a matter of hypocrisy. It is only by painting themselves as victims fighting against their oppressors that college-educated professionals can rationalize their own authoritarianism. The cult of victimhood conjures the specter of fascism, misogyny, or white nationalism in order to justify blatantly repressive measures.

Alex Gutentag, ‌The New Authoritarians

Another take on the pivot after Election 2016:

If you go back to the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution there was generally a sense of triumphalism. Back then, the CEO of Twitter said that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party. That’s how Silicon Valley saw itself. Ten years later, you have the widespread view that Silicon Valley needs to restrict and regulate disinformation and prevent free speech on its platform. You’d have to say that the turning point was 2016, when Trump got elected against the wishes of pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley. That was a little too much populism for them. And they saw social media as being complicit in Trump’s election.

[Trump’s populist voters had sent] a message they very much didn’t want to hear. So they began to believe that the message was somehow inauthentic. That it was engineered by Russian disinformation, and that their platforms had contributed to it and that they needed to crack down and restrict free speech so that it never happened again.

David Sacks, ‌How Big Tech Is Strangling Your Freedom

I blame the Internet

Maybe this is obvious. Maybe I knew it "in the back of my mind." But Bari Weiss and Peter Robinson collectively (as Robinson interviewed Weiss on his Uncommon Knowledge podcast) put their finger on a major driver of media change: the migration of advertising from newsprint to the internet.

Loss of ad revenue means greater dependence on subscription revenue. Greater dependence on subscription revenue necessitates cultivating a large and loyal readership. Cultivating a large and loyal readership necessitates picking your target audience and pandering to them shamelessly.

Nobody in print has done this better than the New York Times. But "audience capture" is a threat in Substackworld, too. Some of the best podcasts have no sponsors, or sponsors so marginal as to be an embarrassment. I’m especially thinking of Advisory Opinions‘ David French reading an advertiser’s innumerate puffery that "the average user saved up to $794" and, in the same ad, that "20,000 users had saved a total of over $1 million" (or maybe it was 200,000 saving $10 million – same $50/person average).

Listen to it all on Bari’s Honestly podcast, which incorporates the Uncommon Knowledge episode.

Neo-aphorisms

  • Wokeness flattens everything, dividing all into oppressed and oppressor.
  • Everything great gets built by people who are dissatisfied with the options they see around them.

Bari Weiss who, I learn, has greater ambitions than just making a decent living away from the New York Times.

I blame Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has restored democracy’s image and its mojo. How? The answer is that Putin’s blundering and brutal behavior has accidentally highlighted democracy’s greatest superpower: the trait that insures that, for all of democracy’s flaws, it will triumph over autocracies in the long run. Democratic virtues like the supremacy of law, independent courts, and the protection of human rights are all important. But Russia’s debacle in Ukraine underscores the fact that democracy’s guarantee that leaders are regularly replaced is actually the system’s most important advantage. It turns out that our power to throw the bums out could end up saving not just the West, but the world.

Jonathan Tepperman, How Putin Just Revealed Democracy’s Secret Superpower – The Octavian Report

Democracies

Current political ideology update: I support democracy, but I’m open on the adjectival modifier. This is not a fixed identity, but it’s one around which I’ve been circling for a while. I read (and sometimes listen) to defenders of both liberal and illiberal democracy.

Reminder: Sunday April 3 is election day in Hungary. There is a large and improbable coalition (politics made very strange bedfellows) vying to oust Viktor Orbán, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have strengthened the hand of the leader of Hungary’s acknowledged illiberal democracy.

Plus ça change …

[H]e … returned to Washington, in time for the new session of Congress, only to find himself exhausted by just sitting and listening. He could neither work nor abide the whole “vileness and vulgarity” of the capital. When in late December he left again, he felt better almost at once. Still, he tried returning to Washington several times, but to no avail.

David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, of Senator Charles Sumner in December 1857 after his beating on the Senate floor and some recovery in Paris.

Wordplay

My local TV newscast reports that Purdue University has developed a drug to treat prostate cancer, the second-leading cancer among men.

I don’t mean to be picky, but shouldn’t that be "men and other prostate-havers"?


QAnon — an offshoot of evangelical Protestantism that’s been cross-pollinated with Glenn-Beck-style hyper-rationalism to produce an unfalsifiable belief system about hidden networks of pedophiles and behind-the-scenes efforts to thwart them led by prominent Republicans, including Trump.

Damon Linker


This tweet …  attracted much amusing scorn … It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in cringe

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time (italics added)


Thy mouth hath embroidered evil, and thy lips have woven lies.

Psalm 49:19 (Orthodox numbering; 50:19 in Western Bibles), adapted from Miles Coverdale translation of the Psalms.


I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

Alan Jacobs


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.

Happy Accession Day

70 years ago today, Queen Elizabeth took the throne. There’s some festivities planned, though the big affair will be the anniversary of her coronation.

Would “Voldemorting” suit you?

Freddie deBoer is a bit put out that the armies of the Successor Ideology reject every label for them, so he suggests “Voldemorting”:

Voldemorting has an obvious political purpose: that which you cannot name is made that much harder to discuss, and that which is harder to discuss is harder to criticize. That they would hide within these discursive tricks does not say good things about the content of their politics or their ability to defend them. What’s more, the people who act this way seem to think that there is no reason to give their faction a name because what they want isn’t politics, it’s just “the moral arc of the universe,” just progress, just the way things ought to be. There’s no need to talk about what they want because their politics are just right.

Whatever term [you allow for your ideology] – come out into the light and fight like the rest of us have to fight. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to.

Downgrading the forecast

As of Friday the 4th, Russia’s “imminent” invasion of Ukraine had been downgraded to “planning to fabricate a pretext to invade.”

Your sins will find you out

CNN President Jeff Zucker appeared to close a messy chapter in the cable news network’s history in December when he fired anchor Chris Cuomo after an investigation into his efforts to help his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, respond to allegations of sexual harassment.

The drama was far from over.

Mr. Cuomo’s legal team then contacted the cable news network to collect severance he feels he is owed, people familiar with the matter said. In the course of those talks, Mr. Cuomo’s legal team said they believed CNN was applying its policies inconsistently, citing that Mr. Zucker hadn’t disclosed a relationship he was having with a top aide, the people said.

Wall Street Journal.

I’ve found fortification though life in the out-of-context warning “be sure your sins will find you out.” That’s exponentially truer if your sins are know to thugs like the Cuomos.

Go, Sarah!

It takes a lot to get me to root for Sarah Palin.

But consider the 2017 New York Times editorial, falsely and ghoulishly insinuating that the 2017 shooting of Steve Scalise and other Republican lawmakers was the logical eventuality of Sarah Palin’s (nonexistent) 2011 incitement of violence against Gabby Gifford (I’m giving you the gist of the NYT screed, which appeared immediately after the 2017 shooting).

That has done the trick.

I wish Palin well in her libel suit, going to trial this week. I’m not altogether happy with the prospect of eroding the New York Times v. Sullivan libel standard, but now as then hard cases make bad law.

Best outcome: Palin wins, but jury decides her reputation was already too low to be damaged much. Nominal damages of $1.

Cheap slurs

Speaking of the New York Times, its columnist Michelle Goldberg can’t even defend suspended Georgetown law professor Ilya Shapiro without misrepresenting the gist of what he said:

A libertarian constitutional law scholar named Ilya Shapiro sent out some ugly tweets last week. Shapiro, who’d recently been hired by Georgetown University’s law school, criticized Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Indian-born judge Sri Srinivasan was “objectively” the “best pick.” But Srinivasan, wrote Shapiro, “alas doesn’t fit into latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman.” He claimed that if Biden considered only Black women, whoever he chose would always have an “asterisk attached.”

Many people were rightly incensed by Shapiro’s suggestion that a Black woman — any Black woman — would necessarily be “lesser.” … Shapiro’s tweets implied disdain not for a specific nominee, but for the entire universe of Black female jurists.

… Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association started a petition demanding his firing; as of Thursday morning it had more than 1,000 signatures. “Shapiro’s racist rhetoric and continued association with the university sends the visceral message that even if Black women attend the best law schools, hold the highest clerkships and serve on the most prestigious courts, they still are not good enough,” it said.

I wouldn’t argue with anyone who interprets Shapiro’s insulting tweets that way.

(Emphasis added)

I call bullshit.

Nobody was “rightly incensed,” and Shapiro didn’t disdain anybody.

It is impeccably logical that if Sri Srinivasan is “objectively” the “best pick,” any other pick will indeed necessarily be “lesser.”

It’s also nevertheless true that Ketanji Brown Jackson is very well-qualified, and would be on any Democrat President’s short list. I’d bet a modest amount that Shapiro would agree with that. He was just arguing for someone he thought better.

Shapiro’s full phrase, “lesser black woman,” was admittedly a groaner, for which Shapiro has apologized.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Shapiro could have stopped after his praise of Srinivasan, but nobody with an active Twitter life has entirely avoided infelicitous short-hand to fit the 280-character limit (or to fill it with just one more point).

Twitter groaners don’t “incense” healthy people in a healthy society, but it feels at times as if the Times wants to keep us sickly and polarized.

Hungary the besieged

At the moment, Hungary is facing persecution by the European Union because of a law it passed last summer that restricts media information about LGBT aimed at minors. It is perfectly normal for any country to restrict what information is available to children. Did you know that Sweden bans advertising that targets children?

What the Hungarians banned, or at least restricted, was advertising and other forms of information aimed at propagandizing children and minors for a permissive, left-wing take on LGBT. … The problem for the EU, of course, is that the Hungarians hold traditional views about sexuality and gender. If Budapest wanted to restrict ads selling candy and soft drinks to minors, nobody in Europe would mind, but when Budapest wants to restrict selling gender ideology to children, then it’s the most wicked thing in the world ….

Rod Dreher, ‌Hungary & American Conservatives

History Rhymes

What we are witnessing today on the international stage is more than a re-run of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 with the roles of the United States and Russia reversed. It is an intentional reversal of roles and language up and down the line on Russia’s part. Nebenzya’s brazen denial that his country is intimidating Ukraine by moving its armed forces around on its own territory was intentionally serving up to the USA and NATO the tripe that has been served up to Russia these past 25 years: that NATO is a purely defensive alliance which does not threaten Russia in any way when it holds massive war exercises at Russia’s borders or stages a mock recapture of the Kaliningrad enclave.

… Russia is in a ‘gotcha’ position if things go to extremis, that it probably has a first strike capability, meaning it could so destroy the United States war-making capabilities on a first strike as to preclude an effective riposte. This is the so-called ‘window of opportunity’ that Russia has created for itself by developing and deploying hypersonic missiles and other cutting edge strategic weapons over the past twenty years while the United States poured its military budget into bloody wars on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Gilbert Doctorow

It ain’t the 60s any more, kids

When Neil Young and Joni Mitchell saw an injustice, they used to attack it by writing protest songs, taking on racism in the “Southern Man” and the Vietnam war in “The Fiddle and the Drum”. Today, the two musicians prefer to speak out by pressing the mute button.

The Economist

Who are the real democrats?

Ben Rhodes at the Atlantic says one major political party (the Republicans) no longer accepts democracy. “Not so fast, pal,” says Ross Douthat. “It kind of depends on how you look at ‘democracy’.”

I think I’d lay low a while if I were Ben Rhodes.

Not that the Republicans aren’t deviants, mind you.

The RNC censured Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger on Friday, including this jaw-dropper:

Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse….

Another point on Trump, which reflects poorly on the GOP:

So a prime minister who won a landslide victory only a couple of years ago may well be defenestrated by his own party in the near future — because he broke Covid rules and said something disgraceful about an opponent. Now imagine the GOP doing that to Trump. Inconceivable. The man instigated a mob attack on the Congress, for Pete’s sake. He has regularly lied about opponents — and no one in the GOP gave a shit. Johnson did indeed have a populist cult of personality, like Trump. But the British Tories never went so far as to worship the man, like a golden calf, and merge their entire identity in his image.

Andrew Sullivan

(I am neither Republican nor Democrat.)

Covid deaths

I noted recently that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky couldn’t say how many Americans of the then-reported 836,000 Covid deaths have died from Covid as opposed to with Covid. That made me suspect that deaths from Covid have been over-reported (as they have in at least a few case).

The Economist, however, watches the reality-checking statistic of excess deaths, and thinks we’ve under-counted. The Economist thinks our real Covid toll is 1,001,190.

It also has data on much of the world, though it appears at a glance to be weak on sub-Saharan Africa.

Quick take

There’s nothing like censorship to quell conspiracy theories.

Caitlin Flanagan on the US surgeon general suggesting that the government and corporations use their power to censor citizens like Joe Rogan. Via Andrew Sullivan

Liquid Modernity versus the Counterculture of Commitment

[Pete] Davis opens [Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing] by asking us if we’ve ever felt the despondency of “infinite browsing mode”: unable to decide on a Netflix show, say, paralyzed by the desire to keep options open. Fear of making the wrong choice, coupled with an infinite amount of options, may make us lackadaisical. But many have also experienced anxiety resulting from our gig economy’s lack of job stability or employee loyalty, or hurt resulting from friends and loved ones who weren’t faithful to us. Infinite browsing mode tempts us, but it also pains us.

Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman refers to this state, Davis explains, as liquid modernity: “We can’t rely on any job or role, idea or cause, group or institution to stick around in the same form for long—and they can’t rely on us to do so, either,” Davis writes. “That’s liquid modernity: It’s Infinite Browsing Mode, but for everything in our lives.”

Davis compares this with what he calls “a Counterculture of Commitment,” and considers a diverse array of people—Fred Rogers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, piano and school teachers, and more—who “took the same radical act of making commitments to particular things—to particular places and communities, to particular causes and crafts, and to particular institutions and people.”

Gracy Olmstead, ‌The Day of Small Things

Discerning the truth

Not unrelated to Infinite Browsing Mode, one of the most pressing challenges of our age is winnowing falsehoods out of truth. Nobody wants to commit to a lie, but we simply don’t have time to exhaustively investigate every claim that, if true, might well change our course in life.

So we all develop heuristics. I intend to write soon about mine. Meanwhile, I’d be interested to hear yours — both of you, all of you — heck, I don’t even pay attention to the statistics any more.


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

Sunday reflections

In progress we trust

Faith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Sorry if I’ve posted this before. It just says so much in so few words.

Seen and unseen understood

We celebrated Theophany, the third-most important of the Church’s feasts, on January 6. The feast technically continues several days, and included last Sunday:

The true Light has appeared and bestows illumination on all. Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. What is seen belongs to earth; but what is understood transcends the heavens. By means of a bath comes salvation; by means of water comes the Spirit; by means of immersion does our ascent to God come to pass. How wonderful are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You.

One of the "Praises" ("Lauds") in Matins ("Orthros") January 9 (emphasis added, because that caught my attention).

American Christianity collection

The "democratic" seeds sown

Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (1844)

178 years later, we can see a bit more clearly.

To see ourselves as others see us

Author and speaker Christine Caine recently shared that she was stunned by what she encountered when she first visited churches in the United States.

Before coming to the U.S., “I had never seen a flag in a church,” said Caine. “Never.”

Jessica Lea

Unguarded candor

I found my way into this Twitter thread because John MacArthur was quoted as saying:

I don’t even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is what sent people to hell. To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It’s to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness.

Unfortunately, the quote was accurate, and he doubled down disastrously. MacArthur is a big-name Evangelical of the sort I would have thought fairly moderate.

Comic and tragic

I’m from the Midwest, the home of emotional withdrawal, where I grew up among serious Bible scholars for whom the result of scholarship was schism and bitterness ….

Garrison Keillor.

That Keillor is a low-key comic doesn’t mean it’s not true. Witness this:

New podcast: Reformed Church in America split points to rising tensions in Calvin country — GetReligion

The "Alliance of Reformed Churches" to which conservatives from the RCA are fleeing, is attracting interest from Churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) as well. Both a roiled by similar contentious issues, implicating sexuality.

I was already an adult, when the PCA was forming from dissident members of the United Presbyterian Church. Our church was considering affiliating with PCA. They were until recently reputed to be rock-ribbed conservative Calvinists. Now, they’re in some trouble.

Upon completing law school, and before entering the Orthodox Church, I spent roughly 15 years in the CRC.

It blows my mind how the PCA and CRC have changed in so short a time. (If you’re curious, or just not conversant with the polyglot Protestant world, "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" historically are the English and continental Calvinist Churches, respectively; for an American, there’s no high doctrinal barriers between them.)

We’re not total outliers, though

I have been reviewing some of my personal notes, and one portion of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary has particular religious valence. McGilchrist is a Brit, and so his observations aren’t focused on America, but presumably apply throughout the post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment West:

  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere. (I am fascinated at the pregnant qualifiers "nakedly, explicitly".)
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

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.

Book notes: The Master and His Emissary

Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary is, I’m pretty sure, the heftiest book I read in 2021. I’ve been reviewing my Readwise notes on-and-off now for a full day.

Selected notes are more than enough material for a blog the reader can really chew on for a while. While context is missing, I’ve tried to avoid notes that require the context for any understanding:

  • [B]y showing that the left hemisphere, which underwrites the fragmented vision, is both literally more limited in what it can see, and less capable of understanding what it does see, than the right – and, to cap it all, is less aware of its own limitations – the book gives the reader good reason to reappraise the left hemisphere’s world view, wherever it can be identified as such.
  • [S]ince the Industrial Revolution, but particularly in the last fifty years, we have created a world around us which, in contrast to the natural world, reflects the left hemisphere’s priorities and its vision.
  • A mountain that is a landmark to a navigator, a source of wealth to the prospector, a many-textured form to a painter, or to another the dwelling place of the gods, is changed by the attention given to it. There is no ‘real’ mountain which can be distinguished from these, no one way of thinking which reveals the true mountain. Science, however, purports to be uncovering such a reality. Its apparently value-free descriptions are assumed to deliver the truth about the object, onto which our feelings and desires are later painted. Yet this highly objective stance, this ‘view from nowhere’, to use Nagel’s phrase, is itself value-laden. It is just one particular way of looking at things, a way which privileges detachment, a lack of commitment of the viewer to the object viewed.
  • [I]t is the right hemisphere that has the intuitive sense of numbers and their relative size. However, the sense is approximate and does not have precision. The left hemisphere, by contrast, has precision, but it has no intuitive sense of what it is actually doing, other than following rules and manipulating symbols.
  • ‘If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them.’ … one feels so hopeless relying on the written word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations. … It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous. … a right-hemisphere stroke, although not involving speech directly, is in practice more disabling than a left-hemisphere stroke, despite the fact that in a left-hemisphere stroke speech is usually lost.
  • [P]oetry evolved before prose … Prose was at first known as pezos logos, literally ‘pedestrian, or walking, logos’, as opposed to the usual dancing logos of poetry.
  • The belief that one cannot think without language is yet another fallacy of the introspective process, whereby thinking in words about language only serves to confirm the importance of the verbal process. When we consciously introspect, or retrospect, on our own thought processes, and try to construct what happens, how the mind works, we can do so only as we would under those circumstances try to achieve the task, consciously, putting it in words. But the mind is not like this. We carry out most mental processes that would normally constitute what we mean by thinking without doing anything consciously, or in language, at all.
  • [P]hilosophy in the West is essentially a left-hemisphere process. It is verbal and analytic, requiring abstracted, decontextualised, disembodied thinking, dealing in categories, concerning itself with the nature of the general rather than the particular, and adopting a sequential, linear approach to truth, building the edifice of knowledge from the parts, brick by brick. While such a characterisation is not true of most pre-Socratic philosophers, particularly Heraclitus, it is at least true of the majority of philosophers since Plato in the West until the nineteenth century, when, for example, Schopenhauer, Hegel and Nietzsche began to question the basis on which philosophy made its advances.
  • According to the left hemisphere, understanding is built up from the parts … According to the right hemisphere, understanding is derived from the whole ….
  • The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’. If we had no concept of truth, we could not state anything at all, and it would even be pointless to act.
  • The fact that in the twentieth century philosophers, like physicists, increasingly arrived at conclusions that are at variance with their own left-hemisphere methodology, and suggest the primacy of the world as the right hemisphere would deliver it, tells us something important.
  • It is only the left hemisphere that thinks there is certainty to be found anywhere.
  • It is not that one or other hemisphere ‘specialises in’, or perhaps even ‘prefers’, whatever it may be, but that each hemisphere has its own disposition towards it, which makes one or another aspect of it come forward – and it is that aspect which is brought out in the world of that hemisphere.
  • The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known – and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.
  • [T]he immediate pre-conceptual sense of awe can evolve into religion only with the help of the left hemisphere: though, if the process stops there, all one has is theology, or sociology, or empty ritual: something else.
  • With the advent of Romanticism, paradox became once more not a sign of error, but, as it had been seen by Western philosophers before Plato, and by all the major schools of thought in the East before and since, as a sign of the necessary limitation of our customary modes of language and thought, to be welcomed, rather than rejected, on the path towards truth. ‘Paradox is everything simultaneously good and great’, wrote Friedrich Schlegel.
  • The means of argument – the three Ls, language, logic and linearity – are all ultimately under left-hemisphere control, so that the cards are heavily stacked in favour of our conscious discourse enforcing the world view re-presented in the hemisphere which speaks, the left hemisphere, rather than the world that is present to the right hemisphere. Its point of view is always easily defensible, because analytic; the difficulty lies with those who are aware that this does not exhaust the possibilities, and have nonetheless to use analytic methods to transcend analysis. … Coupled with its preference for classification, analysis and sequential thinking, this makes [the left hemisphere] very powerful in constructing an argument. By contrast it is hard for the right hemisphere to be heard at all: what it knows is too complex, hasn’t the advantage of having been carved up into pieces that can be neatly strung together, and it hasn’t got a voice anyway.
  • Although language is the only way we can scientifically bridge the chasm between mind and brain, we should always remember that we humans are creatures that can be deceived as easily by logical rigour as by blind faith … It is possible that some of the fuzzier concepts of folk-psychology may lead us to a more fruitful understanding of the integrative functions of the brain than the rigorous, but constrained, languages of visually observable behavioural acts….
  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • The appeal to reason can lead to sweetness and light, but it can also be used to monitor and control, to constrict and repress, in keeping with my view that the aim of the left hemisphere is power. With time, a dark side to the Enlightenment became too obvious to conceal.
  • In Shakespeare, tragedy is no longer the result of a fatal flaw or error: time and again it lies in a clash between two ways of being in the world or looking at the world, neither of which has to be mistaken. In Shakespeare tragedy is in fact the result of the coming together of opposites.
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary


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.

Wednesday, 12/22/21

The most efficacious argument

[W]hen the church itself is unhealthy or poorly led, a plan to start its revitalization with secular political actors and cultural Christianity — with Donald Trump and Eric Zemmour, presumably — seems destined for disappointment.

Social justice activists did not triumph … by first getting an opportunistically woke politician elected president and having her impose their doctrines by fiat. Their cultural advance has had political assistance, but it began with that most ancient power — the power of belief.

Which is also how Christian renewal has usually proceeded in the past. The politically powerful play a part, the half-believing come along, but it was the Dominicans and Franciscans who made the High Middle Ages, the Jesuits who drove the Counter-Reformation, the apostles and martyrs who spread the faith before Roman emperors adopted it.

It’s been that way from the very start. Kings eventually bowed before the crucifix, but in the worlds of the wisest Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, “the most efficacious argument” for Christ’s divinity is that “without the support of the secular power he has changed the whole world.”

And so this Christmas, in our parish and every church around the world, we begin again. Whatever world-changing power we might seek, whatever influence we might hope to wield, starts with the ancient prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ross Douthat, ‌Can Politics Save Christianity?


Sophistication

For all we know, the tribal shaman who seeks visions of the Dream-time or of the realm of the Six Grandfathers is, in certain crucial respects, immeasurably more sophisticated than the credulous modern Westerner who imagines that technology is wisdom, or that a compendium of physical facts is the equivalent of a key to reality in its every dimension.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God


Lost soul

I heard a few months ago of Steve Skojec, a former hardcore Catholic blogger (1Peter5), having a huge crisis of faith. I began following his new Substack, expecting to find something of interest. I was right.

My own relationship with Catholicism is not so vexed as his.

It’s fair to characterize the Evangelicalism of my youth as anti-Catholic, but not obsessively so; were it not for my memories (1) of two of my adverse reactions to JFK and (2) that I didn’t consider Catholics truly Christian, I’m not sure I’d even recognize that I was anti-Catholic.

I tried to learn about Catholicism as a young adult from tendentious hyper-Calvinist secondary sources (unaware that Vatican II meant Catholicism was going to become much more like Protestantism) and (surprise!) what I "learned" wasn’t good.

When I first became Orthodox, I realized that most of the objections I’d had to Catholicism were wrong, and I flirted with the idea that devout Catholics and Orthodox were all, in Richard John Neuhaus’s reification, "ecclesial Christians": people for whom faith in Christ and faith in His Church was one act of faith, not two. I recognized that much of my former attitude could be described as Romophobia, the Protestant reflex that shuns anything, however wholesome, that feels "too Catholic."

But the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I realize that the millennium-wide gulf between Orthodoxy and Catholicism really is deep and wide, in ways that cannot readily be described and that go well beyond which doctrinal propositions each affirms or denies. Notably, I see in Steve Skojec’s substack how he is still haunted by distinctly Catholic beliefs that he now deeply, and justifiably, doubts.

Rod Dreher once was in a similar place, but then encountered Orthodoxy. I pray for Steve Skojec daily, but as I’m not a paid subscriber, I can offer him no words of encouragement or invitation to Orthodoxy. Fortunately, others seem to be doing it.


Christmas, sort of

On a lighter — indeed almost weightless — note, my wife and I have watched a few "Christmas movies" on Netflix this week. And I’ve listened to the background music at my favorite restaurant, a mix of deracinated romantic "Christmas songs" in the "All I Want for Christmas is You" genre.

I’m reminded of why we need the word "vapid" in our English language.

I’ve gotten out Auden’s For the Time Being again.

Maybe I’ll watch Charlie Brown, too:

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not like other Christmas movies. For over half a century, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been playing a game of chicken and we tune in every year to watch it win again. When will CBS finally cave and remove Linus’s recitation of Luke 2? When will the story of Christ’s birth finally be replaced with some spineless pablum about equality, teamwork, and oblique references to fashionable politics? “Surely this will be the year they cut it,” we say, folding our arms as the spotlight falls on Linus. And yet this twenty-five-minute movie somehow manages to pull off the same simple stunt every year—and every year, it is a little more impressive than the last time.

Joshua Gibbs, The Enduring Appeal Of A Charlie Brown Christmas | Circe Institute.

I kind of wonder if the Estate of Charles Schultz won’t forbid bowdlerizing with "spineless pablum." He was said to be an observant Protestant Christian. CBS may have to choose between the Gospel according to St. Luke and contemporary vapidity.


Trans ideal, trans reality

Trans activists argue that a long-marginalised group is now finding its voice in popular culture. Their critics retort that vulnerable teenagers are losing themselves in an online world which adulates anyone who comes out as trans. Both could be right.

“What is needed is quality research into adolescent-onset dysphoria among girls, and the overlap with autism and mental-health diagnoses,” says Will Malone, an endocrinologist and director at the Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine, an international group of doctors and researchers.

Ideally, … an adolescent with gender dysphoria would have been regularly seeing a therapist, who encouraged them to explore other possible causes for their feelings and had a comprehensive psychological assessment before being put on blockers or hormones. “It is very rare that even one of these things happens,” she says.

The Economist, After the Keira Bell Verdict – An English Ruling on Transgender Teens Could Have Global Repercussions (URL lost)


Covid reality

The abstraction of “social responsibility” does not tell me anything about what it is that you want me to do … If you’re locking down but surviving doing so with meal delivery apps, online shopping, and delivery groceries, you’re not reducing risk, you’re just imposing it on other people … It’s very hard to exist in modern society and to reduce your own risk of infection without increasing that of someone else … Reference to the grand shibboleth of social responsibility or communal welfare or similar, it’s all a way to hide in the abstract, and we hide there because there’s so little to do in the particular. Covid is here. The vast majority of us will survive it, as has been the case since the beginning. Many hundreds of thousands, tragically, will die ….

Freddie deBoer, Social Responsibility… To Do What?

And this, not from Freddie:

COVID is just a part of our lives now, and if we don’t learn to live with it, we’re never going to be able to do anything.

Sportswriter Will Leitch via the Morning Dispatch


Baptists gonna be baptists

Burk states that he does not believe that the response from Du Mez represents:

… any kind of middle or undecided position. She is already willing to have communion with and to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, she is already saying that it is right to welcome to the Lord’s table those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity. She may be under the impression that this is a “middle” or “undecided” position, but it certainly is not. Once you’ve affirmed unrepentant homosexuals as your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have already endorsed an affirming position no matter what your ethical calculation might otherwise be.

It appears that she is treating homosexuality as if it were an issue that otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree about — something on the order of differences over baptism or the rapture. That view is a grave error.

Note Burk’s use of the word “identity,” instead of “behavior.”

Terry Mattingly, ‌Think pieces: Why are evangelicals evolving on doctrines linked to LGBTQ issues?

I’m not going to do any deep dive to figure out exactly how Du Mez and Burk disagree, and what Du Mez may have said or written elsewhere that incites such lack of charity in Burk’s response, above — i.e., leaping from "willing to recognize LGBTQ persons as her brothers and sisters in Christ" to "welcome … those who embrace and affirm a homosexual identity" to "affirm[ing] unrepentant homosexuals." Those kinds of leaps seem more like mendacious Right Cancel Culture than good faith argumentation.

Is Denny Burk confused about the distinction between identity and behavior? (I doubt it.) Does Burk think that identifying as homosexual, even if celibate, is sinful? (I suspect he does.) If so, does he think that homosexual orientation (without "identifying as gay" or celebrating it) can be changed? I’ve had some thoughts on that.


Lovely poetic acquisition

Shared on micro.blog:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
    who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company, always, with those who say
    "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
    and bow their heads.

(Attributed to Mary Oliver)


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 and pleasant). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Selections

"Gospel"

It is almost universal in the Protestant Churches I know to say that "gospel" means "good news." But there’s some problems with that:

  1. The translation of evangelion is "woodenly literal" (ev, good + angelion, news or report). But dividing a word into parts and explaining the parts is not a good way to interpret languages. (Consider, for instance, the humble "butterfly.")

  2. II Corinthians 2:14-17 is an extended metaphor — obscure to us, but not to the first hearers. A "triumph" in the Roman Empire was something like a big parade, held to honor someone. The triumph was preceded by the evangelia, announcing who they were and their great accomplishments.

  3. Evangelion is the word the early Christians picked for announcing who Christ was and the victory he’d won. The Christian evangelia are Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, ascension into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his return to judge the living and the dead.

  4. But when the apostles "preached the gospel," people responded with "what must I do to be saved?" That asking is their response to the gospel. But most "sharing the gospel" in America skips the evangelia and goes straight to advice on how, in Evangelical understanding, to get saved.

From Father Stephen DeYoung, The Whole Counsel of God podcast on II Corinthians 2 & 3.

I haven’t decided if this is mere pedantry, but it grabbed my attention for its illumination of what the Gospel is, independent of any response.

Dispensaries of eternal security and uplift

Our churches are quite likely to be low-commitment clubs for religious people rather than definitive communities of disciples striving to live all of life under God’s kingship. For many modern Christians, churches are dispensers of eternal security and uplift—fire insurance and mood brighteners—not nurturers of a whole way of life, not the source of the best ways to act and think in all spheres of experience.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

History rhymes

Some German bishops, as the pope later lamented, still viewed Hitler as the defender of Christian values.

Mark Riebling, Church of Spies.

Standing conventional narrative on its head

I had a law school classmate — one of a group of thirty-somethings in my class (including me) who had returned to school after some other life experiences — who was an enigma in several ways. From Southern Indiana, with a drawl to match, he was nevertheless pretty far left politically.

Most surprising of all to me at the time was that he had converted to Roman Catholicism. I asked why.

"I decided I prefer a Pope in Rome who claims infallibility, but pretty much leaves me alone, to some ignorant local who claims just to be preaching the Bible, but expects to manage my life."

Did I mention that he was pretty perceptive?

Prayer

Father Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians’ empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern religions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises or breathing techniques. Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, “Lord, have mercy.” The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying? Can prayer exist without the conscious and free participation of the person who prays?”

Dionysios Farasiotis, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios

All approaches to prayer have pitfalls. My pre-Orthodox experience was that, unless I labored very hard in advance to formulate a public prayer (usually with some prayer book in hand as an outline), the result tended to be a string of conventional and banal buzzwords.

Now that I’m Orthodox, the risk is the words of my prayer books becoming so familiar that I can pray them even as my mind wanders "all over the place." The advice of Orthodox priests for that problem tends to be "if you realize your mind has wandered, go back and pray it again."


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.