This (sigh!) is as good as it gets

I’ve been waiting for decades for the orthodox to rout the progressives in a denominational split — which amounts to waiting for the progressives to overplay their hand just once.

The usual progressive ploy is to plead for dialog — again and again for as long as it takes to wear down the orthodox — then to give false assurances of pluralism once their heresy or immorality is grudgingly afforded the status of an option, then to crush the orthodox when they gain power. Or as Neuhaus’s Law puts it, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

It looks like the United Methodist split over homosexuality and same-sex marriage is as close as we’re going to get to an orthodox rout, and even there the progressives are keeping the denomination name (which may prove a blessing in the long run):

This week, a group of church leaders announced a plan for the dissolution of the worldwide church that would allow conservative congregations and conferences to leave the main body and join a new conservative denomination. Under the proposal, the UMC would give the new denomination $25 million and allow departing congregations to keep their property, and departing clergy, their pensions.

(Law & Religion Forum) Keeping property and pensions, and getting a farewell gift to boot, is a smashing victory — relatively speaking.

God bless the Africans, who forced the progressives (a majority in North America) to sue for “peace.” My great-grandchildren may someday need to be evangelized by missionaries from the global south.

* * *

I must also issue a caveat at this point, because the dominant media falsely make disputes like this a matter of good guys versus wicked homophobes.

David French provides an easy way to do so:

The true fracturing point between [progressive and orthodox] churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause … [T]here is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.

Thus, at heart, the disagreement between the [orthodox and progressive] isn’t over issues—even hot-button cultural and political issues—but rather over theology. Indeed, the very first clause of the United Methodist Church’s nine-page separation plan states that church members “have fundamental differences regarding their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, theology and practice.” …

I’m not for a moment going to pretend that there aren’t homophobes and bigots in [orthodox Christianity]. I’ve encountered more than a few people who turn a blind eye to or rationalize and excuse all manner of heterosexual sin while scorning their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors. But for the thoughtful and faithful dissenters on both sides of the theological aisle, sexuality is the side issue. Differences over scriptural authority and biblical theology represent the central dispute.

Orthodox Christian sexual ethics have absolutely nothing to do with animus against gays and lesbians. In fact, there should be zero animus against any person of any sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, the orthodox Christian sexual ethic—which reserves sex for the marriage between a man and a woman—rests on a sincere conviction that it is not only directly commanded by God through scripture, it’s also best for human flourishing, and it is symbolic of the sacred relationship between Christ and His Church.

And then caveats to the caveat:

French is an Evangelical, which characteristically (and in French’s case) involves a fair amount of parochialism and ecclesiological cluelessness. So I have modified his over-simplified contrast between Evangelicals and Mainstream Protestants to refer to orthodox and progressive more broadly.

Second, for Catholics and capital-O Orthodox, the scriptural teaching on sexuality is important but not all-important, because each Church’s tradition is consistent about the meaning of sexuality. Were I still Protestant, however, I would stand with the lower-o orthodox, because the case that scripture is unclear is dishonest. Here’s an admission against interest to that effect:

I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says… . [However] we must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture… and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

(Pro-gay Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson)

That will have to suffice, for everything eventually connect to everything else, and I don’t have an eternity to qualify and ramify.

* * * * *

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

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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

What it takes to keep a man alive

Rod Dreher is much exercised over Chick-fil-A’s announcement that the Cathy Family Foundation is going to focus on education and homelessness, presumably dropping support for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Salvation Army, who the progressive bigots considered bigots simply because they have moral positions against homosexual acts.

Yes, that (combined with one statement by one family member that same-sex marriage invites God’s judgment) is how slender the case is for Chick-fil-A as monster: Some Chick-fil-A profits go to a family foundation that supported garden-variety Christianish groups that adhered to historic Christian sexual standards, though opposition to sexual deviance wasn’t their focus.

Even at that, I think Rod’s overdoing it, letting one more win by the other tribe work him too far toward frenzy, but that’s not my point, which rather is to praise an analogy offered up by one of his readers:

I cannot help but to compare Chick Fil A to Thomas More–and the comparison isn’t very favorable. Both quietly supported efforts to keep a marriage (or type of marriage) from being recognized that they thought was invalid. Both saw their cause lose. Both quietly accepted defeat and went about their business and did not try and stir up trouble. Yet neither was left alone, but compelled to publicly affirm the marriage. More was locked up. There are some great portrayals of Thomas More (A Man For All Seasons) and even Jeremy Northam’s performance in The Tudors. Northam’s version of More’s response to the Henry’s demand that he sign it is excellent. He protests that by remaining silent, he is in effect consenting to the public. “I do no harm, I say no harm, I think no harm and if that not be enough to keep a man alive, I long not to live.” Of course Henry was not satisfied with silent consent, he insisted upon on public and explicit affirmation.

There are differences of course. Chick Fil A is an organization, not a man. (In fact they are a multibillion dollar empire.) But More was locked up in prison and he refused to give an inch even in the face of death. A bunch of underemployed losers with nothing better to do than nurse imaginary grievances wrote nasty things on social media and Chick Fil A folded like a cheap suit.

Note two things: they have not yet publicly affirmed gay marriage, yet they have surrendered their conscience already by trying to appease the bullies. What this means is that there is blood in the water and the LGBT activists are not going to quit until Chick Fil A explicitly affirms the LGBT stance. CFA should have rather responded in More’s words: We do no harm, we say no harm, we think no harm and if that not be enough to keep a company in business, we long not to be.

I’m a sucker for A Man for All Seasons (the first time I saw the ever-creepy Julian Assange look-alike John Hurt, appropriately cast) so that hits my sweet spot.

 

* * * * *

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.

Dennis Prager’s Rohrschalk Test

A Dennis Prager column opens with a very broad-brush premise:

Every non-liberal leftist — that is, nearly every Democrat running for president, New York Times and Washington Post columnist, CNN and MSNBC host, and your left-wing brother-in-law — labels every Trump supporter and, of course, President Donald Trump, a “racist.”

And they don’t stop there. Leftists don’t only label the half of the country that supports the president “racist,” they label all whites and America itself “racist.”

Prager offers a three-question limus test to prove conservative non-racism:

  1. Do you have more in common with, and are you personally more comfortable in the company of, a white leftist or a black conservative?
  2. Would you rather have nine white leftists or nine black conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court?
  3. Would you rather your child marry a black Christian conservative or a white non-Christian liberal?

Granting for sake of argument that those questions effectively screen for the most virulent form of racism, explicit hatred of darker-skinned people, I doubt their effectiveness as screens for all varieties of the racism that lingers from America’s original sin.

But that’s not the prey I’m after: they expose something else worrisome. (Note that I did not say “far more worrisome.”)

A quick “the black conservative” in response to question 1 would betray an unhealthy ideological obsession, would it not? Why should there be any preference? Would a white, college-educated suburban conservative really have “more in common” with a random black conservative than with a white, college-educated suburban liberal? Has it come to that: ideology über alles?

So I cannot answer Prager’s question 1. I really cannot. It would depend too much on other variables. The test, as worded, is more a rohrschalk test for unhealthy ideology than a litmus test against racism.

I have no trouble with question 2 (a guy can dream, can’t he? But two white leftists might be good to keep the conservatives honest.).

Question 3 is rohrschalk in a different way.

I would prefer the “black Christian conservative” because I’m Christian and believe Christians should marry within the faith. But not all conservatives are Christian.

Why would a Jewish conservative categorically and reflexively prefer a “black Christian conservative” child-in-law to a “white non-Christian liberal,” since “non-Christian” includes “Jewish”? (You don’t need a Venn diagram, do you?) Does Prager, himself a Jew, think marrying within conservative ideology is more important than marrying within the faith?

Prager probably knows that his supposed test against racism is sophistry, but he created a pretty good test for visceral, tribal, toxic and all-consuming “conservative” ideology.

(Note: This blog has been edited several times within the first few hours after posting to clarity or intensify my meaning.)

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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.

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A soft answer?

We’ve reached a juncture where, I think, most people (even in my part of “flyover land”) know and have friendly relations with gays and lesbians who are remarkably normal. Involved in music and arts, I certainly do, and it has not, I think, “softened” my stance on the morality of same-sex erotic relationships.

At the same time, if you’re paying attention, you see at Pride Parades, on the left coasts at least, displays of extreme sexual perversity; and every “all we want is X” is followed by “all we want is Y” when the sexual revolutionaries get their X.

What is going on?

Rod Dreher has a generally conservative, very perceptive, same-sex-married reader who comments (not just in thin pseudonym, but anonymously to protect himself from feared professional consequences) as “Matt in VA.” Matt’s take seems very plausible to me:

I am not trying to say or claim that all or most gay men are peddlers of this suicidal and murderous sexual “ethic” — I am only saying that the most vocal and most committed and most will-to-power gays are. One of the drums I bang on constantly is that it doesn’t really matter so much what a “majority” believes or values deep in their hearts — the public square is shaped by those who are most committed to seeing their vision of society realized and made hegemonic. And of course the gay men with the most poisonous and toxic sexual priorities are the most committed and vocal — these are people who value their sexual practices and choices more, much more, than they value their own lives or the lives of their sexual partners.

If you read the well-documented accounts of Gaetan Dugas in And the Band Played On, or the stories about Foucault — this type of gay man may not be the majority, but it is not an exceedingly uncommon type, and it is the type that is committed to seeing its vision of what homosexuality means or should look like realized and affirmed (think of Foucault’s influence.) If others say it is false to declare these kinds of people murderers, that we are talking about consensual choices, then I would say at best they are the equivalent of heroin or fentanyl dealers, and gay male sexual communities are the equivalents of urban communities where hard-drug dealers and their “values” are aggressively and relentlessly normalized. These are failed communities.

… I am not talking about all nor even most gay men, here; but at the same time, I am talking about many of the most committed and loud and determined gay men, the ones who put great effort into normalizing and promoting their priorities and making the community into something that satisfies their desires as much as possible …

… to say “only within consenting adults” is to put up no guardrail whatsoever. Consenting adults are capable of “consenting” in the heat of the moment, or at certain points* over a lifetime of degraded and relentless mental and cultural grooming, to raping and being raped, to risking death to oneself or one’s sexual partners, to deliberately infecting others and/or deliberately, even fetishistically, exposing oneself to infection with anything and everything; to mutilating one’s body or somebody else’s body — to anything.

Matt in VA, via Rod Dreher.

I don’t know what to do about this. Smugly waiting for the backlash is a non-starter, but I’ve seen a possible model.

May 17 has somehow been designated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The Republic of Georgia, in which I was traveling this May 17 past, is too tolerant to repress its observance, but too Orthodox Christian not to respond.

So the Orthodox Patriarch of Georgia declared (or persuaded the authorities to declare) May 17 “Family Sanctity Day“, an official holiday it appeared, which was celebrated with a parade, erection of a temporary massive stage at the open end of Sameba Cathedral Plaza, and displays of patriotism, traditional song and dance, and so forth.

I liked that tone and that substance.

[* This has obvious relevance to heterosexual “consenting adults” as well, as in Harvey Weinstein’s not entirely improbable claim that he never had non-“consensual” sex with {any aspiring starlet who he had the power to make or break}.]

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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).

Twiblings

As if on cue, an example of today’s version of satanic banality. I’m really sticking my neck out on this, but here goes.

But first, remember the conclusion to my latest blog when you parse “satanic”:

The man who approaches Paradise Lost expecting to find the same Satan venerated by Scandinavian black metal bands and Anton LaVey will turn the final page of the poem and suffer sore disappointment. Milton’s Satan never kills anyone, neither does he rape, steal, or utter vulgarities. He does not kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. He is not even terribly interested in conning others into such foul activities. Rather, one could triangulate the personality of Milton’s Satan using just three figures from popular culture: singer Katy Perry, fictional boss Michael Scott, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

* * *

I have no reason to think that Dr. Robert Luo or George Arison rape, steal, utter vulgarities, kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. They’re just in love, and love is love, and they’re living the American dream. They’re just so gosh-durn normal (in a way that only gay couples with $300,000 to spare can be) that “‘We got pregnant before we were married …,’ Dr. Luo said.”

Scratching your head about that? Wondering if one of these men might be suspected of being a woman?

Nay, nay! It’s just that before they enjoyed their first-world destination wedding in Bora Bora and their legal-positivist union at San Francisco City Hall, they enjoyed the WEIRD perk of “engineering” a family.

Yes, there are two buns in hired ovens.

Their story is a veritable rats-nest of ARTsy deathworks, howsoever winsome and seductive.

Yes, I’ll admit it’s winsome and seductive (maybe I should be viscerally repulsed, but I’m not). Still:

  • They’re not really married. (I say that as someone who thinks he knows what marriage is, and this isn’t it.)
  • Their pseudo-marriage is inherently infertile.
  • They’re “commodifying” wombs to bear children that would be the product of high-tech, white-smock adultery (There! I said it!) if only they were really married.
  • They revel in all this and engineer their way into the fawning New York Times Weddings section.
  • Society apparently has already coined a term for children like the boy and the girl currently being gestated by the women they’ve commodified: “twiblings.”

So am I saying these two guys are evil all the way down?

Not at all — if only because then I’d have to think the same sort of thing about personal friends of mine who are, variously, gay, or who are in “same-sex marriages,” or who have resorted to questionable reproductive technologies in the face of infertility.

Indeed, I’d like to think that, even if I didn’t have such friends, I could (1) remember that I’m not the ultimate judge and (2) take an empathetic trip along the imaginative path from a prototypical fecund conjugal marriage to the surrogacy simulacrum thereof in a rich gay couple “getting pregnant.”

For instance, their respective desires for the quasi-normalcy of children made them pariahs in the gay dating scene until they found each other. There’s the seed of something good there.

The Church has been too reticent about addressing these issues. The ethical principles are not right there on the surface, in the classical forms of decalogue sins.

And it wouldn’t necessarily dissuade anyone if the church did address them, as the sexual revolution is a juggernaut, and there’s nobody here but “consenting adults. Mr. Arison is ethnically Georgian, yet dismisses the Georgian (Orthodox) Church as “espous[ing] homophobia.” He’s living according to his own principles, and we have fashioned a world to “enable” him and his boyfriend — or we’d call if “enabling” if this wasn’t all so fashionable.

As it is, I’m oddly grateful for the obscurity of this blog, and understandably grateful that I have no job anyone can take from me. I doubtless have unpersoned some certified victim groups by this paroxysm of phobias.

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You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Friday, 9/7/18

1

Evelyn Waugh’s gently satirical Scott-King’s Modern Europe follows the declining career of a classics teacher at Granchester, a fictional English public school. Granchester is “entirely respectable” but in need of a bit of modernizing, at least in the opinion of its pragmatic headmaster, who is attuned to consumer demands. The story ends with a poignant conversation between Scott-King and the headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”

“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”

“Oh yes. Often.”

“What I was going to suggest was—I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”

“No, headmaster.”

“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

Richard Gamble, To Be Unfit for the Modern World.

2

Midway through Revelation, John sees a pantomime of the Gospel’s beginning, enacted in the sky (Rev. 12). There’s a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, crowned with twelve stars, laboring to bring a boy into the world. Near her is a dragon, ready to devour the infant …

We’ve seen plenty of sea monsters over the past few centuries, from the de-Christianization purge of the French Revolution to the personality cult of today’s North Korea. Even cuddly liberal house pets can turn into monsters. But oppressive political regimes aren’t the only threat. The dragon always calls monsters from the sea and monsters from the land, monsters of the state and monsters of the church.

Easy examples come to mind: Compromised German churches under the Nazis; Orthodox priests double-timing as KGB agents. But there are land beasts closer to home: Churches that support the fascism of the new sexual regime and persecute traditionalists; churches that cheer on every American war without asking whether it’s just or unjust; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic internationalism; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic nationalism.

Revelation unmasks the satanic monsters that lurk behind the veil of power, and it reminds us that sea monsters are never alone. Whenever a thuggish state tramples on the faithful, there will be thuggish pseudo-saints nearby, piously cheering it on.

Peter J. Leithart

3

Any discussion of the family must presuppose that it can be defined. That definition until recent times has always been accepted to be the natural or traditional family. It’s not possible to talk about alternative families, different kinds of families without first having a primary model.

Family First (New Zealand) board member Bruce Logan, quoted by Carolyn Moynihan.

Family First faces loss of charitable status because it advocates for the traditional family, whereas New Zealand now has thrown open “family,” which means that Family First advocates (drum roll) discriminaaaaaation! How could that possibly be a permissible charitable purpose.

QED

4

Someone wrote the other day:

Unlike the many, many online commentators who are extremely performative in their iconoclasm (yet somehow always managing to comfort the powerful), [Fredrik] deBoer is truly orthogonal to established ideologies.

That packs in quite a lot, and it seems like a good description of why many folks want to encounter deBoer.

Thursday, he did it again, in self-care is just another set of expectations you’ll never realize. It defies my summarization, but it seems to me that we’d miss a lot if we thought only about self-care when we read it. It applies to more than that, as I assume he intended.

5

We sang many hymns together. For the most part, our hymns served collectively to frame what would prove to be the centerpiece of our Sunday services: the sermon that—I now recognize—replaced centuries-old liturgical worship with something akin to a classroom whose lessons were punctuated by a soundtrack.

The hymns employed within that frame, by and large, fell into two categories: preparation for the sermon and altar call. Most were sentimental and didactic, speaking to the choir—as it were—while pretending to speak to God. That is also how most of our public prayer worked—with the pastor overtly addressing God while more pointedly admonishing the flock.

In any case, one hymn stood profoundly apart from the others, as it seemed to me more like prayer than any other utterance we made; it was, moreover, a prayer that I found myself praying as I sang the words. That hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” therefore has always moved me.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

6

Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

Rod Dreher (emphasis in original).

Notre Dame (My emphasis).

This came to mind as I read Nicholas Zinos, Erotic Love and the Totalitarian State, which agrees with me that Huxley got sex in dystopia better than Orwell, and who introduced me to One Evening in 2217, a 1906 classic available as part of a collection of Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction, in English translation.

I find Brave New World scarily prophetic — so far, more so every time I read it.

7

It is perfectly necessary and routine for hired and appointed officials to give advice that runs contrary to a president’s wishes and instincts. It is perfectly legitimate to try to guard any president against his worst defects of judgment and character, and such stories are the stuff of all White House memoirs. And it is necessary for advisers and attorneys to warn a president about the constitutional and moral limits that should restrain his ambitions.

What is disturbing about the Times op-ed author is that he or she admits not to doing the above, but to actively subverting the agenda of the president on policy questions that were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign, questions on which this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.

And yet, one shouldn’t feel too bad for Trump. It is President Trump’s inability to hire and staff his campaign and his administration with competent and ethical people willing and able to translate the ideologically heterodox promises of his campaign into workable policy that gives this resistance staying power, and that constantly humiliates him in the press. Trump has not hired enough of the best people. He’s hired too many self-flatterers, grifters, and people who proudly identify with the swamp. If he can’t get out of his own way, no one else will either.

Kevin D. Williamson

8

If you prick him, does he not explode? If you stroke him, does he not purr?

The testimony of the tell-alls is remarkably consistent. Some around Trump are completely corrupted by the access to power. But others — who might have served in any Republican administration — spend much of their time preventing the president from doing stupid and dangerous things.

Michael Gerson, We are a superpower run by a simpleton.

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Potpourri 2, 8/22/18

Second potpourri of the day. We live in interesting times and some tendinitis in my ankle leaves me with extra time to think and write about it.

1

I’ve reluctantly come to acknowledge that I’ve lost touch with my country. I don’t understand at any visceral level, for the most conspicuous example, how Donald Trump attracted enough votes in key places to become President.

Articles like Jonathan Rausch’s Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not provide a just-so framework for “understanding,” but ultimately leave me frustrated that the Real Question remains, transposed to a different key:

… all happiness is relative. Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.
… the witticism (frequently attributed to Gore Vidal) that “it is not enough for me to succeed; others must fail” is uncomfortably accurate …
Inequality, in short, is immiserating …

Yes, but why —other than The Fall, which is its own “Just So Story” in the sense that it cannot predict just how cussedness will break out next — are we irrational, status-metering mutterers?

Other countries, including some culturally similar to ours (think Scandinavia), experience much higher reported levels of happiness. As we see another economic downturn (if not outright collapse), we may find ourselves choosing between spitefully settling for the second half of Vidal’s witticism (“well, at least we’re making others fail worse”) or something like a Distributist or Social Democrat modus vivendi at lower absolute wealth levels.

2

When Jove Meyer, a wedding and event planner in Brooklyn, is working with a same-sex couple, he sometimes finds himself cringing when he hears a guest use the term “gay wedding.”

“It’s not with bad intention, but people like to label things because it’s easier to discuss,” said Mr. Meyer, who runs Jove Meyer Events. “But the couple is not getting ‘gay’ married. They are getting married. They’re not having a ‘gay wedding.’ They’re having a wedding. You don’t go to a straight wedding and say, ‘I’m so happy to be at this straight wedding.’”

Mr. Meyer, who also advocates for the L.G.B.T.Q. community and identifies as a gay man, explained that labeling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause …

Stephanie Cain, New York Times.

Yes, that’s the theory, isn’t it? The institution of marriage is as howsoever malleable we want it to be.

I will not be surprised, though, if the language we use continues for a good long time to reflect the correct instinct that it’s not really true — and that phrases like “labeling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause” are gibberish on an obfuscatory mission.

3

The medieval Jewish sage Maimonides counted 613 commandments, or mitzvot, in the Law that God gave his people, Israel. The 20th-century Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim, who escaped the Nazis’ genocidal clutches and devoted part of his scholarly life to pondering the moral meaning of the Holocaust, formulated what he called the 614th commandment: Give Hitler no posthumous victories. And how would Jews violate that “commandment?” By religious Jews denying the providential role of Israel’s God in Jewish life; by secular Jews abandoning the notion of Israel as a unique people with a distinctive historical destiny; by Jews acting toward other Jews in ways that tore at the spiritual and moral bonds that bound the people of Israel together.

George Weigel, whose concern is not with the Jews but with his Roman Catholic Church. Count me a skeptic, as I usually am toward Weigel these days.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher gives Weigel’s argument the derision it deserves, and gives it good and hard (while nodding toward the importance of “institutionalists” like Weigel and the late Richard John Neuhaus, who I respected more than I would have had I known of his fecklessness on “the long lent” about which he wrote so plausibly).

4

If neo-Nazis didn’t exist, the left would have to invent them. And to some extent have.

Holman Jenkins

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Aggregator: What does Masterpiece Cakeshop portend?

Social conservatives continue poring over the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision to discern what it is:

  1. A punt, pure and simple. Only this and nothing more.
  2. A punt with deliberate hints of better things to come.
  3. A punt with deliberate hints of worse things to come.
  4. A punt with inadvertent hints of better things to come.
  5. A punt with inadvertent hints of worse things to come.
  6. Something else.

Herewith an aggregation, with more substance at the end.

  1. David French, attorney, both immediately and later in rebuttal of his less sanguine colleague. I don’t disagree with French lightly, but I’m quite skeptical of his second, third and fourth points in the second piece.
  2. Andrew McCarthy, that less sanguine colleague, who alone in this pack is okay with Justice Scalia’s rewriting of free exercise jurisprudence.
  3. Rod Dreher, stunned and grateful that we won, no matter how small.
  4. Erin Manning, who intuits some things so simple that only an intellectual (or a lawyer) could miss them (have we really expanded basic, fundamental human rights and needs to include wedding cake? Seriously?).
  5. Robert P. George, who discerns at least a clear principle that you don’t have to leave your religion at home when you go to work.
  6. Darel E. Paul (“Only profound naïveté can spin the majority decision as a victory for religious liberty.”).
  7. Hadley Arkes, who gives a law-savvy but essentially philosophical critique on the whole gang, the 7 as well as the 2, as relativists.

My favorite I’ve held back until now. R.R. Reno is no lawyer but has penetrated the tectonic shifts that may be taking place as “anti-discrimination” tries to grow in foreign soil as the putatively oppressed have now become elites engaged in punching down. (Caveat: Reno’s short article may be so allusive that it will “go over your head” if you haven’t been immersed in these issues for some time already. I can’t tell because I have been immersed, particularly since Chai Feldblum said that in almost every clash between gay rights and religious freedom, gay rights should win.)

And Marc Randazza, who I think is an irascible libertarian of some sort rather than a conservative, takes a scatological swipe at Jack Phillips but then correctly affirms that Phillips should have won on substantive grounds, with no dithering about petty anti-Christian Colorado Civil Rights Commissioners.

That was my preferred outcome, and one easily enough justified if we didn’t have Justices so tainted by knee-jerk progressivism that they refuse to acknowledge the reasonableness of the belief that a wedding cake symbolizes that a real wedding has occurred, a real marriage begun, and the one needn’t be a bigot to question that in the case of two men or two women “marrying.” Indeed, in Chestertonian terms, those justices are the real bigots:

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

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Masterpiece Cakeshop

Some fairly preliminary thoughts on today’s Supreme Court decision.

Religious liberty advocates got the opinion they wanted. Unfortunately, it was a concurrence by Justice Thomas with Justice Gorsuch joining. More on that in a moment.

Justice Kennedy’s much narrower majority opinion is a disappointment not only because it’s not what my side (or the other) was hoping for but because it dodged the core issues with some hand-waving that I view as disingenuous.

The free speech aspect of this case is difficult, for few persons who have seen a beautiful wedding cake might have thought of its creation as an exercise of protected speech.

That’s uncommonly stupid even for Anthony Kennedy. Few people who watch a Irish ethnic pride parade in Boston, or people watching a lewd dance, or people watching flag-burning, or any number of other things, will think they’re watching exercises of free speech. So what?

One of the difficulties in this case is that the parties disagree as to the extent of the baker’s refusal to provide service.

It’s true that the parties disagreed, but their disagreement was about nuances that needn’t be resolved as the core issue was resolved. As justice Thomas points out in his concurrence, the Colorado Courts resolved that question sufficiently to permit a ringing decision on free speech grounds:

The Court does not address this claim because it has some uncertainties about the record.  See  ante, at 2.  Specifically, the parties dispute whether Phillips refused to create a custom wedding cake for the individual respondents, or whether he refused to sell them any wedding cake (includ­ing a premade one). But the Colorado Court of Appeals resolved this factual dispute in Phillips’ favor.  The court described his conduct as a refusal to “design and create a cake to celebrate [a] same-sex wedding

Even after describing his conduct this way, the Court of Appeals concluded that Phillips’ conduct was not expres­sive and was not protected speech. It reasoned that an outside observer would think that Phillips was merely complying with Colorado’s public-accommodations law, not expressing a message, and that Phillips could post a disclaimer to that effect.  This reasoning flouts bedrock prin­ciples of our free-speech jurisprudence and would justify virtually any law that compels individuals to speak. It should not pass without comment.

(Emphasis added) And comment he does.

Of course, conduct does not qualify as protected speech simply because “the person engaging in [it] intends thereby to express an idea.” United States v. O’Brien, 391 U. S. 367, 376 (1968). To determine whether conduct is suffi­ciently expressive, the Court asks whether it was “intended to be communicative” and, “in context, would reasonably be understood by the viewer to be communicative.” Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U. S. 288, 294 (1984). But a “ ‘particularized message’ ” is not required, or else the freedom of speech “would never reach the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schöenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll.” Hurley, 515 U. S., at 569.

The conduct that the Colorado Court of Appeals ascribed to Phillips—creating and designing custom wedding cakes—is expressive. Phillips considers himself an artist. The logo for Masterpiece Cakeshop is an artist’s paint palate with a paintbrush and baker’s whisk. Behind the counter Phillips has a picture that depicts him as an artist painting on a canvas. Phillips takes exceptional care with each cake that he creates—sketching the design out on paper, choosing the color scheme, creating the frosting and decorations, baking and sculpting the cake, decorating it, and delivering it to the wedding. Examples of his crea­tions can be seen on Masterpiece’s website. See http://masterpiececakes.com/wedding-cakes (as last visited June 1, 2018).
Phillips is an active participant in the wedding celebra­tion. He sits down with each couple for a consultation before he creates their custom wedding cake. He discusses their preferences, their personalities, and the details of their wedding to ensure that each cake reflects the couple who ordered it. In addition to creating and delivering the cake—a focal point of the wedding celebration—Phillips sometimes stays and interacts with the guests at the wedding. And the guests often recognize his creations and seek his bakery out afterward. Phillips also sees the inherent symbolism in wedding cakes. To him, a wedding cake inherently communicates that “a wedding has oc­curred, a marriage has begun, and the couple should be celebrated.” App. 162. Wedding cakes do, in fact, communicate this message. A tradition from Victorian England that made its way to America after the Civil War, “[w]edding cakes are so packed with symbolism that it is hard to know where to begin.” M. Krondl, Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert 321 (2011 (Krondl); see also ibid. (explaining the symbol­ism behind the color, texture, flavor, and cutting of the cake). If an average person walked into a room and saw a white, multi-tiered cake, he would immediately know that he had stumbled upon a wedding. The cake is “so stand­ardised and inevitable a part of getting married that few ever think to question it.” Charsley, Interpretation and Custom: The Case of the Wedding Cake, 22 Man 93, 95 (1987). Almost no wedding, no matter how spartan, is missing the cake. See id., at 98. “A whole series of events expected in the context of a wedding would be impossible without it: an essential photograph, the cutting, the toast, and the distribution of both cake and favours at the wed­ding and afterwards.” Ibid. Although the cake is eventu­ally eaten, that is not its primary purpose. See id., at 95 (“It is not unusual to hear people declaring that they do not like wedding cake, meaning that they do not like to eat it. This includes people who are, without question, having such cakes for their weddings”); id., at 97 (“Nothing is made of the eating itself ”); Krondl 320–321 (explaining that wedding cakes have long been described as “inedi­ble”). The cake’s purpose is to mark the beginning of a new marriage and to celebrate the couple.

Ac­cording to the individual respondents, Colorado can com­pel Phillips’ speech to prevent him from “ ‘denigrat[ing] the dignity’ ” of same-sex couples, “ ‘assert[ing] [their] inferiority,’ ” and subjecting them to “ ‘humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment.’” Brief for Respondents Craig et al. 39 (quoting J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U. S. 127, 142 (1994); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 292 (1964) (Goldberg, J., concurring)). These justifications are completely foreign to our free-speech jurisprudence.

(Emphasis added)

That the court could not muster a 5-4 majority for such an opinion, but relied on a couple of technicalities (so to speak — nobody thought the fairness of the proceedings was the core issue in the case) I fear as a bad omen.

But omen’s are just omens. I thankfully could be wrong. David French is more upbeat.

Both sides surely will be mining the opinions in the abstract and, all too soon, in the context of another case akin to this. I only hope they will leave Jack Phillips alone now, but the way this was decided, he’s at risk of targeting as soon as he resumes offering wedding cakes to those who are actually entering into real marriages.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

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