Catch-up collation, 11/22/20

She deserves to be confirmed—not least because of the ugly campaign against her.

Judy Shelton’s Heresy – WSJ

Sorry, guys, but this is the kind of dumbass argument that would have resulted in Trump’s re-election because he, too, vile though he be, suffered ugly, delusional and obsessive Resistance.

“Owning the Libs” isn’t a good enough reason to confirm her if she is a flake.


With the country’s polarization deepening and Congress likely gridlocked, presidents on both sides of the aisle have relied on executive orders (EOs) to push key parts of their agendas. According to the American Presidency Project, President Bill Clinton averaged 46 executive orders per year during his term. President George W. Bush averaged 36, Obama 35, and Trump 51. (All of these figures are down dramatically from the mid-20th century, when President Herbert Hoover averaged 242 EOs per year and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt averaged 307.)

The Morning Dispatch

That Presidents are using fewer Executive Orders than in the past surprises me quite a lot.


As of Tuesday night, the Trump campaign and its allies were—by Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias’ count—1 for 26 in their post-election lawsuits; the vast, vast majority of their claims of widespread voting irregularities or fraud have been rejected or dismissed by judges across the country.

The president’s main problem? He’s got his order of operations backward. Typically in litigation, plaintiffs will carefully and thoroughly collect evidence and build a compelling narrative that supports their case. Trump, conversely, started with the conclusion—that the election was stolen from him—and now his (dwindling supply of) lawyers are scrambling to backfill that claim with evidence that, thus far, does not exist.

One Pennsylvania lawsuit looking to stop the certification of results in the state, for example, was filed with only the promise of unearthing evidence of massive amounts of voter fraud at some point in the future. “Voters are currently compiling analytical evidence of illegal voting from data they already have and are in the process of obtaining,” the plaintiffs write. “They intend to produce this evidence at the evidentiary hearing to establish that sufficient illegal ballots were included in the results to change or place in doubt the November 3 presidential election results.”

Because Trump and his allies are working backward from his “stolen election” claim, no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake them. On November 12, Trump asserted that, once Georgia underwent a recount, he would win the state. Well, Georgia election officials ordered a recount, and Biden is still going to win the state. So now Trump is adamant that the “Fake recount going on in Georgia means nothing” and the real problem is a consent decree about ballot signatures that both parties agreed to back in March. Once that inevitably fizzles, it’ll be something else.

At some level, Trump’s self-deception is both entirely expected and entirely meaningless. Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20 and the world will move on.

But the president’s refusal to budge from his conspiratorial alternate reality is wreaking havoc in its wake—and not just by grinding the transition process to a halt. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, said on November 8 that his office has received death threats for not buying into widespread election fraud conspiracies. Trump targeted him on Twitter three days later. After Trump—and GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue—went after Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, he and his wife have been dealing with death threats, too.

And on Tuesday night, one of the most widely respected members of the Trump administration—CISA Director Chris Krebs—got the axe for doing his job: Protecting the integrity of the election and debunking misinformation about the electoral process, both foreign and domestic. The “Rumor Control” and “#Protect2020” websites his agency spearheaded have, by all accounts, been nothing but successful. “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” a joint statement from the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee read last week.

Krebs’ reward? “Effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,” Trump tweeted just after 7 p.m. Tuesday. Krebs’ deputy reportedly resigned after the move as well, leaving Brandon Wales—a Krebs ally—as likely acting director.

The Morning Dispatch


[C]anceling student loan debt would be a massive unforced error for the newly minted Biden administration. It would show that one of the new Democratic president’s highest priorities during a pandemic and a destabilizing economic shock is to provide a bailout to people who are overwhelmingly likely to end up as members of the upper-middle class. It would amount to a transfer payment from contractors and service workers to high-earning knowledge workers and other white-collar employees. As such, it would also accelerate trends in the Democratic Party that would leave it vulnerable to a Republican Party increasingly trying to rebrand itself as a champion of the working class.

As economist Thomas Piketty and others have pointed out in recent years, center-left political parties suffer at the ballot-box when they come to represent the interests of the upper-middle class at the expense of the working class, allowing the nationalist-populist right to make inroads with the latter. This has happened in a series of European countries in recent years, and it’s happening in the U.S. as well, with the Democrats enjoying surging support in inner-ring suburbs but losing ground in working-class, exurban, and rural areas.

Damon Linker, The class folly of canceling student loans

I cannot endorse Linker’s view heartily enough. The Democrats need not only to avoid too hard a swerve leftward, but they need to avoid clamorous calls like this that will more securely lock workers into an increasingly insane GOP. But considering how little of the progrressive left is “POC”, how much white college grads, I may be repeating myself.


The fact that such a proposal would disproportionately benefit high-earning professionals does not make it a bad one. But it should be expanded into a debt jubilee that would cancel all obligations up to the same five-figure sum proposed by Schumer: credit cards, auto loans, remaining mortgage balances, and, especially, medical debts, which should be discharged without any limit.

Matthew Walther, America needs a real debt jubilee

I haven’t kept score, but it seems to me that, like Babe Ruth, Walther always swings for the fence and thus whiffs a lot.


It would take a heart of stone not to laugh as Trump finally turns on the real Judas in his eyes: Fox News (where I’m a contributor). The network, Trump tweeted, “forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!”

Never mind that Fox was No. 1 in every time slot more than a decade before Trump descended that escalator in 2015. Never mind that for four years, Trump began his day with his Presidential Daily Brief—Fox and Friends—and ended it with the primetime gang. And never mind that Trump and the opinion side of the network remain in a deeply codependent relationship.

Trump didn’t get the unwavering, full-throated praise he needed, so now he’s thinking about creating a competing network, one without all the obvious anti-Trump bias!

[T]he one thing we won’t ever feel about the Trump presidency is nostalgia—not least because he won’t really be gone. Even after he leaves the White House, he’ll be fighting for himself—and making sure we hear him—for the rest of his days.

Jonah Goldberg, Donald Trump Will Never Stop Fighting—For Himself – The Dispatch (emphasis added)


Since 2016, America’s international reputation has been transformed. No longer the world’s most admired democracy, our political system is more often perceived as uniquely dysfunctional, and our leaders as notably dangerous. Poll after poll shows that respect for America is not just plummeting, but also turning into something very different. Some 70 percent of South Koreans and more than 60 percent of Japanese—two nations whose friendship America needs in order to push back against Chinese influence in Asia—view the U.S. as a “major threat.” In Germany, our key ally in Europe, far more people fear Trump than fear Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, or North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Anne Applebaum, The Post-Trump World Will Never Go Back to Normal – The Atlantic

How sad is that.

Related topic: As we once surpassed Great Britain, so China appears destined to surpass us economically. What are we going to do to maintain leadership in other realms?


I keep forgetting to acknowledge that the “Evangelicals” who deeply drank the Trump Kool-Aid would not even have been considered Evangelicals in my youth. They are Prosperity Gospel pentecostals, arguably heretics, the closest analogy in my youth being Oral Roberts — who we did not then consider Evangelical in my circles.

This is not, of course, an endorsement of what I consider true Evangelicals. American Evangelicalism at its very, very best — far better than I experienced growing up — was described by the late Tom Howard in his spiritual biography, Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament. Though Howard walked the Roman road, I  to Constantinople (Orthodoxy), the arguments for either are almost indistinguishable when it comes to the superiority of liturgy and sacrament over Evangelical worship variations.


I have been an engaged Christian for over half my life now, but I have never once tried to evangelize directly. Some people have that gift; I do not. I have not ever been offended when someone tried to share their faith with me, but I have also resisted those conversations. Why? Because fair or not, I have always regarded them as people trying to befriend me for instrumental reasons. They’re not interested in me as I am; they are only interested in me as a potential convert. It’s like they’re trying to secure my vote for Jesus, or something.

Again, I have never held it against them; how else would you evangelize if you didn’t take the risk of coming off that way? But I was also not the slightest bit interested in what they had to say. Had we become friends first, and I had come to trust in their care for me, then I might have been open to hearing them out. Not before, though.

A reader e-mailed the other day to say he is not a Christian, but asked why I became one … I seem to recall that he wasn’t asking me to tell my conversion story …, but rather to say why I think he should become a Christian.

I don’t want to make an apologetic argument. There are many of those, done by people far better at that than I am. The reader’s query has bobbed to the surface in my mind over the past few days, and made me think more deeply about what it was that made me feel that if I was going to live in truth, I had to become a Christian — and not just a Christian, but the kind of Christian I became. What I’ll say here is not intended to be an apologetic, but just some musing on what seized my imagination, and compelled me to convert. I’m not interested in offering propositions and syllogisms. I only want to talk about the core experience that opened my eyes, and then my heart, to God.

It begins in awe. That is the primordial experience of religion: becoming intensely aware of the numinous realm, and one’s need to establish a relationship to it …

“When I saw God, as religions seemed to want me to see God, as an all-seeing supernatural entity with a great personal interest in my life and behaviour, laying down laws, demanding worship and promising me an afterlife in return, I had no interest, and still don’t. I don’t believe it. But when, later, I began to see that perhaps this was a common human interpretation of an experience of something greater than the individual ego – when I began to understand that all religions and all spiritual traditions have their mystics who had interpreted this great spirit, this Dao, this experience of the divine, very differently – then I began to see that perhaps it was something I could understand after all. I began to see that perhaps what some people call God, or the sacred, or the divine, was what I experienced as some power, some strange greatness, immanent in the wild world around me.

“In other words, perhaps I do after all understand the perpetual human search for the sacred, whether I can adequately explain it or not, and I think I may know why it still matters, despite my culture’s frantic attempts to convince me otherwise. I have experienced the feelings that charge the concept with so much electricity. It’s just that I have never experienced them in places that people designate as holy.”

The Rose Window & The Labyrinth – Daily Dreher (embedded quote by Paul Kingsnorth)

I addressed Evangelicalism above, but it now occurs to me that it rarely “begins in awe … the primordial experience of religion: becoming intensely aware of the numinous realm, and one’s need to establish a relationship to it.” Evangelical conversions are almost always directed more toward eternal self-preservation, since there’s little awesome or numinous in Evangelical life.


When I speak to former colleagues of mine who are—or were—in the Republican sphere that includes Graham, the conversation about “what happened to Lindsey Graham?” usually ends with the conclusion that he is scared to death of what life would be like if he wasn’t a U.S. senator.

In an interview in February 2019, Graham was asked why he had such a dramatic shift of allegiance towards Donald Trump. His answer: “From my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this.” When asked what “this ” meant, he said “try to be relevant.”

It seems that for Graham, changing one’s operational code to fit the political climate so as to stay close to power is not just acceptable—it’s part of his inherent identity ….

Nicholas Connors, Lindsey Graham Is the Worst – The Bulwark


The true threat for the Church … comes … from the universal dictatorship of apparently humanistic ideologies. Anyone who contradicts this dictatorship is excluded from the basic consensus of society. One hundred years ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to speak of homosexual matrimony. Today those who oppose it are socially excommunicated. The same holds true for abortion and the production of human beings in the laboratory ….

Antonio Socci, Benedict XVI Warns of a New Totalitarianism (OnePeterFive)


What we are witnessing is a power grab carried out chiefly by some white Americans against other white Americans. The goal of the new woke national establishment, the successor to the old Northeastern mainline Protestant establishment that was temporarily displaced by the neo-Jacksonian New Deal Democratic coalition, is to stigmatize, humiliate and disempower recalcitrant Southern, Catholic, and Jewish whites, along with members of ethnic and racial minorities who refuse to be assimilated into the new national orthodoxy disseminated from New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the prestigious private universities of New England. Properly understood, the Great Awokening is the revenge of the Yankees.

Michael Lind, The Revenge of the Yankees – Tablet Magazine


Another claim Mr. Giuliani referenced related to the delivery, in the middle of the night after Election Day, of boxes of ballots to the counting headquarters—several affidavits in the state lawsuit claimed these boxes were unmarked and unsealed. Judge Kenny dismissed those allegations as “generalized speculation.”

Mr. Giuliani was joined at the news conference by Sidney Powell, an attorney who has represented Michael Flynn, the former Trump administration national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now trying to reverse the plea.

Ms. Powell aired accusations of foreign interference in the election, which she also claimed had been rigged by “communist money” from Cuba and China and through a plot concocted by Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died in 2013, and the financier George Soros.

Mr. Giuliani said he had viewed hundreds of affidavits in Michigan and Pennsylvania that proved fraud, though he said he couldn’t reveal most of them because the accusers wanted to remain anonymous.

Trump Legal Team Claims Broad Conspiracy to Manipulate Election – WSJ


No hard evidence of widespread fraud, no success in the courts or prospect of it. You can have a theory that a bad thing was done, but only facts will establish it. You need to do more than what Rudy Giuliani did at his news conference Thursday, which was throw out huge, barely comprehensible allegations and call people “crooks.” You need to do more than Sidney Powell, who, at the same news conference, charged that “communist money” is behind an international conspiracy to rig the U.S. election. There was drama, hyperbole, perhaps madness. But the wilder the charges, the more insubstantial the case appeared.

More than two weeks after the election, it’s clear where this is going. The winner will be certified and acknowledged; Joe Biden will be inaugurated. But it’s right to worry about the damage being done on the journey.

What would have happened if the John Birch Society had been online, if it had existed in the internet age when accusations, dark warnings and violent talk can rip through a country in a millisecond and anonymous voices can whip things up for profit or pleasure?

It wouldn’t have faded. It would have prospered.

Peggy Noonan, A Bogus Dispute Is Doing Real Damage – WSJ


Thursday morning, President Trump teased an “Important News Conference” happening later in the afternoon in which his lawyers would lay out a “clear and viable path to victory” because the “pieces are very nicely falling into place.” The only accurate part of the tweet was that a news conference did, indeed, occur. It was just under two hours, and the Trump administration’s recently fired CISA Director Chris Krebs called it “the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history.”

In a statement provided to The Dispatch, Sen. Ben Sasse said that “based on what I’ve read in their filings, when Trump campaign lawyers have stood before courts …, they have repeatedly refused to actually allege grand fraud—because there are legal consequences for lying to judges.”

The Morning Dispatch: Farcical (But Dangerous) Conspiracies From Trump’s Legal Team – The Morning Dispatch


The substitution of the word pendentem for ascendentem occurs only in the later medieval devotional texts of the prayer, and it transforms its whole theological resonance. The Crucifixion is now something which happens to Christ, rather than his triumphal act: he does not ascend the cross, he hangs upon it ….

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars


I strongly believe that George W. Bush was a worse president than Donald Trump, even if we restrict our analysis to his first term. While Trump is more chaotic, Bush was more ideological, was better able to surround himself with staffers competent enough to carry out his worst policy wishes, and simply did considerably more harm to considerably more people.

Many, many people I respect and care about disagree with me about this, quite strongly. In my view, they have a tendency to overweight the importance of mean words and breaches of etiquette relative to actual policy. And surely Bush is better than Trump if the metric is rudeness.

On Donald Trump, George W. Bush, And Moral Luck – Singal-Minded

Count me among those who disagree, though it was Bush’s conversion from “walk humbly” conservatism to hawkish and utopian democracy-spending that led to my leaving the GOP.


We may think that we prefer that the royals can be more informal, more human, what we may get is someone as vulgar as Prince Andrew, with his womanizing and gallivanting with the odious Jeffrey Epstein. Or, to switch to another monarchy, consider Pope Francis, who brought marked informality to the papacy, which, if you ask me, was doing just fine with the papal pomp.

[H]aving made unwise vows, ought [Charles and Diana] both have kept them, at the expense of their happiness[?] I think yes. It is more important that they live out their duty to be what they promised to be, rather than to be what they wanted to be. What if that meant they were miserable together? No one wants a couple to suffer, and certainly no spouse should suffer abuse, including repeated and unrepentant infidelity. But following Dante’s wisdom, if people are not willing to suffer to be faithful to their vows (marital and otherwise), society will disintegrate.

One of the most stunning things anyone ever said to me came a few years ago when I traveled to a Christian college to give a talk about one of my books. I was talking over a meal with some professors, and asked, as is my habit, what are the greatest challenges they see facing their students. I’ll never forget what the professor sitting on my left said: that he did not think many of his students would be able to form stable families.

“Why on earth not?” I asked.

“Because they have never seen one,” he replied. Nods all around the table.

That floored me. These were students at an Evangelical Christian college, yet most of them, according to their teachers, came from broken families. The professors went on to explain that most of the students they talk to about it want to marry and have children, but they are filled with radical doubt about their ability to sustain marriage and family. And why not? Most of the adults in their lives have failed to live up to their marriage vows. They did not believe it was possible.

Rod Dreher, The Pity Of The Royal Marriage – Daily Dreher (commenting on the new season of The Crown on Netflix).


In his interview with Dreher, Vance warned — prophetically — that while Trumpism offered a cheap thrill, the man himself offered nothing to treat the root causes of American despair. He’s the OxyContin of Presidents. At best, he made people understand that their pain was economic as much as cultural. But Vance’s real disappointment with Trump — “the tragedy of his presidency” — is that he encouraged white working class voters to blame others for their problems … But the fact that Vance only made it out by the skin of his teeth — and hillbilly [venture capitalists] remain a rare breed — suggests that merely exhorting the people of Middletown, Ohio, to make better choices isn’t going to do much. As his book makes clear, a poor kid only needs to make a handful of bad choices to fail and 100 good choices to become a success. The opposite is true for rich kids: three of four decent choices all-but guarantee success; you need to continually mess up to truly mess up.

Hillbilly Elegy resents ‘white trash’ – UnHerd


Many readers outside of California will not have heard of Governor Gavin Newsom. But if you need to summon up a mental image, imagine Marie Antoinette without that late Queen’s sense of self-awareness.

That Douglas Murray sure knows how to write an opening paragraph.


the CIA’s “most endangered employee for much of the past year” was the whistleblower who helped launch the impeachment proceedings against the president.

I’ve … never seen anything like the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that’s reigned on the right from the moment that Donald Trump seized the commanding heights of the GOP. I strongly believe this reality explains a great deal of public Republican silence and compliance in the face of even obvious and egregious Trump deceptions, incompetence, and misdeeds. The Trumpist wing of the GOP wields a big stick even as it also offers a rather tasty carrot … if you yield.

… “only cowards don’t conform” is an odd way to define bravery.

Let’s Talk About Fear – The French Press


What I see, and Muñoz seems not to see is that the threat to fundamental American values is not an exclusively radical-left enterprise. A right captured by cruelty and illiberalism is not building a better America, and it’s certainly not building a governing majority. Moreover, it is curious to see Muñoz blithely assert that the radical left is overtaking the Democratic party when large segments of the Democratic party are not only in open revolt against the radical left, the moderate faction soundly defeated the radicals in the Democratic presidential primary—and the radicals know it.

Who represents the greater departure from American political norms? Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

Let’s Talk About Fear – The French Press


I’ve enjoyed the NYT The Argument podcast for a couple of years, but it seems to me that Michelle Goldberg is getting loonier and loonier since Frank Bruni left.


Similarly, Jim Wallis, a patriarch of the Religious Left, was cancelled this year because he declined to publish in Sojourners a hysterical piece accusing the Catholic Church of white supremacy. All of Wallis’s work meant nothing to these zealots. He’s just another old white male who is insufficiently woke.

‘Triumph Of The Hillbilly’ | The American Conservative

Jim Wallis not woke enough for Sojourners?! We are doomed.


The most surprising thing about Liberty’s dream season, however, may be the string of scandals that form the foundation for the school’s success. McCaw resigned from his last job at Baylor amid allegations that his department mishandled sexual-assault allegations involving football players. Head coach Hugh Freeze came to Liberty after resigning at Mississippi over “conduct in his personal life” involving escort services.

Both men were brought to Lynchburg, Va., by Jerry Falwell Jr., the former Liberty president who resigned earlier this year amid a series of scandals that included allegations, which Falwell denied, that he for years watched his wife have sex with another man.

College Football’s Biggest Upset: Liberty University Is Undefeated – WSJ

And fundamentalist parents pay money to send their kids to this fundamentalist school! Any resemblance between postmodern Protestant fundamentalism and “the faith once delivered” is purely coincidental.


Sorry, Jonathan Rausch. You’re a good writer, but Trump’s Firehose of Falsehood is just Steve Bannon’s “flood the zone with shit” cleaned up for family consumption.


One nice thing about the current situation is that it’s making the difference between extremely partisan but fundamentally honest folks like Dreher and Erickson and utter hacks like Metaxas extra clear.

Andrew Egger on Twitter, after Rod Dreher called out Eric Metaxas for breathlessly Tweeting a link to an “actual newspaper” with details of the “election fraud” — a newspaper Dreher knew to be a grocery-store-giveaway from a GOP hack.

There’s a lot, by the way, I don’t like about many of Dreher’s postings at his American Conservative blog, but I don’t think he qualifies as “extremely partisan.” He has worn his ambivalence about the GOP on his sleeve for more than a decade. In the back-and-forth on this Tweet, Egger eventually concedes that.

I also don’t think he’s “far right,” but as (1) that’s the zeitgeist and (2) it’s almost as meaningless as “poopy-head,” I’m not going to die on that hill.


A week ago, we got a complementary copy of an unfamiliar newspaper, the Epoch Times. It seemed conservative in orientation, a bit eccentric in story selection, and anachronistically anti-Communist. I was considering a 3-month subscription as a trial.

Googled it and found that it’s a Falun Gong operation.

I have nothing in particular against Falun Gong, but I refuse to fall into the thought-pattern that the dissidents within an adversary are ipso facto friends. I also don’t seek out the Christian Science Monitor or trust the Washington Times, an operation of the Unification Church.


Republicans are united in the idea that it’s intolerant to attempt to exclude traditional conservative Christians from public office because of their religious beliefs—or even to condemn them as extremists or immoral. To turn around a demand that a Christian pastor of a different church with different beliefs withdraw from politics because of his theology and his sermons are outside of the mainstream in a way that favors the GOP is indeed hypocritical.

But that’s not the end of the inquiry. There still remains the rather important reality that religious beliefs can drive both policy and conduct in office. We all ground our policies and conduct in a particular world view, whether it’s located in a secular philosophy or a religious theology. So if there are unfair ways of evaluating a person’s faith, there are also fair questions we can ask.

So yes, ask Pastor Warnock about American military spending, American military policy or about support for veterans. Ask him if his beliefs would require him to vote against military intervention no matter the stakes. But don’t assume you know the answer to those questions based on 26 seconds of a single sermon—especially when those 26 seconds easily match with conventional Christian beliefs.

It’s a simple reality that religious beliefs often seem strange or inexplicable to those outside the faith (or even outside a specific denomination). And when you’re not steeped in a specific theology, you often have no idea how it will play out in political philosophy. I’m a Christian in the Calvinist reformed tradition, for example, yet I have vigorous public policy disagreements with many of my Calvinist friends.

David French, ‘America, Nobody Can Serve God and the Military’, calling out Republican bullshit like this contemptible Marco Rubio tweet.


Dog bites man isn’t news. Man bites dog is news.

University gets free speech right, even when it’s speech of Republicans, is also news.


The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

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)

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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.

 

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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)

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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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