The secret of Dreherbait revealed

Rod Dreher has a propensity so notorious that he sometimes mocks himself for it. The propensity is commenting indignantly on certain types of stories that he calls “Dreherbait.”

Certain Dreherbait events at Dan Quayle’s alma mater caught his scornful attention a few days ago (here and here), and another, this from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, caught his attention in the wee hours of Sunday. Those all fell in the Dreherbait category “campus Social Justice Warriors.”

But in the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo indignation, he dove deeper, and explained why those stories are like flame to his moth, but without actually saying it that way.

Here’s why I fear and absolutely loathe the mob, especially racialized mobs. This really happened in my town. I know the identities of every white person involved (they’re all long dead), because one of them confessed on his deathbed to a friend of mine, who was shaken by the news. I do not know the name of the victim, and my attempts to discover his name went nowhere. None of this was publicly recorded.

Back in the 1940s, in my tiny Southern hometown, word reached the sheriff that a black man had been caught raping a white woman. The sheriff put out a call to some trusted white men to come help him track the rapist down and bring him to justice. The sheriff deputized two white men who showed up. They chased the black man through the woods, and upon catching him, bound him and took him back to the parish jail. There they lynched him. This was what they told themselves they had to do to protect the good order of the community.

A couple of days later, the truth came out: the black man and the white woman had been secret lovers. When they were discovered, she accused him of rape to protect herself. After his murder by the sheriff and his men, her conscience wouldn’t let her rest. She confessed all.

In their shame, the white family moved away. Of course no one — not the sheriff, nor his deputies — faced any kind of justice for their murder of an innocent man. That’s not how things worked under white supremacy.

The reason anybody alive today knows about it is because one of the murderers, as he lay dying decades ago, unburdened his conscience.

In a piece I wrote three years ago, “When ISIS Ran The American South,” I talked about what it was like to be a black person living under white supremacy, specifically in the sense of being powerless in the face of unaccountable power, a power that was eager and willing to inflict severe violence, even death, upon you. What prompted the comparison was the news that ISIS had burned a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot alive in a cage. I wrote:

No, the American South (and other parts of America where racial terrorists ran rampant) was never run by fanatical theocrats who used grotesque public murders as a tool of terror. But if you were a black in the years 1877-1950, this was a distinction without much meaningful difference.

I had the case in my hometown in mind when I wrote that. In that post, I quoted a recent report on lynchings in the American South, 1877-1950. One category of lynchings investigators identified:

Lynchings Based on Fear of Interracial Sex. Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault. The mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim, could arouse a lynch mob. The definition of black-on-white “rape” in the South required no allegation of force because white institutions, laws, and most white people rejected the idea that a white woman would willingly consent to sex with an African American man.

In the case I’m talking about, the mob — in this case, the sheriff and his deputies, as well as the (false) accuser — did not require a dispassionate examination of the evidence in the case. The accuser’s word was enough. It was assumed by white Southern culture of the day that every black man sexually desired every white woman, and that no white woman was capable of sexually desiring a black man. Even black male desire itself was enough to merit execution; if a black man and a white woman had actually been caught in sexual congress, as in this particular case, that was even stronger evidence of rape. Or so that culture thought.

But again: white culture of that time and place was so racially paranoid that all it took was for white people to feel that a black man sexually desired a white woman for that man to be at risk of extrajudicial execution.

This surely is why he refers to analogous “the Social Justice mob” so often, and the analogy fits. But he’s not a dispassionate observer:

It’s important to me to say one more thing here. Back in the summer of 2002, I was reeling from rage over 9/11, and over the Catholic sex abuse scandal. I was so overcome by it that I had to see a dentist to get a mouthguard made for wearing at night, because I was grinding my teeth so fiercely that my wife couldn’t sleep. She was so worried about what was happening to me on the inside. I couldn’t rest. The injustices of these two catastrophic events was eating me alive. She compelled me to swallow my pride and go see a therapist.

The therapist was a Catholic, and, as it turned out, a quack. Long story. But he told me something in that first session that was offensive and painful to hear, and that I furiously rejected. But years later, I came to see that he was right.

What he told me was this: “You need to accept that under the right circumstances, you could have been flying one of those planes. You could have been Mohammed Atta.”

No effing way! I said. No way! I refused to admit that I have anything in common with that monster. What is wrong with this guy? I thought. What kind of relativist is he?

He was right about that. I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. Not too many of us are the kind of sociopaths who choose evil for evil’s sake. We first dress it up as good — as justice, perhaps. Read the final words left behind by Atta.  This is a man convinced that he was acting for the sake of God, of justice, and his tribe (Muslims), against infidels, which at one point he described as “animals” to be slaughtered. It is one long rationale for mass murder as an act of high and selfless virtue.

If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. Nor do you know history, or the human heart. The men of my town who lynched that innocent black man slept peacefully every night for the rest of their lives — except for the man who, in his final days on this earth, confessed to his wicked deed, in preparation for meeting the great Judge. But they all escaped justice on this earth, because they were all living under a system that held the maintenance of  white supremacy as justice itself.

What progressives advocated in 1964 was progress. What they advocate today is not progress, but returning to the older corruption, this time with different supremacists in power. It is still unjust. It is still evil. It always will be. The Social Justice Warriors and their fellow travelers in power at universities, in corporations, and even in government (see Mayor Harmon above), are summoning up demons that they cannot control.

(Emphasis added) The panics brought about by things like drunken frat boys and sorority girls in black face (or anything that can be so misrepresented) is akin to lynchings (later, mere felony convictions) based on fear of interracial sex. As Rod says,

I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. …

If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

And that elite college students, the pool from which disproportionately comes our top leaders, know themselves so little is special cause for alarm, which Rod sounds often.

* * * * *

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.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Evangelicalism at its best

Evangelicalism is a motley mess greatly varied. A substantial proportion having beslimed themselves by worship of 45, a few others soldier on as serious thinkers.

The lads (I can say that: they’re young, terribly young, in comparison to me) at Mere Orthodoxy and the related Mere Fidelity podcast are, for my money, among Evangelicalism’s finest.

For example, last year some “complementarian” Evangelicals brought forth the Nashville Statement under the auspices of the The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. At the time, I was forced to confront the oddness of the claim that the matters of sexuality discussed therein were “at the core of the Christian faith,” or words to that effect. (That concept did not come directly from the Statement, so far as I can recall, but from discussion surrounding it.)

“At the core” seemed not quite right, yet not quite wrong, either.

It must have felt the same to the Mere Orthodoxy lads because they brought forth a podcast on the topic of Orthodoxy and Sexual Ethics last September, which I audited for the first time Wednesday afternoon. It was quite good and clarified my impression the we lack the vocabulary for the importance of topics like sexuality to the Christian faith.

Some of my take-aways:

  • When someone like James K.A. Smith approaches this subject, in close proximity to the Nashville Statement, the context of the questions and answers matters a great deal.
  • If anything fits the Vincentian Canon, the kinds of propositions about sexuality affirmed by the Nashville Statement do (at least most of them). They are not adiaphora.
  • There were Christians who supported slavery, and had a hermeneutic to back them up. Was opposition to slavery therefore not a “core tenet”?
  • “Entailed by orthodoxy” does not mean “entailed by the creeds.” Orthodoxy is more capacious than the creeds.
  • The “arc” and anthropology of Christianity makes sexuality if not core, then entailed by the core.
  • “Part of the Catholicity of the Church” is an alternate formulation of “core.”

I was also reminded of some of the calculations that go into individual decisions to subscribe or not subscribe something like the Nashville Statement:

  • One’s own tradition may have already spoken on the topic to an extent that makes signing another statement superfluous.
  • Some of the featured signers of the Nashville Statement are heretical in their view of the Holy Trinity. Is this Statement so clearly right, timely and groundbreaking as to make subscription morally obligatory despite such disreputable company?
  • Subscription of a Statement under the auspices of the complementarian CBMW associates one with views one may not hold, and the tacit buttressing of those broader views is part of the context of a decision to sign or not to sign. Is this Statement so clearly right, timely and groundbreaking as to make subscription morally obligatory despite the aid and comfort it gives a disputed view of proper gender relations in Christianity?
  • Oddly, the Englishmen on the Mere Fidelity podcast had signed while the Americans had not. I think the Americans were more aware of the preceding questions of context.

Of course, it’s also the case that the Nashville Statement had nothing to say about the scandalous rates of divorce among self-identified Evangelicals. Could it be that “speaking the truth in love” is something one does only to gay Christians? (Then it’s not the least courageous, by criteria of C.S. Lewis.)

It absolutely is not the case that I’d still choose Evangelicalism were Evangelicals all like these Mere Orthodoxy lads. The reasons why are beyond my scope today. But I respect those youngsters very much, and occasionally put a few shekels where my mouth is.

* * * * *

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.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Porns

Michael Brendan Dougherty suggests a parallel between fake news and the fake sex of porn:

In one domain of human life, the political, we’re expected to be entirely sober, civic, and lacking in prejudice. We’re supposed to avoid what is coarse and coarsening. And the code that programs our media experiences needs to reflect those same commitments. In the next open tab, judgments about coarseness and its effect on the rest of society are openly sneered at. The heart — or some other organ — wants what it wants. Our culture-makers seem to believe in a neatly cleaved human nature. In one realm, we can expect ourselves to act as angels, and do the disinterested thing. In another, perhaps to let off some steam, we must give the Devil his due.

But perhaps the defenders of porn should consider that the common purveyors and sharers of fake news across social media are also engaged in a form of self-abuse, combined with titillation, and fantasy life. They no more believe that Barack Obama is running guns to ISIS than that the surgically enhanced 30-year-old woman in a plaid skirt is a very bad Catholic-school girl. It’s just a reality they prefer to envision. One where they can gaze into a backlit screen, click around, and imagine they aren’t wasting their lives clicking around on a backlit screen.

(Michael Brendan Dougherty, Fake Love, Not News)

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

North of the Border, Up Canada Way

No State really cares what its people believe, so long as they keep it to themselves, and salute the State’s gods on all State occasions. The State’s gods today may be Abortion and Sodomy and Gender Metamorphosis. We might want to laugh at the idiocy of it. But they are gods, State gods, and every citizen must salute, as we see in this form-ticking exercise. Those who refuse must confront the State’s high opinion of itself.

This does not mean you can’t be a Catholic — so long as you keep it in the privacy of your own mind. It is only when you act as a Catholic, that you deliver yourself into the State’s hands.

… So long as we remain meek and obedient, to anything we are required to sign, the Antichrist himself wouldn’t care less what we think. The trouble arises only when we fail to sign, salute, or check the right boxes. That is, from the Antichrist’s point of view, a form of defiance that requires punishment — a punishment that we have brought upon ourselves, as will be condescendingly explained.

[M]ost apostatize under pressure, and I think this has always been so …

Pray for their souls, but don’t worry about them, on the practical level: for they will disappear. They have no foundations, no real opinions, and they don’t breed. The generation that follows “nominal Catholics” are not even nominal. The generation after that does not even get born. Over time, only the faithful remain.

Focus on what is within our power, which starts not with “outreach” and “dialogue” but with rebuilding our Church. For she is very weak, and we must make her strong.

(David Warren to the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada; H/T Rod Dreher)

It is not impossible to defeat the “Twisted Nanny” state, but the precedent is weak:

God bestows such Grace that we could all be martyrs, but in practice we don’t want to receive it. The courage that we don’t have is not something we’re inclined to pray for — and when I say “we” I do not only mean people at the present day. The history of earthly tyranny corresponds to the human search for the path of least resistance. As Alexander Solzhnitsyn used to say, if everyone in Soviet Russia would get up one morning, resolved to speak only the truth, the Communist Party would collapse by noon. Yet through seventy-five years, that never happened.

“Resolved to speak only the truth.” That’s what’s so endearing about Jordan Peterson. Indeed, maybe that’s all that’s endearing about him, but it’s more than enough. Canada needs him. We need him.

And don’t give me any bull about “That’s Canada. It can’t happen here.” It is happening as free exercise of religion is now equated with and vilified as “an excuse for discrimination.”

It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

* * * * *

We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Courtland Sykes, Republican “conservative”

[O]ne of his opponents for the Republican nomination, Courtland Sykes, … criticized feminists and career-focused women as “nail-biting manophobic hellbent feminist she-devils” and said he expected his fiancee to make dinner for him every night.

A shameless alpha-male fornicator wants Republicans to vote for him because he expects his live-in girlfriend to make him dinner. That’s Republican conservatism today, folks: inadvertent parody of tradition.

The main focus of the WaPo story, though, was candidate Josh Hawley’s theory that there’s a connection between the sexual revolution and human trafficking:

“We’re living now with the terrible aftereffects of this so-called revolution,” said Hawley, according to audio of the event. “We have a human-trafficking crisis in our state and in this city and in our country because people are willing to purchase women, young women, and treat them like commodities. There is a market for it. Why is there? Because our culture has completely lost its way. The sexual revolution has led to exploitation of women on a scale that we would never have imagined.”

The Post, doing its journalistic due diligence while pearl-clutching, found a sort of countervailing voice:

Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, a human-trafficking expert, told the Star that there is “absolutely no empirical evidence or research to suggest there was any uptick in human trafficking in the 1960s or ’70s, or that that’s when it started.”

Note that the countervailing voice doesn’t refute Hawley’s claim since Hawley neither claimed empirical evidence nor engaged in a simple post hoc fallacy.

* * * * *

We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A day in the land of my sojourn

Again, I’ve lingered too long this morning over very good stuff found in my internet haunts. But I’ve withdrawn some things (see below) scheduled on Hootsuite for later release to Facebook and Twitter, because I’ve found something else that wraps up my feelings poetically.

Much as I’ve thought that every sentient Christian should be moved by Psalm 51 (50 in Orthodox Bibles), so I think they should be moved by Peggy Haslar’s late-Thursday Sparrowfare blog. She’s the poet (even if she borrows from late songster Rich Mullins). Savor it.

“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.”

(John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1920) p. 196. H/T Edwin Bensen) Be a saint anyway.

* * *

If you’re curious, here are three things I pulled from Hootsuite:

    1. Understanding Conservative Christian Silence on Donald Trump’s Porngate in three perceptive points.
    2. Purity and Prejudice is a weak title for “theme and variations on ‘cads and louts won the sexual revolution.'”
    3. President Trump is the Freest Man Alive, and you’re worse than an idiot if you want to be like him.

The second and third are particularly good, but Haslar’s Sparrowfare outshone them.

The third, it seems to me (from always-insightful Elizabeth Bruenig), vindicates Patrick Deneen’s premise that liberalism (in the broad sense in which even “conservatives” are liberal) has failed. The “burly sinner” in the White House epitomizes the individualism espoused by liberalism, and he is a train wreck of a human being precisely because of his superlative acquisition of all the liberal anti-virtues. Q.E.D.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

No ordinary matter

Springboarding off the story of “Grace” and Aziz Ansari (which has become stories about stories about a story):

[Caitlyn] Flanagan points out that, in her day, women were advised to slap men or jump out of cars or scream and shout in order to bring an encounter verging on nonconsent to an end: Sex wasn’t an ordinary matter and thus didn’t need to be treated with ordinary manners.

Yet, while becoming just another social interaction stripped sex of much taboo, it’s still subject to the everyday pressures of etiquette, which can be just as binding. If a guest were lingering too late after a party, or a lunch partner boring you, or an acquaintance pestering you to borrow your umbrella, you wouldn’t scream or shout or slap them, and you likely wouldn’t abruptly leave. You would likely try to be subtle and transmit certain signals without a confrontation. You would likely go along to get along. You would likely grin and bear it. You would likely do this because that’s what we do in workaday social interactions, and sex is one of those now.

The trouble is that sex is clearly different, as the lasting unhappiness of so many women attests. If acknowledging that endangers one of the achievements of the sexual revolution, then so be it ….

(Elizabeth Bruenig, another author of whom I’ve learned “If she wrote it, and I see it, I should try to stop and read it”)

I almost categorized this blog as “Rights Talk” along with the other categories, but then realized that freedom to hook up has become an axiom, not a rights claim that’s debatable.

But it’s worth asking “Are we having fun yet? Men? Women?”

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Why I’m not a Libertarian

Reason is a libertarian monthly print magazine covering politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews.” Thus saith the sponsored link in my search results.

[I]t’s shortsighted when publications like Reason Magazine scoff at law enforcement’s attempts to curb child trafficking by implying that runaways are more safe with pimps than with child protective services, basing this conclusion on the fact that that’s what trafficked, manipulated sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds say when asked.

Yes, Reason. I can’t think of another serious publication that would report on the Weinstein trafficking allegation in this way: “In this case, Weinstein is accused of using a fraudulent employment opportunity to lure Noble to his hotel room for what he hoped would be quid-pro-quo sex and what turned into a sexual assault.” It appears we have a national problem these days with hoped-for quid-pro-quo sex turning into sexual assault. All those dashed hopes.

Reason has long defended prostitution and turned a blind eye to the trafficking in the sex industry, preferring to champion rights for “sex workers.” And again this past spring, the magazine’s associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown penned a cover story accusing the FBI of policing sex in their attempts to save trafficked victims. “Most of the minors found in these crackdowns are not selling sex because someone is forcing them into it,” Brown urges, “but because they have no other palatable options to get by. They need shelter, cash, better care, legit employment, and better prospects all around.” Seemingly blind to how having limited options is fertile ground for coercion and exploitation, Brown paints an empathetic picture of a man named Irick Oneal who was prosecuted for trafficking a fifteen-year-old runaway who says she didn’t want to go back to CPS. Elsewhere, she describes trafficking prosecutions like this: “U.S. prosecutors announced federal indictments against a Missouri man accused of driving an 18-year-old sex worker across state lines and a pair of cousins whose initially consensual pimping of three adult women (including one of the defendants’ girlfriends) had turned abusive.” I suppose the pimp’s hopes were dashed here too.

Such statements reveal an agenda to portray prostitution as based on consensual relations at all costs—even at the cost of overlooking children being sold into slavery. It’s hard to think of another explanation that would gloss over the value of removing a thirteen-year-old girl from traffickers and instead bemoan the arrest of numerous prostituting adults caught in the same sting. “Authorities are routinely taking money set aside to stop child sexual exploitation and using it to find and punish adults, many just a few years past childhood themselves, for private sexual activities,” Brown decries. Who exactly did she think was exploiting the children, if not adults? 

Somewhere along the way, Brown and Reason lose sight of the value of that thirteen-year-old girl. Somehow it’s more important to protect profits than to stop the rape of a girl. Somehow, that girl’s repeated sexual assault, stolen liberty, and damaged health became a cost of doing business, for which the surrounding adults are not accountable.

According to Reason Magazine, if more adults are arrested than minors rescued, it means the entire effort to stop child trafficking is a failure or a farce. It doesn’t strike them as curious that the so-called “sex workers” aren’t fazed by trafficked minors in their midst. Perhaps Reason doesn’t want to investigate that further, because then they’d see that most people working in the sex industry came from backgrounds of sex abuse under eighteen as well. They’d see that many of them also first stumbled into the industry at thirteen or fourteen too. Perhaps many in the sex industry aren’t appalled by child abuse, not because it’s only happening to a rare few of them, but because it’s what most have experienced themselves.

(Harvey Weinstein Isn’t Unusual: Sexual Abuse and Trafficking in the United States)

At my advanced age, I’ve had many reminders why I cannot resolve my political ennui by declaring myself Libertarian. Reptilian reductionism ranks high among those reminders, and I cannot bring myself to think that the evil of sex trafficking is less that the evils sometimes wrought in trying to stop sex trafficking.

And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I went to the source and didn’t just trust Witherspoon’s summary of how Reason was treating sex trafficking.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Second-hand Random, Bold Predictions for 2018

Dwight Longnecker makes his Random, Bold Predictions for 2018, disclaiming the prophet’s mantle in a sort of caveat emptor.

Excerpts (wistful, not random):

5. The Sexual Revolution will fizzle out. Hugh Hefner is dead and buried next to Marilyn Monroe. People are fed up with aggressive sexual adventurers. Women don’t want to be bunnies anymore. The flower power love the one you’re with generation are getting really old and their stamina is not what it was. Ordinary folks can see that the sexual revolution, like all ideological revolutions, ends in absurdity and violence. A younger generation can see the freaks, the disasters and the walking wounded from fifty years of perversity and they are going to step away from it into the one option that is healthy, wholesome and good: sex between one man and one woman that makes babies and families for life.

7. Radical Islam will start to peter out. There are reports of an amazing amount of conversions to Christianity in Islamic lands. People don’t really want to live in bondage to theocratic regimes who behead little children and who sell women and little girls as sex slaves. Not really. As rebellion simmers in Islamic countries be prepared for crackdowns. It won’t be pretty.

9. Europe will begin to recover her Christian roots. Atheism will die out because it is a lie. So will fashionable secular agnosticism. Poland will be the center from which a renewed Christian revival begins to spread across Europe, first in Eastern Europe, then moving West. It has happened before. While it seems impossible, it is when the pendulum swings to its furthest point that it must swing back.

Note that number 9 will probably mean more stories from Mainstream Media (see Longnecker’s prediction 2) about “far-right” candidates in Hungary and points north, south and west, and will mean fewer non-Christian immigrants to the re-Christianizing countries. I’m not wistful about that.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Speech or Religion?

I wrote several times, I’m pretty sure, that I thought the Masterpiece Cakeshop case would be argued by Jack Phillips’ attorney, and would ultimately be won, as a case about compelled artistic expression, a violation of the First Amendment’s speech clause. Free speech and compelled expression precedents are more strongly in Phillips’ favor than the current state of the law on free exercise of religion. Or so I thought.

I stand by that, but I’ll admit that the justices asked some pretty skeptical “where do we draw the line” questions about when or whether a cake is expressive, when a craft is art, and stuff like that (the last clause is my fudge factor — I’m not going back to review the transcript of argument again).

[Digression: I don’t think they’d have asked those skeptical questions had the case not implicated our newest Super-Right, the right to have everyone in every way affirm your every expression of your every sexual (and “gender”) whim. So it appears that the law of the land has another distortion factor baked into it: an LGBT distortion factor has taken root, joining the original abortion distortion factor (“no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this Court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion”) and a little-remarked creationist distortion factor (Creationists categorically lose cases involving science teaching—and intelligent design advocates get labeled “Creationists”).]

But I do disgress. I wrote today because someone I respect thinks, after scrutinizing the Masterpiece Cakeshop oral arguments, that the case could turn on the free exercise of religion after all.

Mark Bauerlein and Mark Movesian recently chatted about this on the First Things podcast. Bauerlein is no lawyer, but Movesian is a law prof, and he thinks Anthony Kennedy may smell blood in the water: a lack of neutrality or of general applicability in the Colorado law, which could be fatal under Employment Division v. Smith‘s new test for free exercise violations (the “when does the constitution create a religious exemption to a law” question).

The lack of neutrality (e.g., gerrymandering to target an unpopular religion) has been fatal in only one famous case since Employment Division v. Smith, to the best of my recollection: a case involving Hialeah Florida targeting the Santeria religion, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. But general applicability has been a wider problem, because, basically, religion gets an exemption if anyone gets an exemption, and our laws typically are riddled with “small business,” “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding House” or other piddly little exemptions that someone lobbies for powerfully or that seem fair to legislators.

So here’s the problem: Colorado has, on something like three occasions, exempted cake bakers from making cakes that opposed gay rights or same-sex marriage. I assume those cakes were sought by provocateurs who, frankly, I would have dismissed as misguided and counterproductive (I actually may have so dismissed them). But by asking for a Bible-shaped cake with a Romans 1 “Clobber Passage,” the provocateurs may have turned refusal into “anti-Christian discrimination.”

Not only did those other three bakers win on the basis of dubious distinctions from the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, but a couple of Colorado’s Civil Rights Commissioners slung some bigoted-sounding remarks at Jack Phillips, with which Justice Kennedy grilled Colorado’s attorney. (Pro Tip: Do not let any mean words pass your lips if Anthony Kennedy may eventually be judging your case.)

I’ve taken more time than intended hyperlinking to terms of art and cases that not all readers may know, so I’ll wrap up.

Bauerlein, the non-lawyer, was delighted to think this might be decided on free exercise of religion grounds. I disagree. I would consider it remarkable and disheartening if Jack Phillips won on “an oopsie!”—catching the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in an inconsistent application of its facially neutral and exceptionless law—because that would be a narrow decision where I’d like, the cases that have built up in this area need, and the Supreme Court normally delivers, something bigger and more definitive than “this one Colorado law was applied to Jack Phillips in an nasty and inconsistent, and therefore unconstitutional, manner.”

The country doesn’t get a lot of guidance out of that on how to behave in the future, and what guidance it does get tends toward “use some guile and maintain plausible deniability when you stick it to Christian bigots.”

But if Colorado’s “oopsie” prompts overruling of Antonin Scalia’s nadir, his new free exercise test in Employment Division v. Smith, and restoration of the status quo ante, the Wisconsin v. Yoder free exercise test, I would be stunned and very, very happy.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.