Dear Christians, …

Dear Christians, thank you for feeding, housing, and caring for the poor, but unless you do it in the manner we prefer, advancing the worldview we prefer — even to the point of adopting the personnel policies we demand — we will use all the power of law and public shame to bring you into compliance. We’ll pass laws that violate your conscience. We’ll call you bigots or misogynists when you resist. And all the while, the fact that you actually do serve and sustain (physically and spiritually) millions of Americans will be lost and ignored.

And in response to each event, as Christians leave campus or adoption agencies close their doors, many of these same progressives will be puzzled. Why close? Why leave? Just change your policies. Can’t you provide Catholic care and contraception — and blame the state for making you do it?

But this fundamentally misunderstands the nature of serious faith ….

David French, describing an increasingly pervasive progressive attitude, instantiated by FiveThirtyEight here and here. (He also speculates on how cafeteria Christianity may have made the progressives think their demands reasonable.)

It is a silver lining in this wretched Administration that it has largely kept its promises to protect religious freedom. That ought not be an optional and partisan policy, but if the Democrats want to be evil and stupid, it’s their right, as it’s my right not to vote for them despite the horrid condition of the national GOP.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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What’s not to like?

What’s not to like? Federalism vindicated and subsidiarity as national policy. Pretty soon, we might have a full-blown modus vivendi.

(Moi, hier)

The morning wasn’t over before I was thinking about what’s not to like: corporate power possibly becoming even more efficacious.

It is now routine for cities and states to bid against each other to attract corporate headquarters. It is becoming routine for hypocritical corporations and politicians to boycott states that exhibit some residue of sanity in their laws — you know, hypocrites like Apple (most of its manufacturing in China, which makes North Carolina look like the beatific vision), Paypal (business in countries where sodomy is a felony and the law is enforced) and Andrew Cuomo (boycotts North Carolina, visits Cuba).

I fear such corporate grandstanders, bullies and thieves might be even further emboldened by localist devolution, but then I’m not seeing the feds doing anything to stop them anyway.

On balance, it still seems like a good idea, but there is something on the other side of the balance beam.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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The circular express

When I was a Calvinist, I took comfort that the elect would persevere, and attain salvation. This is the “P” in the TULIP acrostic for the five points of Calvinism: Perseverance of the Saints, frequently dumbed down to “Eternal Security.”

Of course, there was the pesky little problem of apparent saints who openly and spectacularly apostatized. To those instances, one could respond either:

  1. “They’re still saved because you can’t lose your salvation.” That answer, with its dubious consistency, tended to antinomianism (which meant was much beloved by testosterone-crazed adolescent Calvinist boys — I am not making that up).
  2. “They never were elect in the first place, of course.” That answer tends to collapse the whole airtight Calvinist edifice. It collapses into uncertainty and circularity about whether the seemingly-elect truly are elect, including the person trying to parse the possibilities.

“Some ‘security’! If I’m saved, I’ll always be saved, but damned if I know whether I’m saved! Thanks for nuthin’!”

That tiptoe into an edge of Calvinism is preface to today’s debates between affirmation-seeking transgenderism activists and sober clinicians who want to avoid hasty surgical and hormonal interventions in adolescent bodies and minds — interventions that will make it hard for an adolescent with transgender ideations to “desist,” as many do, reverting to feeling comfortable in their own skin (and sex).

Or maybe many don’t. Maybe the desisters were false positives.

Oh, dear!

Desistance has been at the center of the transgender advocates’ fight to have transgender identity publicly accepted as an urgent medical condition. At the same time, these same advocates have pressured clinicians to remove the stigma of its psychiatric diagnosis in order to create a social acceptance of the idea that “gender” is truly biological and that “sex” is a social construct. Stunningly anti-scientific rhetoric like this is taking as its hostage the bodies and lives of children in order to prove the point that children are “born transgender.” This assertion is a self-fulfilling prophecy involving a domino effect of parents and clinicians who are effectively engaging in Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP).

Transgender discourse advances the notion of the “true transgender” by accepting all the signs of gender non-conformity as unmistakable signs of being transgender—at least until they cease. Then, suddenly, people like Tannehill dismiss the child’s gender non-conformity, claiming that these trans-identifying children were never really transgender in the first place.

Julia Vigo, The ​Myth of the “Desistance Myth” (italics added)

So, there it is:

  1. If you’re transgender/elect, you won’t desist/apostatize.
  2. If you desist/apostatize, you weren’t truly transgender/elect.

“Any questions about the urgent necessity of immediate surgical and hormonal interventions in trans teens? … Yes, you, the hater/heretic in the back row. What’s your stupid, phony question?”

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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)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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Thoroughly modern misogyny and plutocracy

Have you heard about the “Flipping Out” lawsuit? Ross Douthat sticks his neck out so I don’t have to. (I’m sure that’s what he had in mind.)

The “Flipping Out” lawsuit, sad and sordid, falls 31 years after a far more consequential surrogacy debate: The “Baby M” case, in which a surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead, changed her mind after the birth and sued — ultimately unsuccessfully — for the right to keep her child. I was 7 during the case but I remember it vividly, mostly because my mother was obsessed with it. We were not Catholics then, or any kind of conservative, but opposing commercial surrogacy seemed like a natural extension of her feminist and liberal principles, which would of course oppose a system in which the rich paid poorer women to bear their children.

[T]he simplest way to describe what happened with the surrogacy debate is that American feminists gradually went along with the logic of capitalism rather than resisting it. This is a particularly useful description because it’s happened so consistently across the last few decades: Whenever there’s a dispute within feminism about a particular social change or technological possibility, you should bet on the side that takes a more consumerist view of human flourishing, a more market-oriented view of what it means to defend the rights and happiness of women.

… Feminists were divided over surrogacy and commercialized fertility, but the opposition to both practices gradually dissolved, and now only eccentric conservatives notice the weird resemblances between California-style surrogacy practices and the handmaids and econowives of Gilead.

I know that coming from a conservative columnist much of this reads like a long exercising in trolling. (Did you know, feminists, that you’re all just slaves of capital? That you need less cultural Marxism and more of the genuine economistic article?) But the most serious form of cultural conservatism has always offered at most two cheers for capitalism, recognizing that its great material beneficence can coexist with dehumanizing cruelty, that its individualist logic can encourage a ruthless materialism unless curbed and checked and challenged by a moralistic vision.

Ross Douthat

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Jesus, loser

I think Christian Smith pretty well described Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when he coined the term, but Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s definition is now my favorite:

The function of Church in society is to keep spiritually healthy and morally upright those who are pursuing the American Dream.

But according to Luke, the Gospel is to leave all things and embrace the cross daily.

Could anything be more opposed to the cross of Christ than a life dedicated to the quest for personal prosperity? … What Jesus warns this man about is a life in which he loves God with his whole heart, loves his neighbor as himself, and goes about making as much money as he can … Wealth itself so easily becomes idolatrous.

If wealth is the mark of success, then think about it: Who are the failures? Who are the “losers”? …

Can any philosophy be more at odds with the cross of Christ than the [social Darwinist] survival of the fittest? The cross is the absolute answer to Darwin, just as the absolute answer to Nietszche and the will to power. The cross stands against all of that.

The basic floor of the cross of Calvary is that Jesus did not survive. He died as a poor man who had nothing to show for his life. He left no bank account. He was a loser. As he died, he was obliged to leave the care of his widowed mother to another poor man. By every standard recognized in the money market, Jesus was a failure. A poor man who died a poor man.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Pet Peeve Venting

The NCAA Men’s tournament, which I’m still watching despite Purdue’s loss to Texas Tech, has been flooded with offensive, aggressive ads.

Forget the dueling ads for Johnson County Sheriff.

And forget the loud ads for Samsung’s newest phone. They’re dumb, but their dumbness is just loud and generational.

These are what I have in mind:

  • AT&T just loves it when households form — and then break up. They make money coming and going, because “more for your thing is our thing”:

AT&T celebrating that moment when a couple moves in together without mention of wedlock. But they can get really good two-for-one deals on iPhone 8 now.

Direct TV (an AT&T brand) with an angry young woman throwing her boyfriend’s valuables out a second-floor window as he cringes and dodges. Then she settles down to watch Direct TV.

  • NCAA Athletes inexplicably glaring into the camera, saying “Label me. Don’t be shy. You know you want to. You’d do it behind my back.” What is that about?!
  • Experian running ads about how scary the “Dark Web” is with identities being sold — identities stolen, they neglect to mention, from them due to lax security — and how you can have them run a check for you. (Okay, they’ve got a lemon surplus so they’re making lemonade. I get that.)

On the other hand, though I don’t care for Capital One, I grin at their ads with Charles Barkley, Spike Lee and Samuel Jackson, especially the one with Jim Nance and the other where Barkley calls an Armadillo a “turtle-rat.”

* * * * *

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)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Imposter Syndrome

A gem of an essay at Aeon:

‘Impostor syndrome’ describes a problem I don’t especially wish to solve. Its remedy is to recognise that one does in fact belong. Yet I can’t convince myself I want to fully belong – indeed, I would experience belonging as a loss. The reasons for this are several, though all converge on a conviction that being ill-adapted has a value I would not forfeit.

Lately, academia has grown more sensitive to how its culture flattens and normalises those who populate its ranks. Impostor syndrome is a way of explaining how non-standard identities can provoke alienation. Class is one such structure of exclusion, alongside race, gender, sexual identity and disability. But what are the epistemic costs of ‘fitting’? If we look only at alienation, we ignore the ways in which that subtly enforced sameness diminishes understanding.

In his exquisite poem ‘Digging’ (1966), Seamus Heaney observes his own descent from men who laboured. Of his father digging potatoes, he writes:

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

Against this raw strength, Heaney registers with melancholy humility: ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them’ and the poem concludes:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

The poem’s beauty is its ambivalence, its reluctance to mark a generational shift from spade to pen as unambiguous progress. I long to wield both, and rue how often academic life would strip spades from those who have them. And that, more than anything else, is what I suspect betrays me as an impostor, though not in the anxious, normalised way.

Impostor syndrome rides on the perception, most fundamentally, that one is getting away with something. I struggle to grasp just why this sleight-of-hand ought be counted a bad thing. I sometimes still feel a fraud in academic environments, but neither do I mind it much. Indeed, taking a little pleasure in getting away with things is something I come by honestly – a family legacy, if you will.

None of my academic bona fides reassure me more than counting myself a squatter

(Amy Olberding, How useful is ‘impostor syndrome’ in academia?, Aeon Essays)

Update:

Did you ever feel like an imposter in Church?

The Rooted Faith in Wendell Berry’s Fiction.” Jack Baker and I write about how Berry’s exemplary characters root themselves in order to bring healing to damaged places:

Berry describes himself as a “marginal” Christian, and his position on the outskirts of our dominant, consumerist culture makes his a voice from the wilderness—one many evangelicals with more orthodox theology might do well to consider. Perhaps the greatest threat to the church today isn’t falling for doctrinal heresy but implicitly adopting the consumerist, self-centered assumptions of our Western culture. It’s all too easy for American Christians to assent to the right doctrines on Sunday while inhabiting a counter-Christian economy the rest of the week, loving ourselves more than God and neighbor.

(Jeffrey Bilbro, for whom also a tip of the hat for pointing me to Amy Olberding’s essay)

* * * * *

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

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

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Another sign of major realignment

More interesting … was Mrs. Clinton’s commentary on the role of economic concerns in the 2016 contest. “There’s all that red in the middle, where Trump won,” she said. “But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product.” To scattered applause, she continued: “So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.”

… She sees her electoral disappointment in economically downscale regions not as a political failure but a source of validation—and, apparently, an indication of those voters’ failings. Similarly, last September she told Vox that the Electoral College is “an anachronism” in part because “I won in counties that produce two-thirds of the economic output in the United States.” Should those voters have more of a say?

Since Andrew Jackson, the Democratic Party has usually been identified as the party of the “common man,” and its adversaries as defenders of wealth and economic privilege. Jackson earned that reputation for his party by reducing property qualifications for the franchise for white men. But the Democrats’ most recent standard-bearer sounds an awful lot like the 19th-century conservatives who thought political representation should be tied to wealth. This is a significant moment in America’s partisan realignment.

(Jason Willick, What Happened to the Common Man?, Wall Street Journal — emphasis added, paywall)

* * * * *

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

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

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Reconsidering

Young people are showing a strange attraction to socialism, as are many Christians who might have been expected to sustain [Michael] Novak’s philosophy of virtuous capitalism. The U.S. lacks leaders who combine prudence and moral vision.

(Robert A. Sirico, What I Learned from Michael Novak)

Silicon Valley is a one-party state.

(Peter Thiel at Stanford University)

The same Christians who championed free markets and corporate license are finding the ethics of Christian orthodoxy trampled on by host of large corporations. This is no accident.

[A]n understanding of the political economy under which we live is the note of the liberal order most often missing from Christian writers’ understanding of it. It’s that engine that moves the world. Capitalism drive secularism; capitalism drives the “sexual revolution” and the abortion regime; capitalism drives white supremacy and imperialism; capitalism drives climate change. These things will not wither away spontaneously without capitalism to support them, but they certainly depend on it for life today.

(Jose Mena, Toward a Politics of the Common Good, in Fare Forward #8)

I will give Michael Novak “A” for sincerity and “A” for diligence. But if he were living, and could set aside pride of authorship — no, make that “consider the possibility that the public virtue that was to arise from private vice was ever a foolish hope” — I wonder if he would still agree with himself.

I would not welcome abandoning capitalism for socialism, but I reject the myopia that posits such a binary choice.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Social Media

At last weekend’s Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Ken Myers‘ second plenary address was nominally about “Social Media and the Commodification of Friendship.”

I find that at my fairly advanced age, and perhaps with a little tone-deafness to social cues, I’ve seemingly avoided the worst crippling effects of media that Ken described, which presumably makes me a social media misfit where social media brings

a thousand bits of banal but cheerfully good news. Speed, radical transparency, confessionalism, exhibitionism, prideful consumerism and, above all, a relentless positivity — these are the values and practices of today’s social media. They are enforced by tribalist pressures — that is, the need to fit in, the example set by friends and the famous — as much as by the programmers and moderators who manage these networks.

It’s more like me to be the Debbie Downer of my Facebook timeline, and I don’t, unlike the average person, spend more time on social media than anything else online. Nowhere close.

So I, and much of the audience there, were thinking more about our children or grandchildren than about ourselves — though I’m not exempting myself.

Discernment is key … Navigating cultural life generally is a matter of wisdom, not of law.

In some circles that I speak to, it’s impossible to have a conversation about the use of media or technology because people are afraid of being “legalistic.” Because there’s no Bible verse that says something about Facebook or smartphones, people say that they should be free to do what they want to.

I think the fear of legalism is itself a form of legalism. It’s to assume that law is the only relevant category guiding our lives. That places much more emphasis on law than the Bible does. In I Corinthians 10, for instance, St. Paul is quite clear in saying some things are lawful, but it doesn’t mean that they’re helpful or will build us up. So that the lawfulness of something is not a sufficient excuse or rationale for endorsing it.

Wisdom is the Biblical framework for making decisions about how we might navigate and live well. Wisdom transcends the stark categories of lawful and unlawful. Many things that are lawful are still foolish, and unfortunately the fear of legalism often cuts off the conversation about wisdom and folly.

(Ken Myers)

This is, in a way, “deja vu all over again.” In my Evangelical childhood and adolescence, we had a lot of extrabiblical rules. I won’t digress into listing them or critiquing whether those who made the rules had come anywhere close to prohibiting those things that most risked spiritual harm to us. At the time, I thought not, and I was in the “there’s no Bible verse that says that” camp much of the time.

The adult response vacillated  between putting scripture on the rack and torturing it to make it say “that,” on the one hand, and frank confession that they, our elders, were forbidding things they thought “inexpedient” (to use the King James term for St. Paul’s discouragement of dumb lawful stuff) on the other hand.

I now think that they were trying to do a good thing, however clumsily and unpersuasively they did it, and however undiscerning they may have  been in identifying salient threats. It’s more obvious now than then, but the recent observation of Kenda Creasy Dean (author of Almost Christian) in her interview by Ken Myers was probably true even then:

One of the things that’s really tricky to convey to parents is that if you’re trying to form your kids to be Christians, it’s not going to fit them very well for American culture. It’s a lot easier to raise kids who are Christianish — who are capable of affirming a few central beliefs but who have little of consequence in their lives that’ shaped decisively by that belief.

Form Christians anyway. This anti-culture, such as it is hasn’t got very long before big changes come anyway.

Suggested resources:

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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.