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.”

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

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)

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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.

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.

Signs of the times

James Howard Kunstler probably coined the term “techno-narcissism.” He definitely uses it more than anyone I know. A related term is “techno-triumphalism.” I believe he uses that, too. He definitely does not think that technology is immanentizing the eschaton.

He may be understating it:

The second, Bitcoin, combines mania with techno-triumphalism. Almost nobody understands Bitcoing or Blockchain, but people are speculating in Bitcoin. One wise wag said “I know exactly what a Bitcoin is worth: one tulip bulb.” My theory that gold has no intrinsic worth (you can’t eat it, live in it or burn it for heat) commensurate with its totemistic value is similar.

Another bad signs: Mermaid academies, Abduction-for-hire services, and Designer cookie dough.

But if people couldn’t see doom in Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton for President, they’re unlikely to see it in any of these.

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Abuses of power

Rod Dreher revisits for the third time the Edgardo Montara case from the 19th-centry papal state that included Bologna, Italy. He quotes a Patheos column by Eve Tushnet, which quote includes this:

I am not sure I’ve seen any discussions of Catholic “postliberal” politics which acknowledge the need for any peaceful social order to accept and accommodate disharmony. If your temporal political goal is public harmony you can either a) make a lot of compromises with unbelief and sin for the sake of peace or b) impose order by force, thus creating a lot more chaos, cruelty, and sin … Any reasonably okay society will have a lot of uncriminalized sin and a lot of unpunished crime, because the things you need to do to root out and punish sin will themselves involve sinful abuses of power.

That’s a great summary of why, some 50 years ago, I supported decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since I believe, now as then, that those acts are sinful, I’ve been unwilling to go further into things like protected class status.

I’m not alone in that. But the nation is moving toward suppressing as intolerable the disharmony folks like me create. Dreher:

Here’s the thing that is very hard to get progressives to understand: liberalism today is turning illiberal in a way that resembles the Papal States of Pio Nono. Many on the left don’t see it because they are caught up in the relentless logic of virtue. Let’s step away from the religion aspect for a second. Have you been watching the progressive mob savaging Margaret Atwood — Margaret Atwood! — as a traitor to feminism for having said publicly that a Canadian academic punished for sexual harassment was denied due process? The Handmaid’s Tale author was a hero to feminists yesterday, but today she’s a monster because she deviated ever so slightly from the Virtuous Position. Extremism in the pursuit of progressive virtue is no vice …

Progressive militants are thrilled to throw dissidents from their purity project on the metaphorical bonfire, torching careers and reputations for the sake of Justice. And if one protests that this or that person was treated unfairly, well, mistakes might be made, but maybe it’s time that the Enemy (males, whites, straights, religious believers, et al.) knows what it feels like to be oppressed. That’s the rationale.

I have no doubt that there are more than a few progressives who read the controversy over Edgardo Mortara’s case and are rightly appalled, but who would tomorrow cheer the State for removing a child deemed transgender by experts from the home of his Christian parents who disagree.

Well of course they would! Gender is indelible, like baptism used to be superstitiously described, and the state is obliged to raise a boy-girl as a girl, as the Papal states thought they must raise a baptized Christian as Christian. Isn’t that obvious!?

Contemporaneously, Dreher and two others forecast other suppressions that may be more imminent.

First, Alan Jacobs sees Christian colleges and universities being destroyed by loss of accreditation for resisting the Zeitgeist:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; … a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world.

Carl Trueman foresees trouble from Title IX and pressure to revoke tax exemption:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear.

The usefulness of Title IX and Bob Jones for the sexual-identity revolution lies precisely in the fact that most Christians see them as sound in what they were originally meant to accomplish, even as some might cavil at their heavy-handed application in after years. In a world where the law increasingly seems to exist not to protect minority opinion but to impose the sexual or identitarian taste du jour, the uses of these laws are increasingly sinister. Yet their origins make them hard to oppose with any cultural plausibility. For this reason, the religious exemption in Title IX will, I suspect, either fall or become so attenuated as to be in practice meaningless.

Dreher in a separate blog elaborates Trueman’s point:

Trueman points out a truth that far, far too many Christians refuse to acknowledge: that the political assault on orthodox religious institutions is happening because American culture has radically changed. Fighting politically and legally are necessary, but ultimately not sufficient to save us, because we increasingly don’t have the people with us. Writes Trueman, “It is the heart that must change if arguments are to carry any weight. And only things that go that deep will avail us at this time.”

But Dreher is getting used to being ignored:

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend, and how unprepared American Christians are for it. We really do labor under the self-indulgent illusion that It Can’t Happen Here. Oh yes, it most certainly can — and it is.

(Emphasis added) How can people be so insensate? A commonly-identified culprit is secularism, but Dreher names two more:

The other day, I had an e-mail exchange with a prominent scholar who studies religion in America. It’s not part of his public profile, but he happens to be a believing Christian. He was extremely pessimistic about the situation here, given the long-term data he is seeing about how the advance of secularism, consumerism, and individualism is routing belief.

(Emphasis added)

But some of that routed belief thinks it’s still faithful. We have met the enemy and he is, if not us, at least among our ranks. We will, in due course, have those routed believers held up as the truly exemplary believers.

We need to tolerate disharmony, as I think was done with decriminalization of sodomy, but that’s not where we seem to be headed, and this time I and mine are going to be the stigmatized.

If you’re a faithful and orthodox Christian, you are, too.

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.