“Pro-Abortion” is now official (more)

Blogging the ineffable

It occurred to me recently that my blog is an odd project because, increasingly, the things that matter most to me are ineffable.

I’ve read at least one book that “effed the ineffable” by going on and on, shifting to reflect from varying angles. I actually thought it was pretty effective, but you had to be keenly interested in the topic to wade through so much overlapping, kaleidescopic quasi-repetition. (I did find that 24 years of immersing myself in Orthodox Christian worship, as my Parish’s cantor — and not just the Sunday Liturgy — had “communicated” the same things.)

I’ve taken a stab at poetry occasionally, but rarely have thought it remotely successful. Anyway, I once heard it said that the person who becomes a poet to say something is less poetic than someone who becomes a poet because he/she likes messing around with words.

I guess the reason I keep blogging may be that I, too, am going on and on, in prose, shifting to reflect from varying angles — just not between the covers of a single book and without an explicit Master Goal. But in a lot of ways, my blog is a very large commonplace book, but an online friend (we’ve narrowly missed meeting IRL) already took that in his blog (now Substack) title.

Anyway, I actually looked briefly at what WordPress says about my blog (something I rarely do since I’m not writing to be popular), and apparently it’s emailed to 350 addresses, and I assume that some others get the RSS feed. I’m pretty sure that some of the emails are bogus, created for god-knows-what purpose. But a heartening number probably are real people, and to them I say thank you for your indulgence.

A partisan scold as arbiter of “Disinformation”

The preoccupation with “misinformation” and “disinformation” on the part of America’s enlightened influencers last month reached the level of comedy. The Department of Homeland Security chose a partisan scold, Nina Jankowicz, to head its new Disinformation Governance Board despite her history of promoting false stories and repudiating valid ones—the sort of scenario only a team of bumblers or a gifted satirist could produce.

Barton Swaim, How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’ (Wall Street Journal)

Janus-faces

There is something so disingenuous about critical theorists both arguing that they are revealing the real truth about the world in order to change it, and then claiming that they’re just offering an alternative take of history within a liberal context. You can see this intellectually dishonest bait-and-switch in the 1619 Project. It claims something truly radical — that the real founding of America was in 1619 because the core meaning of America is white supremacy, not liberal democracy — and then, when called on it, turns around and says no, silly, we’re just engaging in a thought-experiment to explain how racism has affected all of us, and to provoke debate. Well: which is it? In theory, they tell you it is all compatible with liberalism; in practice, they prove and believe the opposite.

Andrew Sullivan, Don’t Fight CRT. Expose It.

Dobbsian thoughts

Well, then: I’ll be glad to say “pro-abortion”

From an official Planned Parenthood website, an about-face that reveals a lot:

Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed. At least one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion during their lives, and they should be supported and celebrated. It’s time to retire the phrase “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” for good.

Maia Baker, What’s wrong with choice?: Why we need to go beyond choice language when we’re talking about abortion.

I heard a youngish woman recently describe her long-ago long bus trip to a D.C. “pro-choice” rally. Older women were talking of abortion as if it were good, not a lesser evil. One even bragged that she’d had 6 abortions, and it was her primary birth control.

The youngish woman emerged from the bus pro-life.

Amnesiac même advocacy

From a supplemental Andrew Sullivan substack May 13:

[Sullivan’s critic1]: You’re conveniently forgetting that five of the nine justices (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett) were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote.
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: That is completely irrelevant. But even it it weren’t, both of Bush’s appointees were picked during his second term, after he won the popular vote against Kerry.

[Sullivan’s critic2]: Currently, several state legislatures have big GOP majorities that in no way reflect the number of votes each party received in the preceding election. My guess is that one or more of these legislatures will act quickly this summer, after Roe is overturned, to outlaw abortion. Will that be an instance of democracy working well?
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: Yes, it absolutely will. And voters can vote again in November. Again: is it the pro-choice position that no states be allowed to legislate on abortion because gerrymandering exists? What else are they barred from voting on?

[Sullivan’s critic3]: While I am certain there are women who would never have an abortion — and they cannot imagine allowing any other woman to have an abortion — the majority you refer to as “pro-life” is deeply affected by another condition: religion. The majority of the pro-life women you speak of, through their faith, surrendered any sense of having power that isn’t subjected to the approval of the church or their husbands! They have no distinct awareness or appreciation of the fullness of their own free will — their liberty — or their innate freedom to make decisions on their own, entirely independent of their faith. 
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: I’m afraid this completely misunderstands Catholic teaching on this. Women are not supposed to submit their moral views to their husbands’ approval. And the thinly veiled contempt for religious people — they don’t have any autonomy or agency — is a form of bigotry, in my view.

On that last point, see Eugene Volokh’s contemptuous response to that kind of motivated reasoning, which he no doubt hears a couple of times each week if not each day.

Talk less, Smile more.

Now when Chief Justice Roberts speaks of the Court as an “institution,” he approaches that concept from a PR perspective–5-4 decisions are bad, incoherent 9-0 decisions are good. Thomas could not care what final votes are. Rather, he worries about attacks on the Court by the political branches, and more recently, from within.

Unlike Justice Ginsburg, no one knows where Chief Justice Roberts is. To quote Aaron Burr, “Talk less, Smile more, Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” NFIB v. Sebelius may have saved the ACA, but the controlling opinion destroyed the Supreme Court as we know it. The anonymous conservative told Politico:

“There is a price to be paid for what he did. Everybody remembers it,”

Roberts won the battle, but lost the war. Now Thomas is making this point explicitly.

Josh Blackman (emphasis added)

Selective non-enforcement

Of the laxity of law enforcement in protests at Justices’ homes:

When it comes to the contrast to Jan. 6, what stands out to me is actually a similarity: a large protest gathered on Capitol Hill and authorities responded with much too little force to disperse it — including after it got way out of hand. Where things differ has been the aftermath, with federal prosecutors now aggressively prosecuting people who merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside. That seems like overreach in the opposite direction — discretion erring on the side of undue harshness. We should absolutely be throwing the book at everyone who ransacked the building and sought to commit acts of violence against members of Congress or the vice president in order to overturn the election. But that likely doesn’t describe everyone, or even most of the people, present at the protests that day.

Damon Linker (who, should it not be clear, favors discretionary non-prosecution of smallish, non-menacing demonstrations at the Justices’ homes).

I’m acquainted with someone who “merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside” the capitol on 1/6/21, but is being prosecuted nonetheless. The Feds have lost at least one such case at trial, and I’m hoping they’ll now relent on the others.

Point is: I’m willing to extend the same grace I want for him to wrong-headed people who peacefully protest at justices’ homes – even if there’s a federal law that facially makes that illegal.

Overturning nature

[T]he lawn signs in university towns announce, “Hate has no home here.” This sentiment amounts to reversing the fall of man and proclaiming the kingdom of God. And as I have argued, today’s progressive cultural politics seeks to overturn the authority of nature. Thus we have at once widespread resignation—and God-like ambition.

It’s really very strange. One hundred thousand people die of opioid overdoses in a single year, and elites throw up their hands and do nothing. Meanwhile, they put untold millions into transgender activism and insist that the fullest resources of the medical-industrial complex must be employed to attain its goals.

R.R. Reno.

I generally don’t like arguments in the form of “Why are you writing/worrying about X?! You should be writing/worrying about Y!” But I can’t help but suspect that elites have noticed that the people dying of opioid overdoses are mostly deplorables, not real people.

Oh: And that the trans cause is stylishly pseudo-transgressive.

Words to live by

We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.

French writer Charles Péguy via R.R. Reno. I’m not sure that Reno is seeing what he’s seeing, but he’s seeing one of the right problems.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Sustenance

The creeds are not the faith

I realized that during the long years I had spent studying Christianity to see whether or not I found it credible, I was missing the point. The creeds of the Church do not contain the Christian truth that Christ said would set us free. They were formalized and written down in response to challenges from outside, when the Church was forced to defend itself by using the language of philosophy to define its dogma.

Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul

I don’t necessarily agree with everything I quote here, but I definitely agree with Peter France about that..

Searching for Sublimity

I didn’t become an environmental activist so I could talk about carbon emissions; I became an activist because I wanted to protect the places that contained the sublimity I had read about in Wordsworth. It was so obvious to me that the preservation of these sacred places was a need of the human soul and that we’ve got a culture that just trashes it. And who cares about carbon emissions really? That’s not the issue.

In more recent years, I’ve come to see it quite explicitly as a spiritual crisis. I think it’s not about politics or culture or economics. Those are all aspects of it, but deeper than that, it’s a spiritual crisis. It’s about who we are and what the world is and what our relationship to it is.

We’ve created this society which even when it looks at a forest or a sunset or an ocean, can’t look at it through Wordsworth’s eyes. It looks at it like a machine or a calculator or an economist. And we look out at the ocean and we think how much wind power there is that we could harvest, or we look at the desert and think about the sunlight. None of this is the point. I think most activists know that as well. But we all get sucked into this mechanistic way of speaking and seeing. And we’re all taught that, of course, this is what the grownups do and we have to leave behind all the silly Wordsworthian stuff. It’s a particular kind of cold rationalism that this society presents as maturity, but it’s not: it’s a kind of spiritual infantilization.

Once you decide this fragmentation is an acceptable way of seeing the world (which is pretty much the Western way of seeing), you’re inevitably on the path toward the Matrix or some form of Brave New World. There’s a reason science fiction writers have been putting out these prophetic warnings for over a hundred years.

[T]he funny thing is some people say, “Oh, you converted to Christianity. That’s a weird thing to do. How did you do that?” And from the outside, it seems very strange and I would never have imagined it happening, but from the inside, it sort of seems like a natural progression. It doesn’t feel like I suddenly adopted a strange worldview for no reason. It feels like I came home to something I felt anyway, but I would never have understood it in that way, through that sense. And I realized that a lot of my values and understandings and attitudes turned out to be Christian anyway. That’s true of a lot of us in the West, probably all of us really. Whether we know it or not, that’s our culture, that’s our inheritance.

Paul Kingsnorth, interviewed by Plough

Guns / Butter = Autonomy / Care

People’s biggest fear is that there is not enough care to go around. Pregnancy makes babies dependent on their mothers and mothers dependent on everyone around them. A culture that takes autonomy as the norm will neglect both mother and child. Thus, it can feel like any care for a child comes at the mother’s expense since we do not trust each other or our policymakers to respond justly to her need.

Ask yourself: If I were complicit in a grave, widespread evil, what would I need to be able to recognize that, repent and avoid despair? Try to give your friends the welcome and patience you would require in order to so profoundly change your life.

Leah Libresco Sargent, ‌A better abortion debate is possible. Here’s where we can start.

Do the right thing. Period. Full stop.

In a letter written to a friend in 1959, Flannery O’Connor lamented that some members of the clergy, when arguing in favor of Catholic teaching on procreation, felt the need to assuage concerns about overpopulation. “I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion,” she wrote. “I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may.”

Matthew Walther in the New York Times, of all places.

One must wonder whether the Twitter mob that’s now the de facto editor of the Times will demand the head of the figurehead editor again for the "aggression" of allowing this to be published.

(Be it noted that I’m not exemplary on this particular topic, and it’s too late to do anything about it.)

How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church

A powerful and somehow particularly disheartening article at the Atlantic this week: ‌How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church. It’s getting quite a bit of discussion. But it is a pretty long read.

Dull, flat and lifeless

If you feel like the content is going flat, pick a fight. That always brings life to a magazine of ideas.

The late Midge Decter to First Things‘ R.R. Reno. I think First Things has followed her advice, yet it seems increasingly flat to me. And that is very sad. I was a fan from the very beginning, but can’t much recommend it today.

Update: No sooner do I diss First Things than I open a new issue and find a once-or-twice-per-year gem that probably makes the subscription price worth it: Ross Douthat, A Gentler Christendom, with a response and then further reply by Douthat. (Douthat also is part of the reason I read the New York Times.)

Broken

I so hate the brokenness of the world, the world of which we are a part. I look forward to the day in Paradise in which we are both made whole again, and can greet each other with pure love.

Rod Dreher of his impending divorce by his wife

I think that’s about the best attitude one can have when a marriage is truly "broken" (a contested characterization, at least within memory) and nine years of efforts to mend it have failed.

But I do wish Rod could take a sabbatical. He’s writing too high a proportion of cringeworthy stuff the last few troubled weeks. (I cannot rule out the possibility that I have shifted, but ….)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Faith Issues, Roe (and more)

Faith matters

Theology vs. Academic Theology

Theologians, like all academics, have to keep coming up with original things to say. If you just kept repeating the words you received from your old professors, it would get you nowhere. What you need is fresh, even daring, new material. And that means theology will always be in flux.

A venerable Catholic theologian once told me, with great irritation, “Lay people don’t understand what theology is!” They think it’s set in stone, he said, but it’s always evolving and progressing. He seemed to think that theology was something lay people could never hope to keep up with. Their meddling was annoying. They should get out of the way, and wait for the professionals to tell them what the new thinking is.

Theology has a completely different basis in Orthodoxy. It doesn’t change, because it is the faith taught by the Apostles themselves; Orthodoxy is the unbroken continuation of the Church founded by Christ, and carried by the Apostles into the world. We do keep repeating the words we received from our teachers and elders in Christ. Orthodoxy doesn’t need updating, because it provides everything a person needs to be saturated with the presence of God (a process called “theosis”). It fits the needs of every human being like water and air do, no matter what culture or time.

Frederica Matthewes-Green in a letter to Rod Dreher.

Do take note of that first paragraph. Heresy is baked right into the cake of academic theology as presently structured. And that’s an insight that is baked pretty deeply into my bones now. Calling a theological writing “novel” is generally a powerful insult in Orthodoxy.

Not following which faith?

People often talk to me about their adult children who are not following the Lord. I think they want to introduce them to me, as if my brand of wacky Miss Frizzle theologian would inspire them to follow Jesus (reader, I am not that compelling). I have started to ask these folks, which faith do you think your children are longer following? Tell me about it. Was it perhaps one that promised that Jesus would be primarily a place where they got their psychological needs met? Did you raise them to believe that middle-class respectability and good religious feelings were the goal of following Christ? Did you teach them how to suffer?

To the Shire

Classical Liberalism or Postliberalism?

Over a busy weekend (my final choral concert of the Spring), I almost forgot to share two very civil and worthwhile (opening?) arguments on how conservative Christians should behave in 2022:

Apart from the response’s resonance with my lifelong habits of thought, I think the response convincingly shows that the opening volley’s premise that we’ve recently entered “negative world” (cultural hostility to Christianity, which the coiner of the term thinks follows a long stretch of American approbation of Christianity and a few decades of neutrality) is dubious if not mythical. The folks who are more openly hostile now were just subtler before. I fear I greeted the original “negative world” theory with a lot of confirmation bias.

And of course, this debate, nominally about Tim Keller’s approach to politics, is a microcosm of the much larger argument, widely contested among self-identified Christians, about classical liberalism (French) versus some manner of postliberalism (Wood). Don’t cabin this argument.

Update: Rod Dreher weighs in against French, failing badly if he was trying to cover himself in glory instead of just waving the tribal flag. I wonder if American Conservative would give him a sabbatical while he works through a few things? I wonder if it would really make things better if they did.

The impending “reversal of Roe

The salutary political consequences

Peggy Noonan goes a bit meta on the consequences if SCOTUS “reverses Roe“:

[Roe] left both parties less healthy. The Democrats locked into abortion as party orthodoxy, let dissenters know they were unwelcome, pushed ever more extreme measures to please their activists, and survived on huge campaign donations from the abortion industry itself. Republican politicians were often insincere on the issue, and when sincere almost never tried to explain their thinking and persuade anyone. They took for granted and secretly disrespected their pro-life groups, which consultants regularly shook down for campaign cash. They ticked off the “I’m pro-life” box in speeches, got applause and went on to talk about the deficit. They were forgiven a great deal because of their so-called stand, and this contributed, the past 25 years, to the party’s drift.

Abortion distorted both parties.

Advice now, especially for Republican men, if Roe indeed is struck down: Do not be your ignorant selves. Do not, as large dumb misogynists, start waxing on about how if a woman gets an illegal abortion she can be jailed. Don’t fail to embrace compromise because you can make money on keeping the abortion issue alive. I want to say “Just shut your mouths,” but my assignment is more rigorous. It is to have a heart. Use the moment to come forward as human beings who care about women and want to give families the help they need. Align with national legislation that helps single mothers to survive. Support women, including with child-care credits that come in cash and don’t immediately go to child care, to help mothers stay at home with babies. Shelters, classes in parenting skills and life skills. All these exist in various forms: make them better, broader, bigger.

This is an opportunity to change your party’s reputation.

Democrats too. You have been given a gift and don’t know it. You think, “Yes, we get a hot new issue for 2022!” But you always aggress more than you think. The gift is that if, as a national matter, the abortion issue is removed, you could be a normal party again. You have no idea, because you don’t respect outsiders, how many people would feel free to join your party with the poison cloud dispersed. You could be something like the party you were before Roe: liberal on spending and taxation, self-consciously the champion of working men and women, for peace and not war. As you were in 1970.

Or, absent the emotionally cohering issue of abortion, you can choose to further align with extremes within the culture, and remain abnormal.

But the end of Roe could be a historic gift for both parties, a chance to become their better selves.

How will the court “reverse Roe“?

Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast persuaded me, without saying it in so many words, that Alito’s first draft won’t be his last. He has a bit of a needle to thread (the needle is oxymoronically named “Substantive Due Process”) and the first draft doesn’t persuasively thread it.

The main article in Friday’s Morning Dispatch also covers the question of unenumerated rights that might theoretically be at risk if the opinion doesn’t get the reasoning right.

My own opinion (caveat: I’m retired and rusty on legal analysis, and my opinion has been clarified only recently by thinking harder than before about stare decisis) is that:

  • almost all the cases recognizing unenumerated rights over the last 60 years have been bogus, the right to marry across lines of “race” (Loving v. Virginia) being the only exception I can think of readily;
  • of the remaining bogus decisions (Griswold, Lawrence, Obergefell) I can think of none that require reversal under the considerations that come into play in stare decisis. That’s another way of saying that “wrongly decided” (or “bogus”) doesn’t necessarily imply “should be reversed”; it’s more complicated than that.

Concise

The latest theme on the political left is that the Supreme Court Justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade are at war with democracy. It’s a strange argument, since overturning Roe would merely return abortion policy to the states for political debate in elections and legislatures. That’s the definition of democracy.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Most Editorial Board editorials aren’t worth reading, but that first paragraph was at least concise. The rest of the editorial? Meh.

American progressives, and some on the right, have convinced themselves that legal abortion will disappear the moment the Supreme Court reverses its Roe v. Wade precedent. Since the Court is contemplating this, readers might appreciate examples from democracies that have grappled with this difficult issue without nine Justices to tell them what to do.

We mean Europe, where abortion is legal in most countries, usually with limits that are more strict than America’s and generally as a result of democratic choice.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board separately.

Worth your time

Overruling Roe Would Extinguish A Judicially Created Right, But Would Restore The People’s “Precious Right To Govern Themselves”

The other stuff

An artefact of sensible times

For those curious, the Fifth Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] is holding its conference in Nashville because, apparently, there are no facilities large enough in Mississippi to host this confab.

Update: I have since been reliably informed that judicial conferences are not held in Mississippi for another reason: all of the hotels large enough in the state are attached to casinos, and some rule prohibits holding judicial functions in places attached to casinos. As a result, several hotels in Mississippi are large enough, but due to the casinos, none are not suitable.

Josh Blackman

An interesting rule from the days when people were smart enough to know that casinos are disreputable. They still are — as is commercial gambling on sports.

But we’ve decided to monetize vice, often with the promise that the revenue will fund schools. Monetizing vice does indeed “school” children, but not in any good way.

Surviving big cultural disasters

Having an inner life is how we can survive if the world falls apart … It’s how people have endured and thrived living under authoritarian regimes … If a populist regime … is in the cards, it’s time to become bird-watchers and hikers and readers of classics and take care of our friends and children and ignore the ignorance and cruelty afar.

Garrison Keillor, with some historic particulars elided. Some of the elisions may leave the impression that Keillor is opposed to all populism, though I don’t know that. I’d like to think there could be a populism that isn’t ignorant and cruel, though I see few signs of one yet.

Facing the end of life

I realize that we are all circling around the Airport of Death, but it just seems to me that if you take that step [moving to a retirement community] it means that you are entering your landing pattern. I think that I will rather just live until I die.

Terry Cowan.

At 73, I think I’ve fairly realistically reckoned with my mortality at last.

But that can be dangerous; you mustn’t just sit and wait for the grim reaper when getting up and moving could keep him away a bit longer. Sloth is a sin even for oldsters. And even if moving hurts a bit.

Wordplay

  • the right place to be is surely in the woods, or in a monastery. Or in a monastery in the woods.

Paul Kingsnorth

  • All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

G. K. Chesterton


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

The impending reversal of Roe (and more)

On the impending reversal of Roe

Will Congress enshrine abortion in federal law?

Democrats are talking about using the nuclear option (abolishing the filibuster) to enshrine Roe into federal law over Republican objections. I’m not sure they’ll hold Joe Manchin either on abolishing the filibuster or on abortion if they do, but let’s set that aside.

If they succeed, I suspect the law will meet the fate of RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: held unconstitutional as a restriction on states’ “police powers.”

A similar outcome on abortion would leave abortion enshrined on military bases, federal women’s uterus-havers prisons and some other federal domains, but at the very political high cost of turning the Senate into a more democratic and less deliberative institution.

What a contrast!

I made it a point to listen to a top liberal legal podcast on the leaked SCOTUS opinion.

As I suspected would be the case, these three law professors offered no substantive defense of Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey. None. Because they’re too smart to think it’s defensible in any terms of conventional constitutional reasoning. It was all mockery (Justices Alito and Thomas, Thomas’s wife, etc.), F-bombs and other vulgarities, unintelligible in-group code, posturing and dark speculation about what other “rights” the conservative majority wants to destroy.

It heightens my appreciation for the excellence and sophistication of Advisory Opinions — where I learned, by the way, of the existence of the other legal podcast.

Delegitimizing the Court

Speculating on possible reasons for the leak:

[F]inally, to the extent that a leak like this has some delegitimizing effect no matter what, that might be an end unto itself: If the court is going to be conservative, then let it have no mystique whatsoever.

This last place is where most liberals will end up, I’m sure, should the draft ruling turn out to be the final one. But there is an irony here, of course, because a key implication of Alito’s draft — and of arguments marshaled for generations by Roe’s critics — is that treating the judiciary as the main arbiter of our gravest moral debates was always a mistake, one that could lead only to exactly the kind of delegitimization that we see before us now.

Regardless of whether the draft becomes the final decision, then, its leak has already vindicated one of its key premises: that trying to remove an issue like abortion from normal democratic politics was always likely to end very badly for the court.

Ross Douthat. I’m glad Douthat pointed that out. I hadn’t thought how the delegitimization of the court started 49 years ago with Roe.

Roll out the protest signs!

Meanwhile, Substacker Rhyd Wildermuth envisions the less-than-punchy woke protest signs that should, for woke consistency’s sake, be forthcoming:

  • Protect a pregnant uterus-haver’s right to choose
  • Trans-women, cis-men, and assigned-male-at-birth non-binary people should not be allowed to make decisions on what trans-men, assigned-female-at-birth non-binary people, and cis-women do with their bodies.

Everything else

Doom’n’gloom

[T]hough I will never condemn those ‘dead white men’, neither can I stand up and ‘defend the West’ in some uncomplicated fashion. The West is my home – but the West has also eaten my home. Should I stand up to save it from itself? How would that happen? What would I be fighting for?

The French esoteric philosopher René Guénon, who dedicated his life to studying the metaphysical decay of the West, called this the ‘crisis of the modern world’, and he saw it as an explicitly spiritual matter. In his 1945 book The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, Guénon, a French convert to Sufi Islam who lived much of his life in Egypt, argued that the modern West’s decisive turn away from the spiritual life towards the purely material realm had plunged us into an era he called the ‘Reign of Quantity’. He referred to this turn as ‘the modern deviation’, or sometimes ‘the Western deviation.’

Guénon believed that the world’s old religious traditions all contained the same ‘universal character’ and could lead towards the same truth. The modern West, however, had unilaterally turned away from the pursuit of any higher truth, and the result had been the Reign of Quantity, which was now overcoming the world at Western hands. ‘Western domination’, he wrote, ‘is itself no more than an expression of the “reign of quantity.”’

All of this brings us back to where we began – the culture wars of the age of hyperreality. Guénon concluded his dense and sometimes difficult study by suggesting that we are living in a ‘great parody’: an age of ‘inverted spirituality’ and ‘counter-tradition’ in which even institutions which claimed to be transmitting the spiritual traditions – most churches, for example – were shells of the real thing. To Guenon, this was a manifestation of an actual spiritual war. He agreed with St Paul that ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.’ Some dark spiritual force was inhabiting the shell of our culture, he said, and driving us ever downwards.

Paul Kingsnorth

How Not To Write An Obituary

Terry Cowan gives some overdue advice on writing an obituary. I hope it was as cathartic for him to write it as it was for me to read it, because (I predict, for no better reason than general pessimism about humanity) that it won’t change a thing.

Setting aside “soulmate” and “love-of-her/his-life,” this advice is my favorite:

Finally, do not try to preach your loved one into Heaven by way of their obituary. There is no need to go on and on about what a fine Christian Gloria Kay was, or expanding on how much she “loved the Lord.” Frankly, it is not as if the Office of Admissions in Heaven is keeping a file of clippings, and this obituary will be one more document in your favor. Just say “Gloria Kay was a faithful Christian, a member of fill-in-the-blank Church.” Also, go-slow on stating what your loved one will be doing in Heaven now. That is always just so much broad evangelical wishful thinking. It is important to remember that we are actually not in control here, and it may be presumptuous to assert that Homer is now face to face with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When I see an obituary that says something like “Wilma adored her precious children and grandchildren but her greatest joy was telling others about Jesus,” well, that just describes the type of person you would duck down another aisle if you saw them across the way in the grocery store.

The only missing thing I can think of “earned his angel wings.”

Sen. J.D. Vance

In the Fall of 2016, I traveled from Indiana to St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in eastern Ohio for a brief personal retreat. Running low on gas, I pulled off the four-lane road and traveled a few miles to a small town gas station.

That small town almost certainly had more Trump signs than homes, with at least one sign in every yard and not a single Hillary Clinton sign.

I don’t think of myself as especially insular, but I was shocked.

Over almost six subsequent years since, I’ve begun (or perhaps more than begun) to understand why (for what reasons or interests other than perverse nihilism or lib-trolling) people like rural Ohioans voted for Trump. They’ve been passed over, and they’re not accepting the idea that they deserve it because they’re of less value than coastal Americans.

Fair point. Weighty, even.

I still detest Trump personally (for reasons I summarize as “toxic narcissism” because writing a Bill of Particulars could consume my whole remaining life), and I regret that a Republican populist must kiss his hind-parts and get his endorsement to win a primary.

So Tuesday’s Ohio primary victory of J.D. Vance Tuesday, after he finally got Trump’s endorsement, isn’t much of a surprise, nor will his victory in the Fall be a surprise.

I hope he can become his own man again after the abasement of his campaign. He’s a bright guy who could elevate the debate if he wants to.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Roe, Twitter and more

Roe

After the Politico leak of a draft SCOTUS opinion "overturning Roe":

Where the public stands is tricky to divine. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans would object to the court overturning Roe. But others show that most people want limits on abortions that Roe does not permit.

The Economist, Why abortion rights are under threat in America.

Neither the people nor most of the press understands Roe, which (by the way) was substantially overruled in and replaced by Planned Parenthood v. Casey 30 years ago. The Economist is to be commended for at least contextualizing the myth of popular support for "Roe."

I was for a time an anti-abortion activist and third-string litigator. I still remain an anti-abortion voter (though the multiplication of supposedly pro-life politicians who are fundamentally jackasses has disabused me of single-issue voting) and a supporter of a local pregnancy resource center that provides women alternatives to abortion.

But I don’t expect to read the leaked draft opinion. Que sera sera.

Neither do I intend to try to explain yet again that "overturning Roe" is not the same as banning abortion.

Where to go when you have nowhere left to go

British author Paul Kingsnorth describes his becoming an Orthodox Christian from, most recently, Wicca (from The Symbolic World episode 158, starting at about the 17-minute mark, paraphrased by me except for quotations):

He definitely was led to Christianity, because he didn’t want it. He didn’t like Christianity or Christians and he didn’t want to be a Christian. He was an eco-Pagan.

Many environmentalists recognize that matters of the spirit are fundamental to the problem of environmental degradation, so they go looking for a spiritual path — of which there are almost none left in the western world.

He tried Zen starting about ten years ago, and there was a lot to like, but it was missing something (which turned out to be God). He tried other mythical paths, including Wicca, but it’s an ersatz assembly of old pieces that doesn’t quite work. Father Seraphim Rose is popular with Orthodox converts, perhaps, because he, too, tried all kinds of different things.

A lot of that wandering around and trying exotic things is from a feeling that "we have nowhere to go," which in turn is a result of the Western Church being for so long tied up with power, tied up with the institutions that were crushing people and destroying the earth, and from the Genesis command to " Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" being interpreted as a command for domination. It’s just not attractive, especially since the 60s re-ordered what we value.

But he began having dreams, and visions. Christians started popping out of the woodwork left and right, emailing and talking about his books for no apparent reason. Finally couldn’t ignore it. And the more he read about Christianity, especially Eastern Christianity, the more he thought:

This isn’t the story I thought it was. I thought Christianity was a bunch or moral lessons. I thought it was a bunch of things you were supposed to do so you went to heaven instead of hell, and you have to be good and do certain things, and I thought "Well why would I need a guy from two thousand years ago to tell me that?" And I don’t believe it anyway.

But the more I realized what was actually going on, the more I realized that this is a mystical path. It’s a path to God. It’s a path of stripping back and renunciation. And the more I found Orthodoxy — I had a couple of friends who turned out to be Orthodox Christians, which I hadn’t really known before — and then I started reading the Desert Fathers and the Philokalia and I thought "Wow! This is really powerful stuff! This beats anything that the Buddhists have got to offer." Or at least it’s actually very similar in some ways in terms of the depth of the mystery.

And I thought "Yeah, this Church thing (that I thought I knew about) is not what I thought it was. And here’s a powerful path."

And then of course you start reading the Gospels and you think … there is nothing that’s more radical, actually, than the teaching of Christ.

And then once you start separating it out from the many hideous things people have done with it over the centuries, you think "Well this is just as relevant as it ever was … This is radical humility, and if we had practiced this, we wouldn’t be in this situation."

I would not disagree with any of his description, though I never wandered around in Zen, Wicca or other exotic territory and cannot affirm from personal experience that people detest Western Christianity for the reasons he gives, though those reasons ring true to me.

Brooks nails it

David Brooks offers Seven Lessons Democrats Need to Learn — Fast:

  • It is possible to overstimulate the economy
  • Law and order is not just a racist dog whistle
  • Don’t politicize everything
  • Border security is not just a Republican talking point
  • “People of color” is not a thing
  • Deficits do matter
  • The New Deal happened once

Such a simple idea, so well-executed.

Wise excerpts

  • Your growth as a conscious being is measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.
  • Half the skill of being educated is learning what you can ignore.
  • 90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.
  • You cant reason someone out of a notion that they didn’t reason themselves into.
  • Dont believe everything you think you believe.

Kevin Kelly, 103 Bits of Advice I wish I’d known.

(I doubt that any NFTs are not crap.)

Social media

Are you virtuous enough for Twitter?

Twitter is the only social media platform I use, and I’ve long characterized my use of it as a devil’s bargain. The platform has benefitted me in certain ways, but this has come at a cost. The benefits and costs are what you would expect. I’ve made good connections through the platform, my writing has garnered a bit more of an audience, and I’ve encountered the good work of others. On the other hand, I’ve given it too much of my time and energy, and I’m pretty sure my thinking and my writing have, on the whole, suffered as a consequence. Assuming I’m right in my self-assessment, that’s too high of a price, is it not? The problem, as I’ve suggested before, is that the machine requires too much virtue to operate, and, frankly, I’m not always up to the task.

During the fidget spinner craze a few years back, a thought came to mind: “Social media are the fidget spinners of the soul.” Maybe this is one of the so-called darlings I’d do best to kill, but, I don’t know, I still think it works. It’s another way of capturing the relationship between social media and sloth or acedia. The self is in disarray, agitated, unsettled, directionless, and the best it can do is fidget with the platforms to keep the unease at bay.

L.M. Sacasas (emphasis added). All-in-all, a stimulating set of brief reflections injected into what has been a stultifying feeding frenzy of coverage and hand-wringing.

A truly social medium

Alan Jacobs posts a brief introduction to micro.blog for the benefit of the millions (just kidding) of refugees fleeing thence from Twitter since Elon’s invasion.

He concludes with the centralmost distinction:

On micro.blog, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.

And that’s why it’s great.

So if you’re coming over from Twitter, please try to leave your Twitter habits and reflexes behind. They won’t help you at micro.blog. ### Hall of Shame nominee:

The Biden Administration’s Orwellian new Disinformation Governance Board (DGB), whose mission, sensible people fear, will creep beyond its initial modest mandate of “countering misinformation related to homeland security, focused specifically on irregular migration and Russia.”

Epistemic status

One of the lessons I still need to learn in life, in my 74th year, is that warranted absolute certainty is vanishingly rare. I am reminded of that in many ways, but one of the nicest is when Scott Alexander starts a blog post with "Epistemic status" of what follows, as here.

Shorts

You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

The Washington Post put more effort into exposing @libsoftiktok’s name and address than they did investigating Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Greg Price, via Andrew Sullivan

People believe Twitter is the real world. They therefore believe that Elon Musk is buying the world.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary via The Morning Dispatch

“Disinformation” just means anything that the Left doesn’t want you to say out loud.

James Howard Kunstler

Wordplay

"Parochial cosmopolitan."

A Cosmopolitan who cannot imagine any reason for more conservative opinions. Used in a sentence: "You may believe that the Hungarian law went too far, but only a parochial cosmopolitan can believe that the only reason people wouldn’t want their children propagandized to embrace transgressive sexual and gender roles is plain bigotry." (Rod Dreher, DeSantis, Magyar Of The Sunshine State?)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Holy Week gleanings

This is Orthodox Holy Week. For me as the parish cantor, it’s pretty grueling (tonight’s service runs almost three hours, for instance, and we had 90 minutes this morning) — and with that, rewarding.

I haven’t foresworn all news for the week, but I’m continuing to reduce news consumption, and find that I’m less interested in most of what I do see.

So here, with minimal commentary, is some of what I found a bit interesting.

All versions of things usually suck

Classical Educator Joshua Gibbs writes some pretty sharp quasi-Socratic dialogues, and his most recent was a dandy:

Student: I know how you feel about the matter, but I’m thinking about going to a secular college next year.

Gibbs: How come?

Student: I don’t want to live in a bubble. If I don’t go to a secular college, I’m worried I’ll go through my whole life without ever knowing anything about other people’s views.

Gibbs: Huh. You think college is your last chance to encounter “other people’s views”?

Student: Sort of.

Gibbs: What a strange life you must have planned for yourself after college …

[After enough dialog to establish that the student’s reason doesn’t hold water]:

Student: I’m dying for you to tell me what I’m thinking, old man. What’s my real reason?

Gibbs: You don’t want to go to a Christian university because the Christian version of things usually sucks.

Student: Wrong, that’s not… Aw, who am I kidding? Yes, that’s it.

Gibbs: Respectable. But wrong.

Student: What are you talking about? I know you. You listen to Radiohead and Brian Eno. You like Sofia Coppola movies. You’re not into Casting Crowns and Kirk Cameron and all that trash. You know the Christian version always sucks.

Gibbs: Not exactly. When you think of “the Christian version” of anything, you think of Castings Crowns and Kirk Cameron, but I think of Dante, John Milton, Constantine, Charlemagne, Jane Austen, Boethius, Charlotte Bronte, El Greco, Macrina the Younger, Bach, St. John of the Ladder, Josquin des Prez, John Paul II, not to mention the pious old women of my church who stand for three-hour prayer vigils. And when I suggest you go to a Christian college, I don’t mean any Christian college, but the sort of Christian college that takes Dante, John Milton, and Constantine seriously. When you think of “Christian architecture,” it’s not unfair to think of gawdy, wretched megachurch stadiums, but neither is it unfair to think of Notre Dame and the Hagia Sophia. If you’re afraid of going to a Christian college because you’re fed up with the sappy, soundtrack-to-apostasy pop they make you sing at youth group, I don’t blame you …

[Y]our impression of the difference between Christian colleges and secular colleges is wildly inaccurate. I don’t like pop Christian culture any more than you do, but the sort of Christian colleges I would recommend to you are small, traditional, and can offer you a greater range of views than a secular college can. That is not the primary reason I would recommend them to you, but it is nonetheless true.

Student: What’s the primary reason?

Gibbs: When Christians complain about Christian culture, they tend to compare the worst examples of contemporary Christian culture with the best examples of secular culture. But for every Radiohead, there are twenty Smash Mouths. For every There Will Be Blood, there are a hundred Project Runway_s. And there’s absolutely no secularist equivalent of _Paradise Lost or Bach or Dante… I could go on.

Student: Okay.

Gibbs: I get it, though. You don’t take contemporary Christian culture seriously, but some of the adults in your life do. This worries you. You want to trust adults, but it’s hard when so many of them can’t see that contemporary Christian culture is often just a trite, hackneyed imitation of secular culture with a “Gospel message” tacked on. Adults have shown you ridiculous, preachy Christian films and told you they were good. Adults have asked you to treat banal, simple-minded worship songs like significant musical accomplishments. You’ve heard about Christian kids giving up the faith in secular colleges, but you’re not worried about that happening to you. Why? Because even though you’re a Christian, the preachy Christian films and silly songs never really got to you. They didn’t change you. And you’re convinced that none of the preachy anti-Christian culture in college is going to get to you either. At the end of the day, though, the idea of spending four years and a hundred grand on Veggie Tales College is terrifying.

Student: It is.

Gibbs: And I’m sure there are Christian colleges out there which would give you just that. But not all of them.

I think another way of saying this is that most cultural products, Christian or not, are mediocre (or worse) and ephemeral. Get over it.

Integral faith

Beha’s return to his faith did not make him think his job as a writer was to serve as a Catholic witness, but he acknowledged its influence on his work. “I don’t think of my writing as a form of apologetics. I don’t think of it as a form of proselytizing,” he said. “Writing is a central part of the project of my life, and my Catholicism is an essential part of the project of my life, so they are inevitably bound up with each other.”

Yes. That. And more.

Every public argument made in religious terms will be disregarded by essentially everyone who doesn’t share the arguer’s religion. But arguments about public policy, made in non-religious terms, must not be dismissed as crypto-religious merely because the arguer is known to be “religious” or “very religious” (leaving aside how vexing the construct of “religion” is).

I don’t design arguments as crypto-religious trojan horses, and to act as if I do is a kind of disenfranchisement.

The Successor Ideology is harming people

Julie, 27, who also transitioned and then detransitioned, likens the policy to the practice of lobotomy. “I have this intense rage in me over the harm that was done to me,” said Julie, who didn’t want to be identified out of fear of backlash from activists.   

She called her treatment a “collaborative idiocy”—drawing together her parents, therapists and doctors. “It took a goddamn village.” 

“I asked my doctor about concerns I was having about my heart health, and she told me, ‘Listen, you signed a waiver,’ which scared me,” she said. After five years on hormones, Julie stopped taking them.

She was not against trans people. Just like Phoenix and Helena and Chloe and all of them. They just felt like they’d been rushed through this heavily medicalized funnel when all they really needed was a little time to grow up. 

Suzy Weiss, The Testosterone Hangover, chock-a-block with stories of “gender-affirming care” gone wrong.

Unfortunately, the “progressive” march through the institutions having succeeded in creating a mad hegemony (the Successor Ideology), this and similar articles haven’t done much so far.

Punching down in the name of punching up

Journalists like to think of ourselves as champions of the powerless against abuse by mighty political and economic oppressors. But two decades into the 21st century, things are a little more complicated than that self-congratulatory story implies.  

The Washington Post may at times be animated by the spirit of the original progressive muckrakers, but it has also become a very powerful organization in its own right, with formidable institutional allies throughout the culture and political system. Those institutions now confront a new set of muckrakers, and that the institutions lean left and the muckrakers lean right doesn’t change the hierarchical character of their conflict. Neither does the fact that the muckrakers often have powerful allies of their own. 

When a person working for a powerful media outlet goes after an ordinary citizen, it can’t help but look like ideologically motivated bullying — which, of course, confirms everything today’s right-wing muckrakers say about their progressive opponents. The best way for the Post and other leading institutions of American public life to defend themselves against the populist onslaught from the right, then, is for them to resist the temptation to sink to the same level. The powerful will never beat muckrakers at their own game.

Damon Linker, ‌How a Washington Post exposé played into right-wing muckrakers’ hands, on Taylor Lorenz’s doxxing of the woman behind the Libs of Tik-Tok Twitter account.

When the center shifts leftward

I don’t think Biden is an extremist, but I don’t think he’s a moderate either. He’s a moderate Democrat, and as such has moved left with his party. The examples abound. 

It wasn’t enough to pass an infrastructure package that Trump couldn’t pass. He had to move towards an FDR-style “Build Back Better” platform that even a president who possessed a popular mandate would struggle to pass.

It wasn’t enough to ratify largely-existing legal protections for LGBT Americans. He had to support an Equality Act that would take direct aim at religious liberty and sweep even into arenas—like athletics—where very real biological differences between men and women should be acknowledged and respected.

It wasn’t enough to try to target electoral reforms at the weak point that almost caused a constitutional crisis, the Electoral Count Act. He had to support a massive, sweeping rewrite of the entire electoral system that included a number of provisions that blatantly violated the Constitution

Even where Biden’s solidly in the mainstream, he’s suffered from imprudence. The prime example, and the moment where his approval rating really started its decline, was the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I’ve said it many times—Americans wanted to end the war, but they did not want to lose the war. A more prudent leader would have recognized the distinction.

David French, ‌Can’t Anything Be Normal for Five Minutes?

So how is this supposed to work?

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis … signed legislation earlier this month codifying Coloradan’s “right to make reproductive health-care decisions free from government interference.”

The Morning Dispatch, ‌States Prepare for a Possible Post-Roe Future

I’m not sure how a law like that would work. If there’s no Colorado law interfering with “reproductive health-care decisions,” the law does nothing. Should such an “interfering” law pass, would it not implicitly supersede this law where they conflict?? Is the Colorado law mostly aimed at restrictions coming from Cities and Counties?

Squandered credibility

In his Very Serious newsletter, Josh Barro had one of the most eminently reasonable takes on the end of the federal public transportation mask mandate. “Mourning the rule we lost yesterday only makes sense if your interest in masks is more about how we should regard COVID than how we should prevent it. That is, if you just liked seeing people forced to make sartorial expressions like your own about how much they care about COVID, then yesterday was indeed a sad day for you,” he writes. “The public health establishment still has not grappled with the damage it’s done to its reputation by failing to respect the fact that members of the public have different values and preferences than their own, or to place any value at all on individual freedom. There is a cost to ordering people around all the time, and if you’re too obnoxious about it, your powers to do so will be taken away. This is part of why leaving the transportation mandate in place so long was such a mistake: The more capricious an enforcement measure looks, the more likely it is the courts will find some justification to throw it out.”

The Morning Dispatch

Wordplay

My wife first noticed it and now I see it everywhere. Example:

Big rise seen in amount of EU migrant entries

Not number, but amount.

I guess it feels a bit dehumanizing to think of people being measured by the cubic yard (or some other measure) rather than as individuals.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mixed bags

Public Affairs

Public Intellectuals

If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star.

Michael Lind. An arresting thesis, elaborated to a fair degree, beginning with:

That’s because, in the third decade of the 21st century, intellectual life on the American center left is dead. Debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women Are Women, 1619, Defund the Police. The space to the left-of-center that was once filled with magazines and organizations devoted to what Diana Trilling called the “life of significant contention” is now filled by the ritualized gobbledygook of foundation-funded, single-issue nonprofits like a pond choked by weeds.

He eventually recounts how the same thing happened to conservatism shortly after the collapse of Communism, concluding on a hopeful note:

What survives of intellectual politics in the United States today consists of a growing number of exiles from establishment wokeness on Substack and an assortment of dissident leftists, conservatives, and populists, some of whom have come together in new publications like American Affairs, Compact, and The Bellows, and in quirkier couture shops like Tablet.

John Henry Ramirez

One SCOTUS case we all seemed to agree on (except for Justice Thomas) was that involving John Henry Ramirez, who wanted his clergyman in the death chamber, praying aloud with hands laid on John Henry. Texas said “no” (Texas is a very mixed bag), but it lost.

But there’s now a strage twist:

When a judge in South Texas signed an order this past week setting an execution date of Oct. 5 for John Henry Ramirez, it seemed like the end of the road.

Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a convenience store worker, a crime he has acknowledged committing. He was sentenced to death and appealed his case to the Supreme Court — not to stop his execution, but to prepare for it. He asked to have his Baptist pastor pray out loud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber, a request that brought his case national notoriety. Last month, the court ruled in his favor, clearing the path for his execution to proceed as long as the state of Texas complied with his request.

But in a surprise turn of events on Thursday, District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County filed a motion withdrawing the death warrant for Mr. Ramirez, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” His own office had requested the execution date just days earlier, but Mr. Gonzalez, a Democrat, wrote in his motion that an employee in his office had done so without consulting him.

In a broadcast from his office on Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gonzalez, whose district includes Corpus Christi, where the crime occurred, explained his decision.

“For a while now, I’ve said that I don’t believe in the death penalty,” he said. “My office is not going to seek the death penalty anymore.” He said he would be a hypocrite if he advanced Mr. Ramirez’s execution even as he instructs his office not to pursue the death penalty in new cases. Mr. Gonzalez and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

New York Times (emphasis added).

It just goes to show you never can tell.

Gender nonconformities

Why the surge?

After I scanned New York Times Opinions yesterday morning, Ross Douthat dropped a bombshell analysis of what’s going on with the surge in self-reported cases of various gender nonconformities (and a few related things). It came to my attention via Alan Jacobs’ succinct response.

If it’s not already clear, I fall in Douthat’s third “possible reading” of Gallup polling on the surge:

This trend is bad news. What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.

Add to the surge the readiness of many doctors to hormonally and surgically “confirm” kids’ brand-new-but-vehement genders and it’s a real mess.

Douthat closes thus:

I will make a prediction: Within not too short a span of time, not only conservatives but most liberals will recognize that we have been running an experiment on trans-identifying youth without good or certain evidence, inspired by ideological motives rather than scientific rigor, in a way that future generations will regard as a grave medical-political scandal.**

Which means that if you are a liberal who believes as much already, but you don’t feel comfortable saying it, your silence will eventually become your regret.

Jacobs doesn’t entirely agree:

I think this prediction will partly, but not wholly, come true. I do believe that there will be a change of direction, but for the most part it will be a silent one, an unspoken course correction; and on the rare occasions that anyone is called to account for their recklessness, they’ll say, as a different group of enthusiasts did some decades ago, “We only did what we thought was best. We only believed the children.” But they won’t have to say it often, because the Ministry of Amnesia will perform its usual erasures ….

I took the bait and followed his links on “believing the children” and the “Ministry of Amnesia,” and I’m glad I did. I intend to add “children’s crusades” and “Ministry of Amnesia” to my rhetorical armory, thought the first seems more perfect that the second:

One clever little specialty of adult humans works like this: You very carefully (and, if you’re smart, very subtly) instruct children in the moral stances you’d like them to hold. Then, when they start to repeat what you’ve taught them, you cry “Out of the mouths of babes! And a little child shall lead them!” And you very delicately maneuver the children to the front of your procession, so that they appear to be leading it — but of course you make sure all along that you’re steering them in the way that they should go. It’s a social strategy with a very long history.

So, for instance, when you hear this:

“It’s the children who are now leading us,” said Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health for the clinic. “They’re coming in and telling us, ‘I’m no gender.’ Or they’re saying, ‘I identify as gender nonbinary.’ Or ‘I’m a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m a unique gender, I’m transgender. I’m a rainbow kid, I’m boy-girl, I’m everything.’”

— certain alarms should ring. No child came up with the phrase “I identify as gender nonbinary.” It is a faithful echo of an adult’s words.

Alan Jacobs, children’s crusades

Raccoon gender vibe

Even as the Biden admin goes hard on pushing for medical interventions for gender dysphoric teenagers (green-lighting double mastectomies and the like), the mainstream media is finally listening to trans clinicians and trans adults who have been sounding an alarm: The teenage transitions are out of control. 

Here’s a profile in the Los Angeles Times this week of the brave Erica Anderson, a clinician and trans woman (Abigail Shrier quoted her in her groundbreaking Common Sense story last year). Anderson lets the LA Times reporter sit in on a session with a kid who is not sure about their gender and who talks about how their friends identify as things like raccoon gender vibe: “One friend says that their gender is the same vibe as a raccoon. They’re saying that their gender has the same, like, chaotic, dumpster vibes as raccoons.” 

Also this week, adult trans woman Corinna Cohn wrote a heartbreaking essay for the Washington Post about sex reassignment surgery and what it has been like to never have experienced orgasm, warning young people not to do this so quickly, not to give up that part of life so quickly. “From the day of my surgery, I became a medical patient and will remain one for the rest of my life,” she writes. And: “I chose an irreversible change before I’d even begun to understand my sexuality.”

And in a third vibe shift this week: JK Rowling hosted a boozy lunch with England’s greatest old world feminists. Critics call these women TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) because they do not want mixed-sex prisons or sports. The TERFs may have been hounded out of jobs and polite liberal society, but they are having fun.

Nellie Bowles, ‌But the dam has broken on trans issues in her weekly newsletter.

Ultimate things

Just, merciful, humble … and smooth

It occurs to me that over the last 30 years or so, I’ve been repeatedly exposed to Evangelical Protestant types who center their public expressions of faith on Micah 6:8.

Now that’s is a perfectly lovely verse:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

But it is part of the Old Testament, and the immediate context is God wanting justice, mercy and humility rather than empty sacrifices:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

I suspect, knowing some of the Micahphiles, that this verse is a kind of virtue-signaling, a way of saying “We’re not fundamentalists or Religious Right crypto-Theocrats.

But it’s getting a little bit old. Might I commend a substitute: Genesis 27:11?

You’re judging me?

I was in Jerusalem, and in the morning I was at the Holy Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am not a good friend of the early morning, but it was very early. There were Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Muslims, Catholics, Copts, and all the people in there. And I was judging God: if we are the right faith, the right confession, why couldn’t you give to us this sacred place? One of the consequences of my conversion was that I was becoming very strict. God told me, in the same way as the first time, ‘I’ve been struggling for many years to bring them together, and you’re judging me?’ I realized it was the only place on earth where everybody is in there together around God, even if they’re fighting each other, they are there with God.

Father Chyrsostom, a Romanian Monk, to Rod Dreher

Sholasticism versus Orthodoxy

Orthodox often feel that Latin scholastic theology makes too much use of legal concepts, and relies too heavily on rational categories and syllogistic argumentation, while the Latins for their part have frequently found the more mystical approach of Orthodoxy too vague and ill-defined.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church.

I encountered this distinction long ago, when I was investigating what the Orthodox Church was, and I’ve found it very durable and fruitful. However, I recently encountered a possible caveat:

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. …

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Putting things in perspective

The Elder Cleopa from the Sihastria monastery, who is now in the process of canonization, had the habit of recommending patience as the greatest virtue. He would say, “Patience! Patience!” harder and harder, many times.

People would say, “But Father Cleopa, how long?” He would say, “Not so long — just until the grave.” After that, you will see beauty that eye hasn’t seen and ear hasn’t heard, and your heart has never felt. Those beauties are eternal.

Via Rod Dreher


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Midweek meanderings

Plain speaking

I commented the other day on Freddie deBoer not mincing words. Neither, here, does J Peters:

We’re Lesbians on the Autism Spectrum. Stop Telling Us to Become Men

I thought of her essay as I read Abigail Shrier’s latest, a take-down of Jen Psaki and the Biden Administration’s policies on supposedly transgender teens — maybe the wickedest and stupidest Biden policy yet.

But the wicked, stupid Biden policy fits a current brain-dead ideology. Andrew Sullivan goes after it at length, from his particular concern about what it does to homosexual kids. A taste:

[N]o one is LGBTQIA++. It’s literally impossible. And the difference between the gay and trans experience is vast, especially when it comes to biological sex.

Maybe the only unique contribution Sullivan makes on this is to embed some teacher training videos that give the lie to the establishment’s charge that concerns over subversive teaching is a made-up, astroturf matter.

Student Loan policy

In his latest Bloomberg column, Matthew Yglesias points out the inflationary effects of the Biden administration’s renewal of the student loan repayment moratorium—while noting it won’t even benefit that many people. “The economy no longer needs stimulus—in fact, it needs to restrain demand,” he writes, noting the non-collection of student loans has the “opposite” effect. “A majority of the public, meanwhile, has $0 in student debt. If you limit your analysis to people under 30, the median student loan balance is still $0. For African-Americans, it’s $0. Most people do not go to college and do not incur student loan debt, and those non-debtors have lower incomes on average than the people who do go to college and do have debt. Restarting student debt collections would restrain inflation at the expense of a disproportionately high-income minority of the population. Broad debt cancellation, by contrast, would boost inflation.”

The Morning Dispatch

(This topic is a pet peeve of mine.)

The spade and the keyboard

The spade and the keyboard are two very different tools, but one thing they have in common is their ability to break the human body.

… Both may give you sore arms, but there is a difference between a keyboard and a spade. A spade can still be made fairly simply. It doesn’t need constant energy to keep going. It can last a long time, if you treat it well, rather like your body. A keyboard and a spade are both products of an industrial economy, but not to the same extent, and they do not have the same purpose. One can exist independently, the other cannot. This might be a matter of degrees, but the degrees matter – and so does the intent.

There’s another point too, though, and perhaps it is a more important one: nobody ever got addicted to a spade ….

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene

"News"

Every morning, there it is, waiting for me on my phone. The bullshit. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as “knowledgeable sources” and “experts differ,” what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin. It does impart information, strictly speaking, but not always information about our world. Or not good information, because it’s so often wrong, particularly on matters of great import and invariably to the advantage of the same interests, which suggests it should be presumed wrong as a rule.

I’m stipulating these points, I’m not debating them, so log off if you find them too extreme. Go read more bullshit. Immerse yourself in news of Russian plots to counterfeit presidential children’s laptops, viruses spawned in Wuhan market stalls, vast secret legions of domestic terrorists flashing one another the OK sign in shadowy parking lots behind Bass Pro Shops experiencing “temporary” inflation, and patriotic tech conglomerates purging the commons of untruths. Comfort yourself with the thoughts that the same fortunes engaged in the building of amusement parks, the production and distribution of TV comedies, and the provision of computing services to the defense and intelligence establishments, have allied to protect your family’s health, advance the causes of equity and justice, and safeguard our democratic institutions. Dismiss as cynical the notion that you, the reader, are not their client but their product. Your data for their bullshit, that’s the deal. And Build Back Better. That’s the sermon.

Pious bullshit, unceasing. But what to do?

One option, more popular each day, is to retreat to the anti-bullshit universe of alternative media sources. These are the podcasts, videos, Twitter threads, newsletters, and Facebook pages that regularly vanish from circulation for violating “community standards” and other ineffable codes of conduct, oft-times after failing “fact-checks” by the friendly people at Good Thoughtkeeping. Some of these rebel outfits are engrossing, some dull and churchy, many quite bizarre, and some, despite small staffs and tiny budgets, remarkably good and getting better. Some are Substack pages owned by writers who severed ties with established publications, drawing charges of being Russian agents, crypto-anarchists, or free-speech “absolutists.”

Walter Kirn, The Bullshit

Delights

New news models

This seems a good time for an uplifting word. Our local newspaper is pretty much what Kirn (preceding item) describes, but a recently-retired, not-yet-really-old, inkstained wretch has started a Substack that regular reports (5-6 days per week) local developments that actually matter. Like Purdue University planning 1200+ new dormitory beds because freshman enrollment topped 10,000 this year, and the total enrollment almost 50,000. There’s tons of off-campus housing, but maybe not enough, and President Mitch Daniels reports that students in dorms perform better than those off campus.

And he is recruiting some of his former colleagues as contributors. There’s high-class fairly unobtrusive advertisements, but that keeps the subscription cost a bit lower.

Now that is an Angel!

A cyber-friend of mine publishes a newsletter that introduced me to this wonderful painting and its author, Henry Osawa Tanner:

The subject (and title) is Annunciation. I much prefer that intense pillar of light to any anthropomorphic depiction of angels I’ve seen — if only because confronted by this, one might need to hear "fear not," while the anthropomorphic depictions elicit no fear at all.

Sundry observations

Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.

Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age


Cosmopolitans cannot escape the limits of Dunbar’s Number. Thus, cosmopolitanism is just a special case of parochialism — one with a curated, international parish.

And they’re not even nicer than the frankly parochial parochials; cosmopolitans microaggress parochials in flyover country nonstop from their high coastal thrones.

(H/T to Jonah Goldberg and Megan McArdle on Jonah’s The Remnant podcast.)


If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom.

Kurt Vonnegut via the Economist Daily Briefing


If Christianity is the one, true religion, is it that much of a stretch to believe that there is one, true expression of Christianity?

Carlton, Clark, The Way, 1998 Edition

Disgraces

Tom Cotton

Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed, but we should remember who disgraced themselves in opposition:

To lambast [Supreme Court Justice] Jackson because she claimed that the accused terrorists she represented were ‘totally innocent’ — yes, even if she was simply copying and pasting objections — is to make a mockery of the rule of law. Perhaps aware of this, Cotton made sure to acknowledge that ‘it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a lawyer for being willing to take on an unpopular case.’ But that’s what he did, over and over and over again.

Charles C.W. Cooke, on lawyer Tom Cotton, via Andrew Sullivan

Groomer-talkers

I think if we call all of them groomers and pedophiles, we are no better than they are, and conservatives have a long-standing issue with the left using ‘racist’ for everything thereby devaluing what actual racism is. I don’t want the word ‘racism’ devalued and I don’t want to devalue what it means to actually groom a child for abuse.

Erick Erickson, via Andrew Sullivan

CRT Provocateurs

[C]onservative alarm wasn’t simply organic. Opportunistic activists like James Lindsay and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo intentionally and explicitly redefined CRT. Here’s Rufo in a tweet thread with Lindsay:

We have successfully frozen their brand—“critical race theory—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

He proceeded to be as good as his word, and now the right-wing conversation about CRT is all but useless.

David French. This was an uncommonly good post by French, responding to Astroturf alarmism over Critical Race Theory.

I would invite French to consider the possibility, however, that James Lindsay is not an opportunistic activist, but a critic of shoddy scholarship in several "critial theories".

Boston Athletic Association

Historical parallels often spring to mind when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the brutality and megalomania of Vladimir Putin, many are reminded of Adolf Hitler. In the soaring rhetoric and heroic defiance of Volodymyr Zelensky, others hear echoes of Winston Churchill. In the moral outrage but relatively cautious policies of Joe Biden, there’s a touch of George — Wouldn’t Be Prudent — H.W. Bush.

And in Wednesday’s decision by the Boston Athletic Association to prohibit runners from Russia and Belarus from competing in this year’s Boston Marathon, we recall the words of Otter, one of the frat house characters from “National Lampoon’s Animal House”: “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

Bret Stephens. Having reached that punchline, I didn’t finish the Op-Ed.

Menno Simons

Another Radical Reformation theologian set forth a Christology that said the Son of God became man not “of the womb” of Mary, but rather simply “in the womb” (Menno Simons), which means that Jesus’ humanity is a new creation, not an assumption of the humanity created in Adam. Mary becomes a kind of surrogate mother, and Jesus is not truly a member of our race. (See the painting of the Annunciation, above, too.)

Father Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy

I heard something like this on WMBI, the radio network of Evangelicalism’s Moody Bible Institute: a woman show host breathlessly sharing how Jesus came down to earth from heaven through Mary like water through a pipe. I’m inclined to think it was extemporaneous blather, but it was pernicious blather.

I’m not sure there is an agreed Evangelical account of Mary’s role in salvation history, but if there were, and if it were sound, they wouldn’t be giving her the short shrift they give her now.

Fundamentalists

The 1960s and early 1970s—the so-called Long Sixties—saw the election of the first Catholic president, the Supreme Court decision banning prayer and Bible reading in the schools, the civil rights movement, the protests against the Vietnam War, and the Roe v. Wade decision. Surprisingly, only the fundamentalists objected to all of them.

Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals

Close, but no banana. Few fundamentalists objected to Roe v. Wade initially. How they came to object, in my uninvestigated opinion (though I lived through those times), is bound up with the rise of the Religious Right and its need for wedge issues. (This does not imply that opposition was wrong. Of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made.)

Wordplay

We define ourselves now by what we are not. And what we are not is everything we used to be.

Paul Kingsnorth


The only time I ever feel ashamed of being gay is on Gay Pride Day.

Bruce Bawer via Jonathan Rausch


Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux.
(The real journey of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.)

Marcel Proust via Nicolas Crose on Micro.blog.

I almost feel as if Proust were dissing my wanderlust.


Denouncement: An ersatz "denunciation" from the Dispatch. Denouncement appears to be in the dictionary, but old men get to grouse about things anyway, and I hates it! The only excuse I can see for it is to make English easier for ESL folk, which also impoverishes it sometimes.


Périphérique: (or “La France périphérique”), a term to describe parts of France left behind by high-speed trains and breezy ambition—where voters are now being desperately courted by presidential candidates.

The Economist. I assume these are Marine LePen’s base, and that Macron ignores them at his peril.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

An oddball Evangelical finds a home in Orthodoxy

One of his first converts was Samuel Crane, who had been a devout Calvinist but was deeply perplexed by the apparent contradiction between the idea of an eternally fixed number of elect and reprobate and the idea that salvation was free for anyone to take: He supposed it must be as the [Calvinist] minister said, for he was a good man, and a very learned man; and of course it must be owing to his own ignorance and dulness that he could not understand it. On one occasion, as he was returning home from church, meditating on what he had heard, he became so vexed with himself, on account of his dulness of apprehension, that he suddenly stopped and commenced pounding his head with his fist, for he really thought his stupidity must be owing to his having an uncommonly thick skull. When Crane finally accepted Methodism, “he found a system that seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures, with common sense, and with experience.”

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Religion

Unlike Samuel Crane, I was not as perplexed by Calvinism as I probably should have been. Yet the Sunday after my 49th birthday, I left Calvinism and formally entered the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. It seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures (including the ones we were never told to underline), with common sense, and with experience. It was so obviously right once I explored it that I assumed lots of others would follow. It’s fair to say that only one did.

So I’m left wondering "why me?" Why am I the lucky one?

It’s inevitable that telling of one’s religious conversion — and it’s hard for me to view a move from Calvinist to Orthodox as anything less than a conversion, though both are Christian in some sense — will have a whiff of proselytism to it. I’ve tried to minimize that and just tell my story, though my story would be incomplete without a modest conclusion.

Major life decisions, I’m pretty well convinced, rarely hinge on arguments. They’re always undergirded by life experiences and attitudes, which are at most obliquely causal. They’re also so complex as to seem inexhaustible. I told a fuller story of going Evangelical-to-Calvinist-to-Orthodox in one truthful way almost five years ago: A life in a string of epiphanies – Tipsy Teetotaler ن.

But I often think that seeds were planted, and that my disposition somehow was shaped, decades earlier, so that my reception into Orthodoxy truly was a sort of "coming home" — like an adoptee stumbling across his birth parents.

Here’s what I mean.

My favorite Bible verses were not even in the "Top 100" list of favorite Evangelical Bible verses.

As long ago as high school, I became (and remained) fixated on some New Testament passages that were, shall we say, far out of the Evangelical mainstream.

First was Ephesians 3:17-18 in the Living Bible that was so popular then, praying that “Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts” and “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” My Evangelical contemporaries were likelier to pick John 3:16 or Acts 16:31, relieved that one key decision for Christ, once-in-a-lifetime, sealed the deal and there really was nothing more required.

But I didn’t think I had the deep roots the Apostle was praying for, but I wanted them, for myself and my friends. I may even have declared it my “life verse,” life verses being an Evangelical kid thing at least where I was. If I did, it has held up very well.

But in Evangelicalism, sinking deep roots seemed to be off the radar, or reduced to a matter of becoming more theologically astute, doing more Bible study, elaborating doctrinal outlines and such. Those are mostly good things (I’m not so sure about doctrinal outlines any more), but they amount to knowing about God, not knowing Him or having deep roots.

I was also fascinated with Romans 12:2, about the transforming of our “minds” (which came close to “life verse” status), which I thought would eventually come if I became more theologically astute. That was a fool’s errand.

And then there was a real baffler, Hebrews 6:1-2, which referred to “repentance from dead works … faith toward God … the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” as “the elementary principles of Christ!” I just couldn’t imagine what more advanced there could be than these seemingly weighty things, but I wanted it. And here I wasn’t convinced that theological astuteness in the Evangelical manner had any chance of hitting pay dirt.

I wanted to worship God when I went to a "Worship Service"

Call me petty, or Aspie, or whatever, but I thought worship services should be full of, like, y’know, worship or something.

I had no objection in principle to Christians playing hail-fellow-well-met, back-slapping and exchanging anodynes and nostrums, or talking like coaches getting the guys ready to go out there and win one for Jesus. But the time and place for that was somewhere other than the Nave between 9:30 and noon on Sunday.

So it seemed to me, and I was adamant about that. The irresistable force of happy-clappy and motivational Church services was strangely resistable to me.

Music selection was what really bugged me. By the time I was Christian Reformed, I was in a Church that had a full Psalter, versified for congregational singing. But even there, we sang way too few of them, preferring to sing things that were relatively emotional and manipulative, that 100 years earlier would have gotten one in deep trouble in that denomination. I called them "gospel songs" instead of "hymns," but I see some sign that my terminology isn’t undisputed. In any event, they weren’t Psalms, which alone were sung in the CRC until maybe the late-19th Century.

There were other things I could have taken exception to, but the music was what got me riled. And then a faction of the Church wanted drums and guitars and more "celebrative" services, which horrified me. I just didn’t think that an emotion jag meant one was worshipping.

So my entire Protestant experience of "worship" was years of drought with an occasional delightful shower (a very good "hymn" as I defined hymn).

(Brief digression: to my knowledge, the Orthodox Church only sings one hymn that appeared in any hymnal in any church I regularly attended. We sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent on Great and Holy Saturday. I’m even allowed to do the versified version, Picardy (8.7.8.7.8.7), which is used in Western Rite Orthodoxy. We share some ancient hymns with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, too, but I was never Episcopalian or Roman Catholic.)

I had, apparently, a latent desire to worship with my body

As noted in my prior telling of my conversion:

My first experience of [Orthodox] Liturgy shocked me. I found myself immediately making a clumsy sign of the cross and genuflecting toward the Catholic hospital chapel’s altar, like a Roman Catholic.

It felt good. It felt as if those bodily gestures had been bottled up and were now breaking out. They felt natural

Maybe I should call those feelings “epiphany number four,” but it didn’t impress me quite that strongly at the time. And there’s a reason I blog under the rubric “Intellectualoid”: I tend to discount feelings as a reliable guide.

I didn’t consciously experience that Liturgy as "I’ve come home," but there was more than a whiff of that to it.

Orthodox worship is full of signing ourselves with the cross, bowing, kneeling, prostrating. My experience of body-involvement in Protestant worship was limited to a few gestures like holding up hands and lifting up fluttering eyelids, which somehow felt ersatz.

I was at best reluctantly dispensational premillennialist

Again, I told about my relationship to dispensationalism as Epiphany 3 in my prior telling of my conversion. It’s not worth quoting again, but my hesitancy about dispensationalism left me outside of the Evangelical mainstream.

I hesitate to make discomfort with that novelty a mark of Orthodoxy, because dispensationalism is only about 200 years, when Presbyterian, Reformed and Anglican churches were already a few hundred years old. My attitude toward end-times prophecy would have been pretty mainstream in any of those slightly-older churches, as it’s totally mainstream in Orthodoxy.**

But in my perception, dispensationalism is a mark of mainstream Evangelicalism and even has infected Presbyterian and Reformed Churches that tend to the Evangelical side. So my discomfort was likely to crop up most anywhere I went in Protestantism in these days.

I believed the Creeds and thought they were important

I suspect that the "Apostles Creed" is said rarely in frankly-Evangelical Churches today, and that the Nicene Creed is vanishingly rare. That’s a trend I think was starting 50 years or more ago. (Spot check: Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois lists its "Beliefs and Values" as "Love God. Love People. Change the World." That’s even worse that I feared.)

The Apostles Creed, though, remained a weekly feature in the Christian Reformed order of worship, with the Nicene Creed thrown in occasionally for a little spice.

By the end of my 20s, I think, I began calling myself “orthodox with a lower-case O.” I was, I thought, a “Mere Christian,” which I described as “believing the ecumenical creeds of the Church without mental reservations.” I learned more about them when I was Christian Reformed.

I’ve learned even more as an Orthodox Christian, but that could be its own story.

I wanted the original faith, which I took to be the purest

I wanted to be orthodox in that creedal sense. I and others detected proto-Calvinism in St. Augustine, and he was early enough that I thought I had finally joined with the early church, which is also what I wanted.

But I knew almost nothing about actual Orthodoxy. (Summary of what I knew: The Russian Orthodox have some awesome music. Orthodox Priests wear beards and funny hats. Orthodox isn’t the same as Catholic. Those were, mostly, true.)

An iconographer I met recently told of his first encounter with Orthodoxy:

I went to the Holy Land and encountered Orthodoxy. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was Christian, but vastly different, far older than my Methodist Church.

Indeed, and a few centuries older even than St. Augustine, who I looked to to buttress the "original faith" bona fides of Reformed Christianity.

The Orthodox Church recognizes Augustine as a Saint, but an unusually flawed one owing to his isolation in the West, when was still a Christian backwater, and his substantial ignorance of Greek and the Greek Church Fathers. So when I thought Augustine was early enough to be the original faith, I was wrong for practical purposes.

Afterthought

These are the things in my history and attitude that I think foreshadowed that my heart would find rest only in the Orthodox Faith. I began writing this many months ago, thinking that more proto-Orthodoxies would occur to me, but they really haven’t, and I don’t want to make things up.

My story would be incomplete were I not to say that all these desires that made me an odd-ball Evangelical and Calvinist have been (or are being) satisfied in Orthodoxy (though I’ve come to understand Creeds differently now). I cannot deny that they might have been satisfied in traditional Roman Catholicism, but that seems largely to have disappeared as Rome has Protestantized in the wake of Vatican II.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 4/2/2022

The Ivies

Academic blinders

Fred Smith decided to step down as chief executive of FedEx, which he founded 50 years ago. Mr Smith came up with the idea of a logistics firm based around transport hubs in an economics paper when he was a student at Yale in 1965. The paper received a poor grade from his professor; FedEx is now a global giant with annual sales of $84bn.

Item in the Economist

Selling out

Kids say the darndest things:

Princeton sophomore: "I don’t want to sell out by doing something like going to McKinsey when I graduate."

Princeton senior (on her way to Goldman): "It won’t be selling out if you put a Black Lives Matter sign up on your lawn."

Robert P. George on Twitter

Ruso-Ukrainian war

End of History

Every time something dramatic happens in the world, someone feeling clever tweets “remember the end of history?” But the actual thesis of the book was that communism was the Final Boss of global ideology and that from there on out, the struggle for democracy would be just a fight against not-democracy — people who want to rig elections or crack down on opposition parties for squalid self-interested reasons — rather than against conflicting ideologies.

Matt Yglesias

What Putin is doing to Russia

Russia’s potential is being set back by decades; the young, educated and creative are leaving; and the hard men are ascendant. Once again, Russia has become a pariah spreading lies and death.

Reports from Russia, and from some friends I’ve reached, speak to a widespread dismay and shame among younger, educated, urban Russians …

A growing number of educated Russians began flowing out of Russia, some to Kyiv. When I visited there some years ago, I met several prominent Russian journalists who were, in effect, living in exile …

When the word spread that the invasion had begun, the brain drain became a rush for the doors. With flights to more than 30 countries now stopped, the twice-daily trains to Finland have been full, and many more Russians have being fleeing south to Georgia, where they don’t need a visa, or through Gulf States.

Serge Schmemann, ‌Putin Is Setting Back Russia’s Potential By Decades

134,499 smart young Russians emigrate

Reuters reported Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order drafting 134,500 new conscripts into the Russian army, a move the Kremlin claimed was routine and unrelated to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. “Most military personnel will undergo professional training in training centers for three to five months,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. “Let me emphasize that recruits will not be sent to any hot spots.”

The Morning Dispatch

Exoneratring Ginni Thomas

This is unlike anything else I’ve read about the Ginni Thomas (Mrs. Justice Clarence Thomas) Tweets on on around January 6. 2020:

Ginni Thomas’ texts were bonkers, and not just Japanese game show bonkers. They were legitimately disturbing. But a lot of people seem to miss the point. There’s a lot of talk that she was part of a coup. And in one sense she obviously was. But a plain reading of the texts shows that she didn’t think she was. She thought—wrongly!—that she was on the side preventing a coup. You can argue—easily and persuasively—that she was duped. But where is the evidence that she didn’t believe what she was saying to Mark Meadows in private text exchanges? You gotta pick a theory: Was she a willing and knowing participant in an effort to illegally steal an election, or was she effectively brainwashed by the people trying to steal it? Both can’t be true. So far, all of the evidence points to the latter. After all, this is a woman who couldn’t understand why Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani had become liabilities for the cause. And almost as bizarre, she believed a conspiracy theorist’s report that the “Biden crime family” was being arrested for treason and heading to prison barges off the coast of Guantanamo. Again, she wasn’t saying this on TV, she was saying it privately.

Ginni Thomas is not Roger Stone. I think it’s obvious that Stone is a liar and fraud who deliberately spun bogus claims to help Trump steal the election. Ginni Thomas is simply guilty of thinking that Stone and his imitators were serious people. It doesn’t reflect well on her. But until new evidence is provided, I think she’s guilty of being a true believer, not a cynical plotter. This is important for all sorts of reasons, not least that all of the people going after her husband need her to be a knowing villain rather than a victim of the villains. Distinctions matter.

Jonah Goldberg

I intend for this to be my last blog post about Mrs. Thomas, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first, too.

Modern Monetary Theory lives in the hearts of its True Believers

Remember MMT? Modern Monetary Theory was the notion, advanced by a small but influential group of very smart people, that our government can just keep printing money, traditional concerns—deficits, inflation—be damned. This view was advanced by Bernie Sanders’s economic advisor and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, whose policy dreams required the government to print trillions of dollars for every social cause under the sun (Green New Deal! Medicare for All!) and by Goldman Sachs, which loved the idea of a hot economy and cheap money. Covid relief was to be the big tryout. The enemy was that old man Larry Summers, trying to ruin all the fun. The Times’s Ezra Klein slips a small mea culpa in this week in an interview with Summers: “There was a reason the Biden administration wanted to run the economy hot. . . .  It felt, finally, like we were reaching people on the margins,” Klein said. “We were putting a lot of firepower to do that,” he said. “And then for that to then turn into this horrifying inflation problem.”

One of MMT’s original economist proponents is now saying Biden did it wrong with the Covid spending and, therefore, true MMT has still never been tried.

Nellie Bowles. "X hasn’t failed; X hasn’t really, properly, been tried" is the last refuge of almost every ideologue.

A book I really need to read

[Julien] Benda introduced Treason with a story about Leo Tolstoy. When Tolstoy witnessed a fellow officer beat a man who fell out of marching ranks, he asked the officer if he had never heard of the gospels. The officer, in reply, asked if Tolstoy had never heard of the army regulations. For Benda, it was reasonable that the officer replied as he did, but it was nonetheless crucial that there be men like Tolstoy to protest. These men were the clercs—loosely translated, “scribes” with the hint of ecclesiastical status. “It is thanks to these scribes … that humanity did evil for two thousand years but nonetheless paid tribute to the good,” Benda wrote. “This contradiction was an honour to the human race, opening up the crack whereby civilisation could occasionally slip through.”

… For Benda, intellectuals should stand athwart history yelling “No” when they saw the “transcendental values” of truth, beauty, and justice traduced. Paradoxically, they fulfilled their role as intellectuals when they engaged in political protest. Benda cited several exemplary cases of such engagement: Émile Zola’s intervention in the Dreyfus affair; Voltaire’s defence of Jean Calas; Spinoza’s “ultimi barbarorum” following the lynching of the de Witt brothers. Benda thought thnat Treason was itself a paradigmatic case of intellectual responsibility.

Gustav Jönsson, Treason of the Intellectuals

It seems as if every serious writer I read has read and grappled with Julien Benda.

For what it’s worth

David French

David French increasingly has been getting called out for disloyalty to the Evangelical Tribe, as here for the latest known instance ("uncharitable about the defects of his fellow evangelicals, even as he basks in the approval of writers like [David] Brooks").

I follow French pretty closely, and whatever his shortcomings, I sense nothing but friendly disappointment and a (doomed) effort to see Evangelicals do better.

To say that’s not what he’s up to because he writes for Atlantic and, sometimes, the New York Times seems more insulting to Evangelicals tacitly (as is "soft bigotry of low expectations") than anything French says outright.

KBJ

Despite what hyper-partisan Linda Greenhouse says, I do not think there’s anything unusually vile, by post-Bork standards, about the behavior of Senate Republicans in the Ketanji Brown Jackson SCOTUS confirmation proceedings.

I wish it were otherwise, but the Democrats, led by Ted Kennedy, fired the first shots in the episode that gave us the term "Borked." Compared to that, nothing Republicans have asked or said is very noteworthy — unless one thinks that the focus on child pornography is consciously playing to the QAnon set.

I expect Jackson to be confirmed and there will be no asterisk by her name in history.

The Best Thing about retirement

Of all social media sites, LinkedIn is by far my least favourite, a prison of mindless platitudes and the worst kind of dreary corporate diversity+inclusion drivel. You can connect to me here — it will improve your career and life not a single bit, but please don’t contact me via LinkedIn. I’d rather you turned up unexpectedly at my front door, naked and screaming passages from the Bible.

So, asks Trung Phan on Substack, Why is LinkedIn so cringe?

Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman has the answer: in a book called The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life, Goffman posits that every person goes through life wearing many “masks”, like an actor in a theatre play. Most people are different personalities at work vs. home vs. happy hour. People wear these different masks to impress or avoid embarrassment with different audiences…

The setup forces everyone on the site to basically wear the professional “CV mask” of their personality. Bland. Buzzwords. Inoffensive. A little exaggeration. Self-promotional (but not too much). Desperate to impress.

It’s ghastly.

Ed West

One of the very best things about retirement was abandoning my neglected LinkedIn account.

Disunification Church

In Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity v. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, Inc., (MD PA, March 30, 2022), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed on ecclesiastical abstention grounds a trademark dispute between the Unification Church (HSA), led by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s wife, and defendant Unification Sanctuary, an organization created by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s son to spread Rev. Moon’s teachings. At issue is the right of Sanctuary to use the trademarked Twelve Gates symbol. The court said in part:

While it is undisputed that the Twelve Gates symbol is registered with the USPTO in HSA’s name, Sanctuary contends that the Twelve Gates symbol is not entitled to trademark protection because the symbol has become generic as a universal religious symbol that represents Unificationism generally….

[T]he implicit question raised … is whether Sanctuary can be classified as a branch of the Unificationist church in light of the apparent fundamental disagreements between the parties relating to the beliefs and practice of this religion. Indeed, while Sanctuary classifies itself as a Unificationist church, HSA vehemently disputes this assertion…. [I]t is well-settled that the court cannot resolve church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice….

HSA’s registration of the Twelve Gates symbol with the USPTO constitutes prima facie evidence that it owns this trademark right….  However, Sanctuary has contested HSA’s ownership on inherently religious grounds. Specifically, Sanctuary has alleged that Sean Moon is the owner of all Unificationist property as the heir of Rev. Moon, and that he therefore owns the trademark to the Twelve Gates symbol since he controls the Unificationist Church, and by extension, HSA as a branch of same.

Plainly, this is a dispute that the court cannot resolve without venturing into issues of church leadership or organization—an area in which the Southern District of New York and the Second Circuit have already determined is inappropriate in a similar dispute presented by the same parties.

Religion Clause blog.

How delicious is it that the Unification Church has its own internal, familial schism? Couldn’t happen to a nicer novel, audacious cult.

Wordplay

Traditions are the answers to questions we forgot we had.

Nellie Bowles on the Good Faith Effort podcast


Finally, someone has defined "woman":

a mature female who can maintain her composure while being badgered on national television by posturing politicians.

Linda Greenhouse


Laptop Class: My favorite short-hand for the social class to which I admittedly belong, which class has characteristic blind spots and animosities.


Speaking of "classes" that divide us, I heard someone (maybe Os Guinness) suggest that the real divide in America is between those who think our important revolution was 1776 in America and those who think it was 1789 in France.

Being alive

I met a man who came up as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee so I poured him one. He was a soybean farmer who also raised sheep and we talked about that for a minute. Parenting is brief, he said, the lambs are weaned at two months and the rams have no parenting responsibility whatsoever, it’s just hit and run, and by thirteen months, the ewes are ready for breeding. He said that soybean farming is looking somewhat hopeful although a couple years ago he lost his whole crop to a hailstorm and almost had to sell the farm.

“So what is the fun in farming?” I said.

“Being outdoors on a beautiful day,” he said. “Knowing other people are shut up in offices and you’re on a tractor and it’s 75 and sunny and you can smell the vegetation and hear the sheep talking.”

“In other words, just being alive,” I said.

“That’s exactly right.”

Garrison Keillor


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.