Sunday, 1/22/23

I (Still) Don’t Mind Singing in an Empty Church

I am well aware that over my almost 13 years of blogging, I’ve more or less exhausted many of my ideas, and have become something of an aggregator or curator instead of someone expressing his own thoughts.

So I’ve begun — tentatively, at least — going back to my early blogging days for inspiration. In so doing, I found this from March of 2010. The title was I Don’t Mind Singing in an Empty Church. It still holds true:

Well, technically, I’m not sure the Church is ever really empty. There’s always that great cloud of witnesses.

But apart from them, the Church is sometimes empty except for Priest and Cantor (me). We rarely have more than the “clergy” (Priest, Deacon, Cantor and maybe another Reader) at the very beginning  of Matins. Occasionally that will happen in a weekday service, too. Usually one or two will arrive soon after the start, though. The inspired doodle above is (from Steve Robinson at Pithless Thoughts, shall we say, reality-based.

But it doesn’t bother me, at least not in the sense of “why do I bother?” I may regret that many who could be present don’t bother, and miss out (missing out on what is the point of this posting – read on). But many really can’t come, and that’s okay. We’re a small Parish, with lots of young families with children. I’d think there was something seriously wrong if those families dragged their young ones to Matins, which combined with Liturgy routinely runs almost 3 hours. Others commute as much as an hour each way. So I don’t expect them to come.

But by coming and singing, I myself – hard of hearing and heart – steep in the teaching and mind of the Church. Slowly, I’m absorbing it. That counts for quite a lot since I’m serious about my faith but have nearly 5 decades of baggage from other Christian traditions, each misguided about many things, to unload.

One of those pieces of baggage is how to approach scripture. I had already begun to write this when Father Stephen posted on “the hearing of the word.” It illustrates beautifully how the Church approaches scripture:

I am convinced after years of preaching and listening to preaching that the bulk of Scripture has become lost to our ears. We hear it, but fail to “hear” it ….

Much of my conviction on this matter has come in the last 12 years or more and my immersion into the services of the Orthodox Church. These services, long and with ample “hymnography” that is but a poetic commentary on the Scriptures and doctrines that surround any particular feast, are probably the richest surviving engagement with the Word of God to be found in a 21st century Church. Here no Reformation has occurred and reduced all Scripture to a “riff” on Justification by Faith, or a subset of Calvin’s paradigms. Here no Enlightenment has shown with its darkness of doubt and obfuscation.

Instead, there is a constant wonderment at the Scriptures themselves, as if the hymnographer were discovering something for the first time or had found a rare gem to share to any willing to listen – and all in the form of praise and thanksgiving to God.

It is true to say that in Orthodoxy, “Theology sings.” ….

…In our modern context most people have either been shaped by fundamentalist literalism; by modernist historical criticism; or by nearly nothing at all. In each case the Scriptures will not sing – they will not yield up their treasures.

I was struck by a particular case this evening – at the Vigil for  Palm Sunday. The gospel account in question was the Matthean version of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem:

“And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon.”

Modern historical criticism hears in this only the “foolishness” of Matthew. Matthew has cited the prophecy in Zechariah that “your king is coming to you…mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass,” and has crafted his story in precisely that manner, placing Jesus astride two animals. The same critics will note that in other gospel accounts Christ is only on a “foal of an ass,” i.e., one animal. Historical Critics have a field day with such problems (I was first confronted with this “discrepancy” in my sophomore year of college – it was presented as if the professor had noticed something no one had ever seen before). Modern fundamentalists will rush to defend the integrity of the gospel accounts, “Two different eye-witnesses reported on the same thing and one emphasized one thing and the other emphasized another.”

Both explanations lack imagination and are precisely the sort of blindness that afflicts so much modern reading of Scripture. Listening to the hymnody for the Vigil of Palm Sunday, the hymnographer, without apology for the discrepancy, races to it and declares:

“O gracious Lord, who ridest upon the cherubim, who art praised by the seraphim, now Thou dost ride like David on the foal of an ass, The children sing hymns worthy of God, while the priests and scribes blaspheme against Thee. By riding an untamed colt, Thou hast prefigured the salvation of the Gentiles, those wild beasts, who will be brought from unbelief to faith! Glory to Thee, O merciful Christ. Our King and the Lover of man!”

the ancient hymnographer has come closer to the heart of Scripture than either the modern sceptic or the modern literalist will ever know.

… The writers of the New Testament believed that everything in the Old, when read rightly would yield insight into the Messiah and the mystery of our salvation. But their creative insight (again, I believe it is inspired) is far removed from the flat-footed nonsense that we hear out of modern fundamentalist “prophetic” scholars, whose reading of the Old Testament is almost as poorly constructed as the 19th century false prophecies of the book of Mormon! Neither bear any resemblance to the treatment of prophecy found in the New Testament.

And thus I return to my original point. We have become deaf. We listen with ears either hardened by modernist scepticism, or by a false literalism that has substituted Darbyite nonsense for the Apostolic faith, or reduced Scripture to delicate harmonizations. None of them have the boldness and audacity of the patristic hymnographers who stood in the proper line of succession, proclaiming the faith as it had been taught and received and continuing to expound its mysteries. Thank God that somewhere in this modern world, you can still stand and listen to the wonders of our salvation, sung and unraveled before the unbelieving heart of man. Glory to God who has so loved mankind!

So, whether there’s a single soul besides me in church, I’m singing theology. I’m singing poetry. I’m expounding the mysteries of the faith. I’m unraveling the wonders of our salvation before my own unbelieving heart, made dull by 48 years of desperate harmonizations – “flat-footed nonsense.”

[If this sampling from Father Stephen has whetted your appetite, probably the most target-rich zone of audacious expounding of the Old Testament is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, sung in segments during the first week of Lent and then sung in its entirety Thursday of the 5th week. Download and savor.]

And in a sense that I’m slowly and dimly beginning to apprehend, we are doing the reconciling work of God. This gets into a sacramental view of the world, which I am unqualified to address and would surely botch if I tried. Perhaps another day.

Although I’m occasionally bone-weary when I go to sing, it’s always a very great privilege, and I benefit as much as anyone.

Published March 27, 2010

This recent post from Father Stephen expands on why I benefit from singing even in an empty church, particularly when I wrote that I “steep in the teaching and mind of the Church”:

What is often experienced at first as “boredom” (the sameness of the liturgy or the interminable character of the Psalms or Canon in some services) is nothing more than a description of something that exists for the nurture of the nous rather than the emotions and reasoning. Imagine walking with someone through a Redwood forest, or along a quiet beach and being told, “I’m bored.” In truth, the forest and the beach are quite common examples of noetic experiences that have yet to be eradicated or destroyed by our culture. It is not surprising that many people report an awareness of God in such settings.

The One Mediator – And the Sacraments (emphasis added).

I really should at least provide a hyperlink for nous, which is more than the first person plural French pronoun.

The Desire of the Nations

It is a strange yet incontrovertible fact that, when God did take flesh, He in many ways (though certainly not all) revealed himself to be closer in spirit to the Tao of Lao Tzu then to God as conceived by the Hebrews at that time, even though the Hebrews had the revelation of Moses. This might be difficult to accept by those who are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the fulfillment of the expectation specifically of the Hebrews. Ancient Christian tradition, however, holds that Christ satisfied the longing of all the nations.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

The whiff of an empty bottle

Alasdair MacIntyre famously suggested that modernity is like the late Roman Empire, living on fragments of old ideas and practices that made sense only within a context that is now largely lost. Christian institutions, such as parishes, schools, hospitals, and aged-care and welfare agencies, might seem quite healthy. But they can easily lose their souls and become Christian “zombies” indistinguishable from secular NGOs.

As a young man, backpacking around Europe while deciding my vocation, I spent a fortnight in Florence. Two young guys from Seattle arrived at my youth hostel with only a day for Florence and asked me whether there was much to see! Though no expert, I offered to take them around. Engraved in my memory is an incident in the Uffizi Gallery. One of them turned to me and asked, “Who is the woman with the baby in so many of the pictures?”

Anthony Fisher, The West: Post- or Pre-Christian?

Peace in our time

[I]t came as something of a surprise that the Anglican bishops voted this week to stand firm on gay marriage. The result is somewhat qualified—the bishops also voted to permit blessings and prayers for same-sex civil partnerships and to issue a forthcoming apology about past sins against LGBTQ+ people. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, however, is apparently delighted:

This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage. I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church. I hope it can offer a way for the Church of England, publicly and unequivocally, to say to all Christians and especially LGBTQI+ people, that you are welcome and a valued and precious part of the body of Christ.

Or, to put it more concisely in the words of Neville Chamberlain, “Peace in our time.”

Carl Trueman

Half-Converted Christians

There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already – without Him. This kind of Christianity is more terrifying than agnosticism or hedonism.

Rod Dreher, Schmemann and Social Justice. I suspect that Dreher was quoting or closely paraphrasing Fr. Schmemann, a towering figure in American Orthodoxy.

I don’t want my Sunday posts to turn political, but it seems to me that this may be relevant to the Donald Trump supporters who began calling themselves “Evangelical” without darkening the door of even the Trumpiest “church.”

Steve Robinson returns!

To my delight, I stumbled onto one of my favorite sporadic podcasters and doodlers, who apparently disappeared partly because of cancer, but it now back with the Pithless Thoughts II.

(2023 Resolutions)

It appears that “sporadic” no longer fits, which is a good thing if I’m going to pay-to-read.

Do not subscribe expecting any political commentary.

More from Steve:

The internet gives us an omniscience about, and a platform to address the world in ways that were previously available only to God.

The problem is, we are not equipped to be God. Adam and Eve had one thing to control and could not deal with the temptation attached to it. They failed as “gods” in a near-perfect world in which only one thing in their world demanded a consequential choice. One thing. In one small place. With one clear instruction. No other people. No “big picture”. No big deal. Their world was as limited as their humanity. And yet they failed to be even as human as they could have been.

I don’t know if the world is bigger and more complicated because of the Fall, or if we have just not been able to keep up with it because of the Fall. Either way, we are not created with the capacity to deal with omniscience. Our finite humanness is created to obey God and let God be God and judge and control all things (to not “be God”). It is not created to “be God” and judge, control and respond to the entire world’s issues. Because we are not God and we live in a fallen world, we can only take in so much pain, evil and dissolution (on top of what is already in our own hearts and lives) before we break.

I’ve watched the internet for over 20 years now and I see the same thing happening. We are in a cultural and personal “psychotic break”.

The “break” is this: We are overwhelmed with an ungodly amount of information, we are tempted and called on to be “gods”, but we, by nature, incapable of omniscience. The world is big, out of control, gray and complex. We, on the other hand are small, relatively powerless and simple. At the intersection of the vast world and our limited humanity is the potential for “psychosis”. And it is ultimately a spiritual issue.

The hardest spiritual discipline, from the beginning, is to “stay in our human lane” and not fall for the First Temptation to “be like God, knowing good from evil”. All the evils in the world were brought about by that simple appeal to our human ego and the news of the world, no matter how intimate or global that news is, has tempted humanity since.

You Will Be Like God

Mystery

Her mysteries are but the expressions in human language of truths to which the human mind is unequal.

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Wednesday, 1/18/23

“Science”

Follow the scien(tists’ secret agendas)

Few areas of medicine have become as politically heated, and in need of cool-headed research, as treatment of transgender children. Neither side seems to be engaging in good faith. Some Democrats have misrepresented the medical consensus on how best to help children with gender-related distress, presenting this as a closed matter when there is no global scientific consensus. The cherry-picking of evidence by medical bodies such as the American Academy of Paediatrics helps explain why Republicans have become twice as likely as Democrats to believe scientists have agendas beyond the pursuit of scientific fact.

The Economist, 1/14/123

The Über-Agenda

More drugs and surgery for kids: The American Academy of Pediatrics this week came out with new recommendations: Obese children should be given weight loss drugs and surgery at ages as young as 12 and 13, respectively. Now, that is probably the right thing to do for severely obese children. But also: The new recommendations argue that “obesity is a chronic disease.” Obesity, in the new mindset, can never be about choices. It is not a lifestyle problem. 

The message is: body positivity and junk food are a-ok (can’t be shaming anyone!) until the American medical establishment can profit, and then it’s a sharp pivot to  hardcore drugs and surgery. It’s cheap, government-subsidized corn products shoveled into school lunches, then a series of expensive drugs for chemically imbalanced adolescents. There is no middle ground. 

One thing I noticed in the new pediatric guideline is they use the word overweight in a way I’d never seen. It goes: “youth with overweight and obesity.” As in: “This is the AAP’s first clinical practice guideline (CPG) outlining evidence-based evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with overweight and obesity.” Obesity and “overweight” is a disease you catch.

Nellie Bowles

Has anyone devised and deployed an effective incentive for doctors to learn about, and prescribe, good nutrition — patient-tailored if necessary?

Legalia

Notably off-narraative

Some LGBetc students sued to circumvent or invalidate exemptions for certain religious schools from certain nondiscrimination rules:

To recap, a coalition of students sued the Biden Department of Education, seeking to roll back religious liberty and place a high price on the autonomy of religious organizations, the Biden administration defended religious liberty, and a Clinton-appointed judge dismissed the case, relying in part on unanimous Supreme Court precedent decided by both Republican and Democratic-appointed justices.

This is not exactly the culture war narrative you hear on cable news.

David French, trying to inject a little anti-inflammatory into the culture war narrative.

(H/T Get Religion, critiquing the pathetic coverage of the story by RNS).

Covenants not to compete

For the record, I viscerally and strongly support the Biden FTC’s move to abolish Covenants Not to Compete. I do so because I have seen their abuse over and over again.

My state, Indiana, always greets lawsuits over these covenants with ritual incantations that they are viewed with disfavor. Then it always upholds them, no matter how ludicrous and unreasonable.

What I most hate about the Indiana approach is the perversity of this reasoning:

  1. Unless otherwise agreed, all employees are “at will.”
  2. It’s sad that you uprooted your family and moved X miles for a job with an employer who didn’t mention covenants not to compete, but when your new employer thrust the covenant before you on your first day and said “sign,” it was supported by adequate consideration because employer didn’t fire you then and there.
  3. Yes, the employer could still fire you without cause tomorrow. What is it about “at will” you don’t understand, dummy?

I suppose if you checked, you might find one or two covenants rejected by an Indiana appellate court, though I don’t recall one. So sue me.

And I suppose that the FTC probably lacks lawful power to abolish them. So sue it. I know someone will.

Politics

The difference between conservatives and Freedom Caucus

Some people have asked me, “How has the Trump era changed you?” For one thing, it has made me a lot more conservative — not in the Fox-and-talk sense, but in an older, Burkean one. Most of the radicalism in me has been snuffed out.

One of the GOP’s new congressmen, Madison Cawthorn, said, “I want a new generation of Americans to be radicals.”

Well, to hell with that.

Jay Nordlinger, Lies, Patriotism, and Consequences, January 11, 2021.

The populism that the press keeps styling as some sort of conservatism is still radical two year later, as shown by legislation that proposes wholesale to tear down systems and replace them with untried “conservative” alternatives. Florida Governor DeSantis is not exempt from this observation, as he loads up the Board of New College of Florida with populists like Christopher Rufo, who are in a hurry to demolish and rebuild.

One Simpson’s episode worth ten thousand words

As we approach the 30th anniversary of The Simpsonslegendary Monorail episode, Alan Siegel caught up with Conan O’Brien—a former writer for the show—on what it was like to pitch what is now considered one of the most timeless bits in sitcom history. “[“Marge vs. the Monorail”] warned the world about charismatic men selling foolishly grandiose solutions to problems that don’t need fixing,” Siegel writes for The Ringer. “References to the episode will never cease making O’Brien happy. While browsing the Rose Bowl flea market, his friend once noticed a framed travel poster showcasing Homer and the monorail. ‘It says, “Glides as smoothly as a cloud,’’’ O’Brien says. ‘I was like, “You have to buy that for me.” It wasn’t even that much. That’s hanging in my house, and I kind of smile every time I see it.’ Still, the fact that ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’ is seemingly brought up whenever a grifter dupes the public surprises O’Brien. After all, it was an idea that started very, very small.”

The Morning Dispatch

Gun control as culture war

[A]ttempts to ban ordinary weapons such as semiautomatic rifles and handguns are plainly unconstitutional, that they would be unlikely to do much to deter violent crime, and that they are at root intellectually dishonest: They are more genuinely a culture-war assault by progressive-leaning urbanites and suburbanites on gun owners as a demographic, one that is perceived (not entirely accurately) as being socially retrograde, white, male, rural, Southern, middle-aged—everything that communicates “Trump voter” to people living in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Kevin D. Williamson

Face the GOP Facts

[I]t’s long past time for well-meaning conservatives writing in good faith to face up to the facts: The GOP is not an economically populist party and shows no signs at all of becoming one. It’s a culturally populist party with a plutocratic economic agenda.

Damon Linker, The Right’s Economic Populism is Stillborn

Realistic Expectations

“The only reason for a Republican hopeful to put their own aspirations aside and back DeSantis in 2024 is because it would be good for the country for the GOP to finally rid itself of Trump,” Nick writes in Tuesday’s Boiling Frogs. “I doubt a single one will pass on the race for that reason.”

The Morning Dispatch

January 6

The Stanford historian David M. Kennedy has spent a career as an authority on American society and politics; winner of a Pulitzer Prize, he wrote one of the most popular textbooks on American history and has delved into a number of controversies and political movements. But he has struggled to come up with any analogue from the past for what he describes as the “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. “This is a unique moment,” he says, “where a degree of insanity and irrationality has infected a large enough sector of our body politic that we’re really sick. I think we are politically sick, and I use that word advisedly.”

Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna and Emily Cadei, The Education of Josh Hawley – POLITICO

Nonpartisan Gmail filters

The Federal Election Commission decided last week to dismiss a complaint brought by the Republican National Committee and other GOP campaign groups that alleged Gmail’s spam filter constituted “illegal, corporate in-kind contributions to the Biden campaign and Democrat[ic] candidates across the country.” Republicans cited a North Carolina State University study that found GOP campaign emails were sent to spam at a significantly higher rate than Democratic ones, but FEC officials found no evidence any disproportionate results were intentional and held that Google had “credibly supported its claim” that the spam filter exists for commercial purposes. As Sarah noted last year, Republican campaigns have a long history of overusing and sharing email lists, resulting in spam filters being triggered at a higher rate.

The Morning Dispatch

Quoted without concurrence

I doubtless suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, even after having watched with bemusement people with Bush or Obama derangements. By admitting this, I’m saying that I simply have never understood how Donald J. Trump could appeal to any upright adult human, let alone appeal as POTUS.

I know he does appeal to some such people, though, and is at least tolerable to many more. So I need periodically to let one of his defenders make the case:

When it comes to Donald J. Trump, people see what they wish to see. Much like with the audio debate a few years ago “Do you hear ‘Laurel’ or ‘Yanny’?,” what some perceive as an abrasive, scornful man bent on despotism, others see as a candid, resolute leader unflinchingly committed to America’s interests.

Kellyanne Conway, The Cases for and Against Trump

(Another thing I can’t understand is how vocal NeverTrumper George Conway and Kellyanne kept their marriage intact 2015-2020.)

Cited without any conviction that it really matters

Renato Mariatti makes the case that Biden’s retention of classified documents is nothing like Trump’s:

Based on what we know now, Biden’s sloppy retention of a smattering of classified documents looks more like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inadvertent retention of classified material on a private email server than former President Donald Trump’s stubborn refusal to return hundreds of classified documents to the DOJ despite repeated demands from federal officials.

Trump is under investigation for willful retention of classified records because he ignored direct requests from national archives officials, a grand jury subpoena and even a personal visit from DOJ’s top counterintelligence official. The FBI seized the documents pursuant to a search warrant only after they discovered that Trump’s attorneys lied to them and that documents had been moved inside Mar-a-Lago after their visit.

While the Biden investigation is at an early stage, and there may be key facts that are not yet public, Biden’s actions appear to have been sloppy and inadvertent rather than willful and obstructive. Most of the statutes that Trump is under investigation for violating wouldn’t apply to Biden’s conduct. The only statute that Hur would likely investigate is 18 U.S.C. 793(f)(1), which punishes the loss or removal of national defense information resulting from “gross negligence.”

Culture

Woke schoolmarms

[W]hy does wokeness … drive me crazy?

The beginning of an answer can be found in the fact that wokeness makes me feel like I’m attending Sunday school in a denomination and parish I never chose to join. I just turn on the radio or open the paper or scroll through Twitter — and the next thing I know, a finger-wagging do-gooder with institutional power behind him is delivering a sermon, showing me The Way, calling on me to repent, encouraging me to be born again in the moral light.

Damon Linker, Why does wokeness drive me crazy?

Too much of a good thing?

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

Walter M. Miller Jr. [A Canticle for Leibowitz]()

Faces and heels

Aaron Renn has a fascinating account of “heels” and “faces,” a dichotomy from the argot of professional wrestling that I’d not heard before, including this interesting take on the Trump phenomenon:

Playing the heel is not always a strategic failure. Some people can succeed in both using heel mode to benefit themselves, and having some strategic success as well.

The big example is Donald Trump. The party system, political finance structure, and media apparatus made it essentially impossible for any fundamental changes to or questioning of the system to gain traction. Trump, in a judo type move, was able to use the media’s desire for a conservative heel to draw immense media attention that catapulted him to the presidency. Most of the time, he was able to successfully parry media attacks using some variation of heel tactics.

Not only that, his candidacy and presidency shook up the system in a way that I don’t recall ever happening since the Reagan era. While ultimately it might be completely suppressed – every major institution in society, including the Republican Party establishment, is aligned with making that suppression happen – he certainly made an impact. And that would not have happened without using heel tactics.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has not only spent decades in the media spotlight, he’s also in the pro wrestling hall of fame. He has a deep understanding of how these dynamics work and how to deploy them successfully.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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, 1/15/23

Assembly by False Hearts

In our digitalized, printed world, we have access to almost everything. The vast discourse of the saints, the details of the canons, the deeds and records of empires, are all available to almost everyone. Someone wants to make a point and assembles a long list of quotes drawn from the saints. Every word written is true, and yet the presentation is not true.  It is impossible to argue with such things – you are resisting the saints! And it is equally impossible to help someone whose heart is in delusion to understand that such a collection can be false – primarily because it was assembled by a false heart.

The Scriptures are abused in the same manner. It is terribly frustrating to be confronted with a vast collection of verses gathered in the service of a false teaching. The same thing was confronted by the fathers early on. Fr. Georges Florovsky gives this summary of an account by St. Irenaeus:

Denouncing the Gnostic mishandling of Scriptures, St. Irenaeus introduced a picturesque simile. A skillful artist has made a beautiful image of a king, composed of many precious jewels. Now, another man takes this mosaic image apart, re-arranges the stones in another pattern so as to produce the image of a dog or of a fox. Then he starts claiming that this was the original picture, by the first master, under the pretext that the gems … were authentic. In fact, however, the original design had been destroyed …. This is precisely what the heretics do with the Scripture. They disregard and disrupt “the order and connection” of the Holy Writ and “dismember the truth” — …. Words, expressions, and images — … —are genuine, indeed, but the design, the … hypothesis, is arbitrary and false (adv. haeres., 1. 8. 1).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Goodness and a Word in Due Season. (Ellipses replace Greek text that wouldn’t render on WordPress)

St. Irenaeus’s analogy always grabs me, and it’s as applicable to today’s heretics as to gnostics two millennia ago.

Midhir’s Invitation to the Far Laned

Irish, author, unknown, ninth century

Fair woman, will you go with me to the high land
where sweet music is? There your hair is like the primrose
And people stroll with snow-white skin.

In the high land, there is neither yours nor mine.
The women’s teeth are white; the men’s eyes are black and clear.

Every cheek is the pink of foxglove.

The meadows of Ireland are fair to see –
But they are like a desert when you have seen the high land;

Irish ale is fine to drink – but in the high land
the wine they serve will turn your head into a cloud.

In the place, I speak of, the young do not die before their time;
They serve the old ones, who are wise
and shield the young in turn.

Sweet dreams flow always through the fair land
and the minds of the people are clear

as skin with no blemish,
as a child’s face in the virgin morning.

When we walk together there, you will see
these men and ladies,

you will see them on all sides, tall, and fair and kind.
But they will not see us.

For Adam’s transgression is a dark cloak around us,
and it means we cannot be seen, or counted among them.

(Martin Shaw & Tony Hoagland, Cinderbiter)

The missus almost immediately picked up that C.S. Lewis, consciously or unconsciously, echoed this old Irish poem in The Great Divorce.

A compulsion as common as the air we breath

Orthodoxy theology defines only what is necessary and always leaves unspoken that which cannot be explained. This approach was part of the Christian faith from the beginning. But the Western phronema often suppresses, dismisses, minimizes, or ignores this stance. The Western mind is compelled to define and explain everything, since without a rational explanation a concept or fact cannot be considered true, or, conversely, all truth can be proven rationally.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Me, too

[N]one of the things that I care about most have ever proven susceptible to systematic exposition.

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread With the Dead

The Spiritual Life Doesn’t Work

I have wondered how the “success” of the spiritual life would be measured? I could imagine that the number of persons baptized might be compared to the number of the baptized who fall short of salvation—but there is no way to discover such a thing. In lieu of that, we often set up our own way of measuring—some expectation of “success” that we use to judge the spiritual life. “I tried Christianity,” the now self-described agnostic relates, “and found that it did not live up to its claims.” I’ve seen things like that.

To my mind, the entire question is a little like complaining about your hammer because it doesn’t work well as a screw-driver. The problem is that the spiritual life doesn’t “work,” and it was never supposed to. It is not something that “works”; it is something that “lives.” And this is an extremely important distinction.

We today look to our faith to solve problems. Whether we suffer from psychological wounds, or simple poverty and failure, we look to God for help. The spiritual life, and the “techniques” we imagine to be associated with it, are the means by which we “help ourselves”—and then God will do the rest.

Well, this narrative is simply not part of the Christian faith …

The lives of the saints are filled with information of an opposite sort. For example:

  • [St.] Mary of Egypt is directed into the desert by the voice of the Mother of God. She lives miraculously on very little food. But she tells of 17 years—17 years!—of virtual torture as she battled the temptations that had governed her previously sinful life. Our daily trials would seem as nothing in comparison.
  • St. Silouan the Athonite told about a period of 15 years in which he had no sense of the presence of God, but was instead tortured by demons.
  • St. Seraphim of Sarov spent years in prayer and fasting, was beaten, robbed and left like a cripple.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Slow Road to Heaven


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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, 1/8/23

Orthodoxy

Two from Constantinou

  • Orthodoxy holds that the fullness of the Faith was revealed to the Church at Pentecost, once and for all. The Greek Fathers utilized their education in the service of the Church to explain doctrine, not to find new truths, since the fullness of the truth was received at Pentecost.
  • Ultimately, theology is not a set of definitions or theories. Theology is mystery since it transcends the rational mind and attempts to express the inexpressible. In schools of theology and seminaries, theology is indeed an academic subject and, as such, it requires accuracy and embraces a certain “intellectual rigour,” as Met. Kallistos remarks. This does not conflict with Orthodoxy, since “we do not serve the Kingdom of God through vagueness, muddle and lazy thinking.” But he also notes that in other sciences or areas of investigation, the personal sanctity of the scientist or inquirer is irrelevant. This is not the case with theology, which requires metanoia (repentance), catharsis (purification), and askesis (spiritual struggle).

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind (emphasis added)

Both of these observations point out true Orthodox distinctives in comparison to Western Christendom, don’t they?

How to Live (temporally)

Within this longer blog post is a priceless bullet-list on “how to live.” I review it regularly.

Though I blog a lot about politics, it’s been a long time since I argued politics. The difference in outcomes between policy A and policy B are usually less important to me than the potential for personal alienation. So my political blogs are mixtures of “this is my opinion; yours may vary” and “here’s something thought-provoking or very well written.”

I guess that confirms that I’m temperamentally in David French’s “hope and freedom” camp versus the camp of “anger and power.”

Other

A Reminder of Where We Were Two Years Ago

Certainly, the bulk of Pentecostal-charismatics who follow the prophets are in for a shock when Biden gets inaugurated Jan. 20. Rather than admit their error, Brown says some prophets have already concocted a scenario where Trump will be inaugurated “in heaven” and that God will replace Biden with Trump sometime this spring.

Julia Duin, Charismatics are at war with each other over failed prophecies of Trump victory

The whole story is well worth reading, Julia Duin being a “Religion Beat” pro in the press.

Homeless

I am thinking of a Black Southern Baptist–trained pastor who could not stomach taking his kids to church within his denomination anymore because of his fellow church members’ reluctance to talk about racism. A longtime staffer at a major American archdiocese who feels daily rage at the Catholic Church’s inability to address the clergy sexual-abuse crisis. A young woman fired from her job at a conservative Christian advocacy organization because she spoke out against President Trump. A Catholic professor who bitterly wishes the Democratic Party had room for his pro-life views. These are all examples from the world of religion and politics, but they speak to a deep and expansive truth: In many parts of American life, people feel the institutions that were supposed to guide their lives have failed, and that there is no space for people like them.

Emma Green, The American ‘way of life’ is unsustainable for so many. Is it time to build radical forms of community?

Seeing this excerpt surface in Readwise, I’m reminded that I haven’t seem much from Emma Green lately, and I miss her.

A baffling, frustrating, near-Saint

Did the 20th century produce anyone more baffling than Simone Weil? Christ at the Assembly Line

Russia and Ukraine

It’s a useful skill to be able to hold two truths in mind at the same time.

Truth #1 is that Russia is unjustified in invading Ukraine.

Truth #2 is that, discounting all the bullshit about “de-Nazification” or “Russki Mir,” Russia is right that the West is decadent, particularly in the area of sex and gender (with the U.S. leading the way), and that Ukraine is worrisomely trending westward in many areas of culture.

I literally pray every day that God will thwart our meddling in traditional cultures, and I generally have sexual perversity in mind as the distinctive way we meddle these days. I also pray that God will turn back all manner of attacks on Ukraine. So I’m rooting for Ukraine to win against Russia in the hot war, but also that it will reject some of our ways as it grows closer to the West.

Nota Bene

No Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on January 6 or 7. All Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on December 25.

You read that right.

The thing is, December 25 on the Julian calendar (which much of world Orthodoxy follows liturgically) is January 7 on the Gregorian Calendar, the “civil calendar,” which some Orthodox (including my parish) follow for every Christian feast except Easter/Pascha.

Religion News Service summarizes plausibly enough, given its Gregorian Calendar premises:

While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate [Epiphany/Theophany] on Jan. 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 19, as their Christmas falls on Jan. 7.

It is not disputed that the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate astronomically.

I won’t get into the intra-Orthodox disputes over the “calendar issue,” which I personally shunted aside decades ago. Those arguments do nothing to edify.


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.

Thursday, 1/5/23

Culture

Words to live by

The larger point is that a rich and satisfying life involves checking a lot of boxes, not checking the same box over and over again until the combination of the ink and the pressure punches through the paper of your checklist. Moreover, some of these boxes require subordinating yourself to something greater than yourself. Virtually all meaningful institutions demand some sacrifice of yourself and your immediate wants to the greater good of the institution. The family is the first and most obvious example of this. You can’t be a good father or husband, mother or wife, if you expect your family to always put your needs first.

Jonah Goldberg, Something Short of Tragic

Why not wait and see if the odds are with you?

The best estimate, from studies starting in the 1970s, is that around 80% of gender-dysphoric children who are allowed to express themselves as they wish, but who do not socially transition—change their clothes, pronouns and the like to present as members of the opposite sex—will, as they grow up, become reconciled to their biological sex. Yet puberty blockers seem to prevent that reconciliation. In European clinics that report numbers, it happens with just 2-4% of children given the drugs. American clinics rarely publish figures, but anecdotally the picture is similar.

The Economist, Gender Medicine — Little Is Known About the Effects of Puberty Blockers. So far as I know, this is still true almost two years later, but the U.S. was charting its own ideologically-mad pursuit of a standard of care that said “block puberty at a minimum, no questions asked,” unlike any of our peer nations.

Self-own extraordinnaire.

I had no idea who Andrew Tate was, that he had a stable of cars, that he trolls Greta Thunberg, and that he now holds the world record for a self-own. But then someone shared this: Andrew Tate’s Arrested for Human Trafficking After Trolling Greta Thunberg.

What Purdue did in the Daniels Decade

We stood for excellence at scale. We did not accept that there’s a tradeoff when bringing education to more people – the original assignment of land grant universities like ours, to open the doors, widen the aperture to higher education. Many people, with some cause, said, Well, the bigger you grow, the lower the quality of the students you’ll have. Many of them will not succeed. We’ve challenged that. And in fact, we have grown 30%. The quality of our students, their performance, the graduation rates, everything has gone up, not down. As my successor will be happy to tell you, we’ve grown to one of the biggest engineering colleges anywhere. And at No. 4 in the national rankings, we are bigger than the top three put together. So you don’t have to trade that off, and I think we’re demonstrating that.

We said that in a world where outcomes are more and more determined by technology and science and the advance of those disciplines that we had an unusual opportunity, and very much a duty, to deliver to the nation more graduates skilled in those areas and more research that contributed the advanced knowledge in those areas. Ten years ago, 41% of the students at this university were in a STEM discipline – a high percentage. Today, it’s 68%, of a student body that is 30% bigger. We are producing for this nation, the kind of talents on which our future success so heavily depends.

Now former Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, via Based in Lafayette, a Substack that’s indispensible for local news as the local Gannett newspaper struggles.

I have my reservations about big research universities, but Purdue, and land-grant University, is a pretty good neighbor.

An Englishman on American Football

I see American Football as the sport that’s the obvious creation of a society based around hyperconsumption. It’s only about a dozen minutes of actual stuttering play stuffed into this capitalist packaging of hype and image, coming with hundreds of adverts for products you weren’t interested in and drowning in a wealth of the packing chips of instant replays and shots of players and officials loitering. I just can’t see the appeal.

Alastair Roberts He said that almost seven years ago. It wasn’t a prophecy of injuries or fatalities, but the appeal of the American spectacle should, but probably won’t, diminish after the Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest on field, triggered by the kind of hits fans pay to see. I’m skeptical that technology can make safe a game based on large people crashing into each other at high speed.

American Football eclipsed by World Football/Soccer is one of my hopes for progress.

David French to wed the grey lady

All things considered, I’m content.

David French will become a regular columnist for the New York Times on January 30 and will cease being a regular columnist for The Dispatch, which he helped to found. But (whew!) he’ll continue doing the Advisory Opinions podcast with Sara Isgur. That’s what mattered most to me.

And I subscribe to NYT, so I’ll read his relocated columns, too.

Maybe The Dispatch should try to wrest Michael Brendan Dougherty or Daniel McCarthy away from National Review now.

The Alzheimer’s Streetlight Effect

There’s an old joke about a drunk who lost his keys. It even has given a name to a cognitive error: The Streetlight effect.

I’m reminded again that it’s not always funny, as when scientists pursue theories that have been pretty well disproven, such as amaloid plaques as the cause of Alzheimer’s, simply because that’s where the grant money is.

On the other hand, that does tend to prove that scientists and humans, not gods, and as prone to venality as any preacher who tells his people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

British Mysteries

The Missus and I have been enjoying British mysteries on the BritBox streaming service, but we’ve reached the point where we agree that the writers riffing on G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, likely British secularists if not neo-pagans, have no idea what makes the protagonist Father Brown (beyond routinely telling the murderer to repent and confess to the police). The stock characters are no longer enough to sustain our interest.

They also have become less imaginative, more graphic (e.g., profuse blood flying in a knockout punch), and more sexual, the sort of pattern that turned us off other mysteries with attractive protagonists (like the Midsomer Murders).

Then, of course, there’s The Hidden Cost of Cheap TVs, too, but that’s been fairly obvious for a long time.

Stage Manager

My latest Mac OS update brought with it an annoying intruder named "Stage Manager," who keeps getting in the way of my own stage management.

I learned how to shut him off today, and now I find that I occasionally want him back on. In other words, he’s not all bad.

This is probably just me being a grumpy old man.

Politics (but smarter and less bitter than in the past)

GOP New Years Resolution: Live Not By Lies

I doubt that serial liar and fabulist George Santo deserves as much attention as he’s gotten, but at least it’s all been negative. He seems to be his only apologist.

Yet nobody with power to do anything is proposing to do it. Here’s an idea for them:

Kicking George Santos out of Congress is a job for the people of Long Island, one that they can do for themselves if they should happen to discover some particle of communal self-respect. But there are things that Republicans in Congress could and should do to set an example here: They could and should refuse to give him committee assignments; they could and should vote to censure him; they could and should expel him from the Republican Party. …

If the Republican Party would like to make a desperately needed New Year’s resolution, it should be this: that the GOP will cease being an organization dedicated to lies, based on lies, trafficking in lies, cultivating lies, and strategically reliant on lies. The Republicans should embark on a very modest course of self-improvement that begins with telling the truth. Of course, such a specimen as George Santos would have no place in such a party.

Neither would Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Mike Pence ….

Rachael Larimore

Is Trump now a moderate?

For the first time as a candidate, Trump might not be “the craziest son of a b-tch in the race.” That phrase comes from a memorable interview Rep. Thomas Massie gave in 2017 explaining why so many Ron Paul voters in the 2012 primaries ended up becoming Donald Trump supporters in 2016. An authoritarian candidate should struggle to attract libertarians, but Trump didn’t. Massie knew why.

“I went to Iowa twice and came back with [Ron Paul]. I was with him at every event for the last three days in Iowa,” Massie said. “From what I observed, not just in Iowa but also in Kentucky, up close with individuals, was that the people that voted for me in Kentucky, and the people who had voted for Rand Paul in Iowa several years before, were now voting for Trump. In fact, the people that voted for Rand in a primary in Kentucky were preferring Trump.”

“All this time,” Massie explained, “I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas — they were voting for the craziest son of a b-tch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along.”

Nick Cattogio

What Everybody Knows

[E]ven if American institutions and rules make the U.S. system more unstable (under certain conditions) than those in other democracies, the events of January 6 depended on the introduction of an additional variable as a catalyst—and that is Donald Trump’s narcissism and malevolence. Trump simply couldn’t face his own loss—or rather, he couldn’t face admitting his own loss in public—and avoiding that humiliation was more important to him even than the fate of American self-government. If getting himself declared the winner required overturning the rule of law and liberal democracy in the United States, that was fine with him.

[A] number of prominent GOP candidates were extreme, badly informed, personally unappealing, and wildly inarticulate, and so performed poorly in the midterm’s general election contests. But how did these bum candidates end up competing in general elections in the first place? The answer, obviously, is that Republican voters chose them (often at Trump’s urging).

And that means it isn’t just Trump who’s responsible for January 6. It’s also all the voters who ended up doubting the trustworthiness of America’s electoral institutions across the board while simultaneously placing the entirety of their faith in the hands of a verified con artist out to protect his delicate ego from the painful truth of his failure to win an election.

It’s this consideration, among others, that keeps me from joining The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last in reversing position on the question of whether Trump should be prosecuted. Where Last has come around to the view that prosecution may well be the least-bad option, I continue to believe it would be less bad to allow Trump to continue fading in stature than to risk reviving his reputation among the mob of dittoheads who once revered him by turning him into an outlaw/folk-hero locked in a fight to the figurative death with the “Democrat Justice Department.”

Damon Linker, What Everybody Knows

Blaming the victim without regret

Even on issues where I am nominally on his side, I think he deserves all of the trouble he has invited upon himself …

I do not think Congress should make his tax returns public because I think punitively releasing tax returns is a bad practice, even when done against people I think have it coming.

Donald Trump lied over and over again about his tax returns. He said he’d release them, then didn’t, claiming he couldn’t because he was being audited. He probably lied about the audit; he certainly lied that being audited prevented him from releasing them. He broke all sorts of rules—admittedly informal rules, but rules nonetheless—and as we’ve seen over and over again, when one “side” breaks the rules, it gives the other “side” psychological permission to break other rules in response. Trump invited the predicament he’s in. He wants the rules to benefit him, never to bind him.

Jonah Goldberg, Something Short of Tragic

Congress and Trump’s Tax Returns

The actual point of the release is to embarrass Mr. Trump for refusing to release his returns. We criticized him for this, but it isn’t a legal requirement. Democrats needed a legislative purpose to pry private records from the IRS, and the best excuse they could manage was a desire to strengthen the agency’s presidential-audit policy. The weakness of that rationale was laid bare at the Dec. 20 meeting when Ways and Means approved the release.

Karen McAfee, Democrats’ top oversight staffer, couldn’t explain how releasing the returns would affect legislation. Pressed by GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, she sputtered that Democrats want a bill “to make sure that the audits start on time.” No word on how speeding up audits requires broadcasting Mr. Trump’s finances to the world.

The Trump Tax Return Precedent

Here’s another instance where someone did something unjust to Trump, but at the same time it’s true that he brought it on himself.

I doubt we’re heard the last of this. Trumpist Republicans will want payback, and they’ll not have trouble finding allies.

Just Desserts

McCarthy is getting exactly what he deserves. After January 6, he failed to lead. Instead, he swallowed what was left of his pride and traveled down to Mar-a-Lago to make amends with Donald Trump.

Yet he’s not being punished for that grotesque capitulation. Instead he’s facing yet another act of “burn it down” disruption from many of the same figures—including Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert—who’ve built their entire brands around trolling, rage, and rebellion.

It’s possible that GOP obstruction will yield a better speaker. One can hope. But a hope is not a plan, and it seems that the “plan” is to simply block McCarthy and see what happens.

While I don’t want to intrude too much on Nick’s populism beat, one of the tragedies of our time is that populists can often diagnose real maladies (elites have failed in many respects, and America faces real problems), yet they often decide to “solve” the problem with something  worse ….

David French

To hell with that

Wren: To hell with what?

Meijer: With the idea of running at this moment [against other Trumpist candidates]. What is required from a purity test standpoint — folks know they need his endorsement, and then what they end up doing to get that endorsement ends up being disqualifying.

Wren: This dynamic played out with your Republican primary opponent, John Gibbs, the far-right conspiracy theorist who criticized women’s right to vote and propagated the idea that Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta participated in satanic rituals. Yet you went to a unity rally with him. That surprised me.

Meijer: I was surprised at the media reaction to that. In my mind, not going to something like that is a sore loser move. The least I can do is wish him congratulations and best of luck. It’s funny there were a lot of kind of anti-Trump and Never Trump folks who trashed me for that. I was like, “Oh, do you want me to act the same way [Trump] did? Do you want me to deny that I lost? Do you want me to be a sore loser? Come on.”

Former Congressman Pete Meijer

Senator Sinema’s Independent prattling

… we are united in our … independence.

Kyrsten Sinema, putative Independent, via Lee Drutman, Kyrsten Sinema and the Myth of Political Independence

I fear that her personal declaration of independence will be the electoral kiss of death, as it was with another interesting political figure, Justin Amash.

Closing thought

Life doesn’t come with a trigger warning.

Poet/Activist Pádraig Ó Tuama, Interview with Krista Tippett


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.

New Year’s Day 2023

Happy New Year!

I rarely go back and read things I wrote earlier in the life of this blog, but I did so recently and was pleased with, for instance, 50th Anniversary. Indeed, I’m a bit ashamed at how much thought I put into that compared to my current tendency to curate other people’s memorable passages.

I suspect that I’ve resorted to curation because I long ago blogged my big ideas and I’m under no pressure (financial, for instance) to generated new content on some schedule or other.

I’m hoping to publish more of my own thoughts in 2023, but we’ll see how that goes.

Evangelicals and Evangelicalism

I have written many a critical word about Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’m going to step back from that a bit.

First, it’s exceedingly difficult to define who is an Evangelical or what is Evangelicalism. I’ve tended to go with the term when my sources used it. That’s a problem when some of the press may over-apply the term.

But there’s a bigger reason than that for backing off a bit: what I have been calling “Evangelical” or “Evangelicalism” is almost entirely non-denominational Protestantism. With a few possible exceptions, Evangelical denominations (there are a few), especially those denominations wherein local churches aren’t entirely at liberty to do their own thing (unlike the Souther Baptist Convention, where they are entirely free to go astray), tend not to be the perpetrators of the stuff I criticize.

These thoughts came to me as I thought about the Religion News Association’s #9-ranked religion story of 2022:

Non-denominational Christian churches soar in growth, according to the newly released 2020 U.S. Religion Census, a decennial survey conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. There are now more non-denominational churches than any denominations’ churches but Southern Baptists, and their 21 million adherents outnumber every group but Catholics.

I also think it’s time for me to re-re-read Tom Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough. It’s not that I’m tempted to return to Evangelicalism; it’s that I tend to forget what Evangelicalism at its best can be (Howard’s childhood Evangelical home was idyllic), and that in a non-trivial sense, believing Evangelicals (as opposed to Trumpists who use Evangelical as a political identity), however misguided I think them, are fellow-Christians.

How capacious is “Christian”?

I was preparing something for publication a few days ago on the boundaries of the term “Christian.” Part of the question in mind was “can a sect hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian” because they follow the “Christ” of their skewed ideas?”

More specifically, “Do Mormons hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian”?

Then I stumbled onto something I’d written on the topic earlier that was better than what I was in the process of writing. My bottom line: if a sect rejects the Christology of the first three or four ecumenical councils, I won’t acknowledge them as Christians. And the Mormons, for all their clean living, are dead wrong about Christ.

For those who think “Christian” is the equivalent of “nice guy,” this doubtless seems unkind, but we already have “nice guy” to describe nice guys, and “Christian” is not a synonym.

Caesaropapism

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Vladimir Lossky, Seven Days on the Roads of France: June 1940

The “novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit” was the filioque, the unilateral corruption of the Nicene Creed’s declaration that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” by changing it to “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Human reasoning

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos also noted the difference in process and perspective between Latin scholasticism and the patristic approach. He concluded that the emphasis on human reasoning led to the collapse of Western Christian theology.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

The more I understand the real-world limits of human reasoning, the truer this seems.

The Fall

There is a common mistaken notion about the fall (the sin of Adam and Eve). That mistake is to think that the fall somehow changed all of creation and human beings from a state of original innocence into an altered state of evil and corruption. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures or of the Tradition.

Occasionally you hear the term “fallen nature” which is another inaccurate term. “Nature,” in theological terms, is synonymous with “essence,” or “ousia.” It is the very “thing” that something is. What is understood, theologically, is that the fall has brought death into the world. What is different about human beings is not our nature, but our inability to actually fulfill our nature.The bondage that comes into our lives through death is what we term “sin.” But this is not our “nature” causing the problem.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Essential Goodness of All Things


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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 reading, 12/25/22

Church History 101

Don’t lose the first part of that quote by getting caught up in the important end of the quote — and end that defies pop Christian history. A lot of interpretive problems become easier if you remember that followers of The Way were originally a sect within Judaism (until eventually Judaism expelled them).

Islanded Selves

In late Western modernity we have constructed an atomized, value-free, material model in which our islanded selves are ultimately disconnected from one another. T.S. Eliot put his finger on it in the Choruses from the Rock:

When the Stranger says ‘What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?’
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together
To make money from each other’? or ’this is a community’?

Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word

Three Maxims

  • I have never met a person that fasts faithfully who is at all more hypocritical or less virtuous than one who does not fast – not a single one … it is far more likely that the one who fasts is much more faithful.
  • Do not turn every virtue (like almsgiving or any “ministry”) into a program. This sort of administrative philosophy leads to despair.
  • Always remember that anger makes us temporarily energetic, but also stupid … I cannot think of one good thing I ever did or said in anger: but I can think of many regrets.

Father Jonathan Tobias, Second Terrace blog, January 29, 2018 (“Some maxims for the new wilderness”)

A Good Question

Rod Dreher, With the Bruderhof


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.

American Christianity Today

Affiliation versus Faith

As Bullivant notes in his book, the fall of communism meant that “talk of ‘a final, all-out battle between communist atheism and Christianity’ was much less a part of the cultural background.” Now only the oldest millennials have the faintest recollection of what it meant to fear the destruction of our civilization at the hands of a hostile imperial aggressor.

Instead, millennials faced something else entirely. “Very soon,” writes Bullivant, “the most pressing geopolitical threat to baseball, Mom, and apple pie was not from those without religion but those with rather too much of the wrong kind of it.” The 9/11 attacks introduced Americans to Islamic fundamentalism, and “religious extremism, in the form of radical Islamic terrorists, usurped the place in American nightmares that communist infiltrators used to occupy.”

Where does this leave us? Bullivant’s book is a reminder that culture and context matter. While any given individual may resist the tides of the times, at scale religious affiliation is more malleable than we might think. The malleability of religious affiliation is one reason why it’s important to think of affiliation and faith as perhaps distinct and different concepts.

David French, mulling over what he’s read so far in Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America

Americanized religion

When I saw that Ross Douthat had written on The Americanization of Religion, I knew it would be good.

I was right.

By the way, The Americanization of Religion is not a good thing, just in case you were wondering.

Douthat’s column is so rich that I highlighted most of it and cannot find a satisfactory representative quote. Reading it will take you about 6 minutes if you don’t compulsively highlight and index it.

Religious “secularism”

Along the same lines:

On a daily basis, I have become increasingly aware of the “religious” nature of almost the whole of modern life. That might seem to be an odd observation when the culture in which we live largely describes itself as “secular.” That designation, however, only has meaning in saying that the culture does not give allegiance or preference to any particular, organized religious body. It is sadly the case, however, that this self-conception makes the culture particularly blind to just how “religious” it is in almost everything it does. I suspect that the more removed we are from true communion with God, the more “religious” we become.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Religious Nature of Modern Life

All of today’s observations echo one of the most illuminating books I’ve ever read, Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity. I can’t recommend it too highly if you have any interest in the history of religion — or if you think American popular religion is simply New Testament Christianity.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Monday, 12/19/22

How we differ from traditional cultures

Choose ye this day

You can believe exactly what people in 1450 believed, but you cannot believe it in the same way they believed it because you have a choice.

Paraphrase of Carl Trueman, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan

This is a modern conundrum. I can say “I had no choice but to become Orthodox when I saw and learned what I did,” but of course I did have a choice. Choosing has been unavoidable for centuries now — at least in upper strata in Western Christendom (perhaps it’s one of those proverbial “first-world problems”).

Choosing to change religion is not even a costly choice here as it is still elsewhere in the world. Yet there is a toll to be paid, coming from banks of integrity, for not choosing what overwhelmingly commends itself.

(Sullivan/Trueman was a great interview, by the way, between very smart Oxbridge men with significant differences of opinion but an ability to converse civilly. Go thou and do likewise.)

East and West

Further:

To say that Orthodoxy is “Eastern” and that Catholic and Protestant Christianity are “Western” is not a poetic description or a mere matter of geography. The terms have long been employed to indicate real differences in historical experiences and thought—not simply the final conclusions but the process by which we arrive at those conclusions.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox. I do not have, even by inheritance, the historical experience of the Eastern Church. My heritage is Western. So while I believe and practice Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot believe and practice it in quite the way a devout “cradle Orthodox” would.

I like to think that converts like me bring something of value nonetheless, particularly where the faith may have tended toward a complacent cultural club or, as in my parish, where no single cultural group of Orthodox Christians coalesced to to support a church, and converts both added numbers and served as a catalyst for a new, more American (i.e., “pan-Orthodox”) parish. That my parish is in the relatively obscure Carpatho-Rusyn diocese may make it easier to avoid an ethnic identification — as in when people ask whether my Orthodoxy is Greek or Russian.

Traditional civilizations

In a traditional civilization it is almost inconceivable that a man should claim an idea as his own; and in any case, were he to do so, he would thereby deprive it of all credit and authority, reducing it to the level of a meaningless fantasy: if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it; if it is false, there is no credit in having invented it.

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

Culture generally

Journalistic murmurations

I’ve heard, and find it plausible, that the New York Times tacitly decides what’s “news” worthy of mainstream attention.

I’m starting to think there is some similar organ on the Christian and Christianish Right, because (for instance) all of a sudden “everyone” (i.e., many on the Christian Right, from which orientation I gain much daily commentary — this, for instance) is writing about MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, as implemented in Canada and increasingly “recommended” in heavy-handed ways.

It’s a worthwhile story, but I don’t think you’ll see it in the New York Times. It may have started with advance copies of The New Atlantis.

It occurs to me that this phenomenon is rather like a murmuration. (I hope that apt metaphor is original. I certainly am not conscious of having encountered it elsewhere.)

The Promise of Pluralism imperiled

In the seven years since Obergefell was decided, the American left has been on a mission to diminish the legal and practical foundations of the Constitution’s free-speech rights.

They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be recognized as more important and that the Supreme Court in Ms. Smith’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, should affirm this new reality. Colorado’s law lists the classes of discrimination as “race, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), national origin/ancestry, creed, marital status.”

This Supreme Court is likely to decide in Ms. Smith’s favor, maintaining the prohibition established in 1943 by Justice Robert Jackson as the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” that the government can’t compel, or coerce, an individual to adopt the majority’s opinion.

Still, this case is among the reasons you have been seeing a public assault on the high court’s conservative members. The left’s playbook, across politics, is to stigmatize its opposition as outside acceptable opinion.

Daniel Henninger, They Want to Shut You (and 303 Creative) Up.

I’ll be blunt: I think free speech rights trump antidiscrimination rights. The only issue is whether what the state is forbidding or commanding qualifies as “speech.” In the 303 Creative case, it so clearly was speech that Colorado admitted it.

Western Civ

The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Your periodic reminder

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Questioning whether violence really is religious risks the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I’ve believed that violence doesn’t come from true Christianity for more than 50 years. I probably was guilty of scripture-twisting, but I cited James 4:1-4 as my prooftext.

My conviction, and the bloody wars provoked by non-Christian ideologies in the last century, gives me cause for grave concern as we arguably are abandoning a real, if flawed, Christian heritage now that our great atheist enemy is defunct.

Politics (sigh!)

Marshall Law

Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress ….

Kevin D. Williamson

Ron DeSantis

I want two things out of the 2024 presidential cycle. One is the end of Donald Trump’s political career, whether in the primary or general election. I don’t care when or how it happens as long as it happens.

The other is a greater willingness among conservatives to criticize their leadership. We’ve spent seven years encased in a repulsive personality cult devoted to a repulsive personality. If the cult disbands in the next election, one obvious lesson in the aftermath is that it shouldn’t be replaced by a new one.

Nick Cattogio

Cattogio thinks the best way to end Trump’s political career is an incumbent Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (you may have heard of him).

I’m agnostic on what it will take to drive a stake through Trump’s blackened heart, but I’m tending negative on DeSantis.

He’s smart enough to know that some of the culture war laws he has backed are unconstitutional, but backed them anyway despite his oath to uphold the constitution. Maybe the Morning Dispatch’s satirical summary of the Bill of Rights is his for real:

On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

That’s not my view of the Bill of Rights.

I can forgive Marjorie Taylor Green her illiterate outbursts before I forgive the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron DeSantis. All of them are better-educated and probably smarter than me, but they tend toward unprincipled pandering and willing to subvert the Constitution for political gain. For all I know, DeSantis seems better than the other two only because I’m less familiar with him.

The Coverup is the Crime

Remember that dad who got dragged out of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, after pressing school officials about in-school sexual assaults on girls by a cross-dressing boy? The idea of the problem being the dad fit a leftish narrative so well that Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate threats against teachers and school officials and people began viewing vocal parental involvement in Board meetings as terroristic.

Well, it turns out the dad may have been right and that school officials were criminally covering up the assaults.

Caveat: There are twists and turns in this story. The charges are mostly misdemeanors and potentially somewhat political. I doubt that the dust has settled enough for clarity. It’s now well-known that a cross-dressing male sexually assaulted two girls in two bathrooms, but those bathrooms apparently were not yet subject to a “come as the gender you feel today” policy.

Let the healing begin

Republicans actually turned out more voters than Democrats in November. They even won the national popular vote. But in races involving Trump’s candidates, many Republican voters split their tickets, punishing Trump favorites like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake who questioned the 2020 results. It turns out that running against democracy is not a recipe for democratic success.

It’s sobering to realize that history can turn on the personal quirks of one person. But it’s also comforting, because as the 2022 midterm results suggest, some of the ugliest aspects of the Trump era aren’t inherent to our system or deeply embedded in our society. They are the downstream effects of one bad actor. Remove him and the pollution he caused will remain, but once disconnected from its source, it can slowly be cleansed, as we saw in this past election.

Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl. The idea of a “national popular vote” in Congressional and Senate elections is quite bogus for most purposes, but it somehow feels instructive here.

Hard fact

You can’t fact-check a person out of hope and purpose. They’ll resent you even if you’re right.

David French

Just for fun

France can still pull it off if Mike Pence has the courage

@EricMGarcia


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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 before Nativity 2022

Antiquity envy

By Lingard’s day, the Church of England held the smug and self-affirming view that the old Anglo-Saxon Church—that is to say, Christianity in the British Isles prior to 1066—was in fact, proto-Protestant; concluding that Anglicanism was nothing more than English Christianity as it had always been before all those pesky Papists showed up and ruined things. From the actual historical record, to accomplish this, you must turn your head just right and squint at one isolated primary source, and then use 17th-century Protestant speculations as your guide for its interpretation. Lingard lays waste to such pretensions, but is always a slightly bemused gentleman in doing so.

Terry Cowan

Thus does Terry introduce the theme of what I’ll call “antiquity envy” in various 200-year-old sects. He even (blush!) gives me a shout-out as his favorite aggregator. What’s not to like?

Accommodating brute facts

In May 2021, a time when public gatherings in England were strictly limited because of the coronavirus pandemic, the British tabloids were caught off guard by a stealth celebrity wedding in London. Westminster Cathedral—the “mother church” of Roman Catholics in England and Wales—was abruptly closed on a Saturday afternoon. Soon the groom and bride arrived: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, a Catholic and a former Conservative Party press officer with whom he had fathered a child the previous year. A priest duly presided over the marriage, despite the fact that the Catholic Church opposes divorce and sex outside marriage, and that Johnson had been married twice before and had taken up with Symonds before securing a divorce. It was an inadvertently vivid display of the Church’s efforts to accommodate its teachings to worldly circumstances.

Paul Elie, The Reinvention of the Catholic Church – The Atlantic (emphasis added)

I assume that accommodating Orthodoxy to worldly circumstances (which isn’t exactly changing its teachings, but may eventuate in that) is what Archbishop Elpidophoros of America was thinking at the ”First Greek Orthodox Baptism for Child of Gay Couple in Greece”

It is a fearful thing to be responsible for a multitude of human souls, as are priests and, a fortiori, Bishops, Archbishops and Patriarchs.

Deny baptism to the children “of” the gay couple and you’re mean or homophobic. Grant it and, among other problems, it is seen as “a sign of great progress in the Greek Orthodox Church in terms of acceptance of the LGBT community,” a not entirely salutary development. Do the wedding and you’re countenancing adultery and divorce; deny it and you’re promoting bastardy.

The only way I know of squaring the circle is that you consider stepping beyond the letter of the law only if you have reason to think that doing so will conduce to the salvation of one or more parties to the irregular circumstance, which in all the cases I can imagine will mean that there’s already some repentance for the circumstances they’ve created.

But then I’m not a Priest or a Bishop, am I?

Humble in theory, arrogant in fact

Over the last two centuries, an egalitarian culture has given rise to a diverse array of powerful religious leaders, whose humble origins and common touch seem strangely at odds with the authoritarian mantle that people allow them to assume.

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

I cannot help but think of a law school classmate’s description of leaving the Protestantism of southern Indiana for the Roman Catholic Church: he gave up untutored and pompadoured tyrants who denied any authority beyond expounding the Bible in exchange for priests who claimed to be God’s authoritative presence but who let him live his own life.

We’re all liberals now

The late conservative philosopher Roger Scruton once referred to conservatism as ‘a hesitation within liberalism’ rather than an alternative to it, and Deneen too believes that while left and right might want to liberate different things, they are both onboard with the overall project:

What is bemoaned by the the right is not due to the left but to the consequences of its own deepest commitments, especially to liberal economics. And what is bemoaned by the left is not due to the right but to the consequences of its own deepest commitments, especially to the dissolution of social norms, particularly those regarding sexual behaviour and identity. The ‘wedding’ between global corporations and this sexual agenda is one of the most revealing yet widely ignored manifestations of this deeper synergy.

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.