Sunday reflections

In progress we trust

Faith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Sorry if I’ve posted this before. It just says so much in so few words.

Seen and unseen understood

We celebrated Theophany, the third-most important of the Church’s feasts, on January 6. The feast technically continues several days, and included last Sunday:

The true Light has appeared and bestows illumination on all. Christ is baptized with us, even though He is above all purity; and thus He infuses sanctification into the water, which then becomes the purifying agent of our souls. What is seen belongs to earth; but what is understood transcends the heavens. By means of a bath comes salvation; by means of water comes the Spirit; by means of immersion does our ascent to God come to pass. How wonderful are Your works, O Lord! Glory to You.

One of the "Praises" ("Lauds") in Matins ("Orthros") January 9 (emphasis added, because that caught my attention).

American Christianity collection

The "democratic" seeds sown

Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (1844)

178 years later, we can see a bit more clearly.

To see ourselves as others see us

Author and speaker Christine Caine recently shared that she was stunned by what she encountered when she first visited churches in the United States.

Before coming to the U.S., “I had never seen a flag in a church,” said Caine. “Never.”

Jessica Lea

Unguarded candor

I found my way into this Twitter thread because John MacArthur was quoted as saying:

I don’t even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is what sent people to hell. To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It’s to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness.

Unfortunately, the quote was accurate, and he doubled down disastrously. MacArthur is a big-name Evangelical of the sort I would have thought fairly moderate.

Comic and tragic

I’m from the Midwest, the home of emotional withdrawal, where I grew up among serious Bible scholars for whom the result of scholarship was schism and bitterness ….

Garrison Keillor.

That Keillor is a low-key comic doesn’t mean it’s not true. Witness this:

New podcast: Reformed Church in America split points to rising tensions in Calvin country — GetReligion

The "Alliance of Reformed Churches" to which conservatives from the RCA are fleeing, is attracting interest from Churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) as well. Both a roiled by similar contentious issues, implicating sexuality.

I was already an adult, when the PCA was forming from dissident members of the United Presbyterian Church. Our church was considering affiliating with PCA. They were until recently reputed to be rock-ribbed conservative Calvinists. Now, they’re in some trouble.

Upon completing law school, and before entering the Orthodox Church, I spent roughly 15 years in the CRC.

It blows my mind how the PCA and CRC have changed in so short a time. (If you’re curious, or just not conversant with the polyglot Protestant world, "Presbyterian" and "Reformed" historically are the English and continental Calvinist Churches, respectively; for an American, there’s no high doctrinal barriers between them.)

We’re not total outliers, though

I have been reviewing some of my personal notes, and one portion of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary has particular religious valence. McGilchrist is a Brit, and so his observations aren’t focused on America, but presumably apply throughout the post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment West:

  • One can see the second process (a rejection of the right hemisphere’s world) in the way in which the decline of metaphoric understanding of ceremony and ritual into the inauthentic repetition of empty procedures in the Middle Ages prompted, not a revitalisation of metaphoric understanding, but an outright rejection of it, with the advent of the Reformation … The Reformation is the first great expression of the search for certainty in modern times. As Schleiermacher put it, the Reformation and the Enlightenment have this in common, that ‘everything mysterious and marvellous is proscribed … What is so compelling here is that the motive force behind the Reformation was the urge to regain authenticity, with which one can only be profoundly sympathetic. The path it soon took was that of the destruction of all means whereby the authentic could have been recaptured.
  • Decapitation of statues by the Reformers took place because of the confounding of the animate and the inanimate, and the impossibility of seeing that one can live in the other metaphorically. In a world where metaphoric understanding is lost we are reduced to ‘either/or’, as Koerner says. Either the statue is God or it is a thing: since it is ‘obviously’ not God, it must be a thing, and therefore ‘mere wood’, in which case it has no place in worship.
  • Protestantism being a manifestation of left-hemisphere cognition is – even though its conscious self-descriptions would deny this – itself inevitably linked to the will to power, since that is the agenda of the left hemisphere.
  • Removing the places of holiness, and effectively dispensing with the dimension of the sacred, eroded the power of the princes of the Church, but it helped to buttress the power of the secular state.
  • In essence the cardinal tenet of Christianity – the Word is made Flesh – becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.
  • There are obvious continuities between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They share the same marks of left-hemisphere domination: the banishment of wonder; the triumph of the explicit, and, with it, mistrust of metaphor; alienation from the embodied world of the flesh, and a consequent cerebralisation of life and experience.
  • The destruction of the sacerdotal power of the Church was a goal of the French Revolution, as it had been of the Reformation. The Reformation, however, had not been nakedly, explicitly, secular: it had purported to replace a corrupt religion with a purified one. All the same its effect had been to transfer power from the sacerdotal base of the Catholic Church to the state, an essential part of the relentless process of secularisation, in the broadest sense – by which I mean the re-presentation of human experience in purely rationalistic terms, necessarily exclusive of the Other, and the insistence that all questions concerning morality and human welfare can and should be settled within those terms – which I would see as the agenda of the left hemisphere. (I am fascinated at the pregnant qualifiers "nakedly, explicitly".)
  • Eichendorff said that Romanticism was the nostalgia of Protestants for the Catholic tradition.

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 gleanings 1/9/2022

Popular Christianity

How tragic it is that so much of the popular version of Christianity preaches a secularized message. It keeps God isolated, but popping in from time to time. It has lost the sense of the permeation of matter by divine Grace, the sacramental vision of reality; it insists that the Eucharist is just bread and wine, baptism is just a bath, and the world operates independently of God. It preaches a moralism of being “good,” leading only to obsession with guilt, and then, when that becomes too much, to shamelessness. It preaches that our salvation is acquired by a simple confession, and that it consists of going to “heaven” instead of going to “hell”—not a life lived in cooperation with divine grace…

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

Not what it’s for

I believe in evangelism, but it is not a means of cultural engagement at all.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Epiphany and Theophany

The incorrigible habit in western media of mis-identifying Othodox Theophany as Epiphany is an annual irritant.

I do not know how East and West diverged on the observance of January 6, but they are not the same Christian Feast under different names. Such is the "depth" of religion journalism in the U.S. that a common date and the conceptual similarity of the two names throws journalists off every time.

What is common about them is that both celebrate the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. But:

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles …

Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God ….

Wikipedia thus gets us in the ballpark. But its initial description of Theophany falls pretty far short of the fullness. Fortunately, it gets much closer further into the article.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked [the first of – (Tipsy)] two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

(Emphasis added)

Here’s the hymn of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself//
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

We sing it five times in the festal liturgy, just in case one’s mind wanders (which probably isn’t the real reason).

I’m a partisan (and a gentile, no less), but I think the first open manifestation of the Holy Trinity is a weightier matter than gentile kings visiting the Christ Child.

And I know it’s not the same thing.

Where is God when you need Him?

In the wake of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2007, major newspapers in America (and elsewhere) asked the question, “Where is God?” Tragedy reminds us of God’s apparent absence, but our cries of abandonment seem empty in light of the demands we make for God’s absence at most other times and places.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

The most thoroughly atheist culture in history?

Has Western society become the most thoroughly atheist in history?

[Augusto] Del Noce’s real genius was his prophetic insight into the rise of Western irreligion. He saw that Marxism “won” the war of ideas, even as it collapsed as a theory, by establishing the economic dimension of man as humanity’s defining reality. For Del Noce, the West “defeated” Marxism not by reaffirming biblical morality or Christian anthropology but by quietly shedding both. Western countries won by outproducing Marxist systems on their own terms, with material results—superior science, superior technology, more and better consumer goods. The dark side of technology, Del Noce argued, is a passion for “total revolution”—permanent revolution against the past doing business as innovation. The byproducts of its success have been religious agnosticism, sexual liberation and radical secularism. By the time of his death, Del Noce viewed much of Western society, despite its Christian residue, as the most thoroughly atheist in history, a feat achieved not by persecuting God, but by ignoring and rendering him irrelevant.

Francis X. Maier, ‌How Marxism ‘Won’ the War of Ideas.

(Serving suggestion: Read my first item again.)


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.

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


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.

Abortion law, the Performative Jackass Caucus, Race, and more

Abortion Law

Politicization of the Supreme Court

In an exchange with Scott Stewart, the Mississippi solicitor general defending the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Justice Sotomayor had this to say:

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.

Here’s what one reader of mine had to say about Justice Sotomayor’s “stench” comment:

Whoever smelt it, dealt it. Sotomayor and Alito are the two most partisan, results-oriented members of the Court. It’s pretty rich of her, of all the justices, to be complaining about politics stinking up SCOTUS—in a soundbite that was clearly crafted to fire up the left.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Abortion and adoption

The last thing we should take from our nation’s debates about abortion is that adoption is a problem.

… the very idea that poverty—in this nation, of all places—could be the factor that causes a mother to part with her child is and should be a clarion call for action, both private and public, designed to facilitate family formation.

David French, Don’t Denigrate Adoption to Defend Roe

Politics, briefly

A guy can dream, can’t he?

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California is resigning from Congress at the end of the month to become CEO of former President Trump’s new social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group. First elected in 2002, Nunes served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015 to 2019, and would have been a contender to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans recapture the chamber next year.

The Morning Dispatch

This seems like an epic bad career move, but given my opinion of Devin Nunes, he’s certainly welcome to it.

I wonder if Trump can get Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rest of the GOP Performative Jackass Caucus to come work for him, too?

When the only meaningful correlation involves racial ambivalence

After January 6, a team led by Robert A. Pape, head of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, scoured the profiles of the capital insurgents:

Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.

Trump and some of his most vocal allies, Tucker Carlson of Fox News notably among them, had taught supporters to fear that Black and brown people were coming to replace them. According to the latest census projections, white Americans will become a minority, nationally, in 2045. The insurgents could see their majority status slipping before their eyes.

Barton Gelman, January 6 Was Practice.

This is a (the?) major article in a brand-new issue of the Atlantic largely devoted to the threat posed by the Trumpist Republican party. Recommended.

I apparently lead a sheltered life. I genuinely thought that frank racism (white people are better than darker people) had faded close to extinction, though I thought it likely that stereotypes remained (e.g., that black English did its speakers no favors in the job and other "markets").

Then came Barack Obama, and with it, birtherism and other unreasoning opposition.

Now, the "replacement theory" and the terrors it incites.

I’ve got to think this stuff was latent all along — just not obviously among my usual circle of mostly-Christian acquaintances.

Other

Root causes

Mark Bauerlein and Tim Perry discuss the deterioration of Christian burial practices, for which Perry finds startling roots:

Bauerlein: You link this deterioration to a bigger conceptual trend, and that is what happened with eschatology in the 20th Century. What went on there?
Perry: I think it’s a twofold story and it’s a little bit ironic. On the one hand, the Church lost its eschatological vocabulary. In the mainstream Protestant Churches and perhaps in the Catholic Church, more immediate concerns came to the fore: keeping the machine going in the days of decreasing revenues, decreasing membership rolls. In the churches that I’ve been shaped in as a child, I think we became a little bit embarrassed at our eschatological excesses, where we stopped talking about the traditional last things — death, judgment, hell and heaven — and started talking instead about secret rapture, great tribulation, who’s the antichrist, what’s the mark of the beast. I think evangelicals have, perhaps rightly, become a little embarrassed at that kind of speech. But instead of going back to the far richer and far more important language of the traditional last things, we’ve just stopped talking about eschatology altogether.

First Things Podcast, A Proper Christian Burial.

Well, I guess if you’re coy about death, judgment, hell and heaven, and allergic to orderly "liturgies," you’ve got little but novelties and pabulum to preach at funerals.

God will never forsake chosen America

This occurs to me so rarely, but seems so fitting when it does, that I thought I should capture it this time: a lot of support for Donald Trump, particularly but not exclusively among Evangelicals, results from fear that Democrats are an existential threat to the country, so they should vote Republican because God would never so forsake (or judge) America that we are left with shitty and unsuitable candidates in both major parties. That simply is unthinkable, since America supposedly is some kind of new chosen people.

I disagree — so much that I’m tempted to cease voting for Democrats or Republicans. That would mean I sit out many individual races. It should send at least a teensie-weensie signal of discontent that some voter in my precinct voted American Solidarity Party in the Presidential race, Libertarian or some other third party where ASP has no candidate, and not a single D or R.

Verbal tics

“Look, I’m an up-front guy,” Bear Hobart said. “I have to be honest with you—” Here it comes, Dylan thought. He was pretty convinced that you didn’t ever have to be honest with someone; maybe you should, and maybe you wanted to, but “I have to be honest with you” was a self-defeating sentence, since it was never true.

Eve Tushnet, Amends

There’s a kindred verbal tic: "Do you realize that you just [e.g., accused all the teachers in this school district of being sexual perverts]?", addressed to one who asks unwelcome questions. The italicized portion is a signal that the speaker is going to twist words beyond recognition in order to paint the initial speaker as some kind of crazy.

Modernity’s faith

“[F]aith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.”

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Recently-acquired aphorisms

  • A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. —Edward de Bono, The Mechanism of Mind
  • I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers. —Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World

Via Philip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell.

I recommend this memoir (about which I wrote earlier), but read it to understand Yancey’s inner life, not to lay out a timeline of events in U.S. and American church history, which Yancey confuses or conflates at times.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday Edification

It’s a commonplace, I think, that if you don’t have a word for something, it’s hard to think about it.

Fr. Stephen Freeman points out that we have no good English words for three things vital to Orthodox spirituality: nous (adverb noetic), hesychia, and nepsis. The consequence of our ignorance of the nous is that we try to use the wrong "tools" to know God:

… [W]e have narrowed the focus of our attention and are probably among the least aware human beings to have ever lived.

Our narrowed focus is largely confined to two aspects: the critical faculty and emotions. The critical faculty mostly studies for facts, compares, judges, measures, and so forth. Emotions run through the varieties of pleasure and pain, largely pairing with the critical faculty to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This way of experiencing the world is largely the result of living in a consumerist culture. We not only consume things – we are constantly under a barrage of information geared solely towards consumption. We consume everything. Information is more than information – it is information for the purpose of consumption. Even religious notions are governed by consumption. We “like” or “don’t like” Church. We find it useful, or of no interest. People are even known to “shop” for Churches.

The nous is not a faculty of consumption. It is a faculty of perception, particularly of spiritual perception. The modern struggle to experience God often fails because it is carried out by consumers. God, the true and living God, cannot be consumed, nor can He be known by the tools of consumption. Consumerist Christianity peddles experience and ideas about God. It has little or nothing to do with God Himself.

I can recommend no better Sunday reading than the full blog post, ‌A Noetic Life.

Downers and uppers

Afghanistan

This week has been a real downer, but I can’t not mention Afghanistan. Rest assured that I picked four that don’t seem to be echo-chamber fare:

1

Back in 2001 and 2002, Pat Buchanan was warning against the Iraq War, and against nation-building in Afghanistan. He was marginalized as a heretic by the official gatekeepers of the Right. Because Pat Buchanan has objectionable opinions about some things — he was “far right,” in their estimation — he was not to be taken seriously in anything.

But Pat Buchanan was right. He was right about Iraq, and he was right about Afghanistan. The same people who denounced him as a heretic then are leading the chorus of denunciation against Viktor Orban and Hungary. And you know, maybe they’re right. I don’t think they are, but you can make up your own mind about that. I would just strongly urge you to keep an open mind about Hungary, because the anti-Buchananites are the same ones now fashioning themselves as anti-Orbanites. Are you sure you should trust their judgment? Are you sure you should trust their construal of what Hungary is like? Keep that in mind.

Rod Dreher, Andrew Sullivan Vs. Viktor Orban

2

[W]hen faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It’s not like the U.S. didn’t try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women’s rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance–most of the time with hardly any fighting at all–showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what’s also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity. America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America. There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

The Social Pathologist: Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

"Globohomo" is not in my vocabulary, and I don’t plan to add it. It is such very short shorthand that I don’t know whether it even communicates much to peripheral members of the author’s tribe.

But it has been reported by at least semi-credible sources that our Embassy in Kabul was recently flying the rainbow flag in celebration of something-or-other, and it’s safe to assume that Afghans are broadly aware of what all it stands for. It’s not really surprising if Afghans chose the Taliban (they gave up awfully easily; maybe a better explanation than "willing surrender" is forthcoming) again over the cosmology of which that flag serves as a condensed symbol — which cosmology they have some reason to believe is the eventuality of liberal democracy.

3

The withdrawal plan always seemed abrupt and arbitrary. Why did the White House think the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was the right date for a pullout? What picture of America do they carry in their heads that told them that would be symbolically satisfying? It is as if they are governed by symbols with no understanding of what the symbols mean.

Peggy Noonan

4

Prophecy for a nation of wankers:

In the next few days, another girl foolish enough to think she can keep going to school will take another bullet to the head, and when that happens, the left is going to lose its mind. … Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott will go 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden to determine which one of them gets to fund girls’ education in Afghan refugee camps. The winner will fund beautiful schools — air-conditioned, STEM-centered schools. And there might even be time for the winner to private-jet herself to the Aspen Ideas Festival to explain the importance of girls’ education before those schools are blown up, along with the girls inside them …

Caitlin Flanagan.

Collect for the Feast of St. Jonathan Swift

A decade ago, when I thought things were getting bad — oh how naïve I was in those days — I wrote an essay “Against Stupidity” in which I argued for the canonization of St. Jonathan Swift and even wrote a collect for his feast day.

Gather around, friends … and let’s bow our heads and say together,

Almighty and most wrathful God, who hate nothing You have made but sometimes repent of having made Man; we thank you this day for the life and work of Your faithful servant Jonathan Swift, who constantly imitated and occasionally exceeded Your own anger at the folly of sin, and who in his works excoriated such folly with a passion that brought him nigh unto madness; and we pray that You may teach us to be imitators of him, so that the follies and stupidities of our own time may receive their proper chastisement; through Christ our Lord, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.

Alan Jacobs.

Politics as fashion

I’m frequently surprised that bog-standard lefty shit now attracts shock and pushback. The most obvious of these is free speech. I don’t support free speech despite being a leftist, I support free speech because I’m a leftist … I’m not interested in giving the pro-free speech case here, but I am asserting the simple fact that free speech has always been a leftist priority … But there has been little opportunity to fight for those values because people seem to have just sort of woken up one morning and decided free speech was out. When did we vote on that? Was there a meeting I missed? If we’re going to make massive changes to basic commitments, we better have a serious process of working that out. Instead free speech is out like mom jeans. It’s politics as fashion.

Same thing with deference to the establishment media. I criticize the NYT or other big-shot MSM property on Facebook and people react in horror. “Criticizing the media?!? Who are you, Tucker Carlson?” But distrust of the media has been a leftist stance since before I was born. The media is the propaganda arm of capitalism and empire. Yes, reporting serves a vital function, but commies like me have distrusted the corporate media for ages. If you think that should change, fine, then argue that. But don’t act like I’m the weird one for not suddenly adopting a dramatically different attitude towards the media out of fear of appearing to be a Republican.

Freddie deBoer, When Nothing is Worked Through, Nothing is Explained, Nothing is Understood

What crooked timber we are!

I think I first saw this nearly three weeks ago, but its weirdness lingers:

Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’” Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.

Brooke Harrington, ‌Vaccine Refusers Don’t Want Blue America’s Respect

Degenerate natural law

When the Supreme Court announced a “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, some thought it was rejecting the very idea of natural law. Really it was asserting a degenerate theory of natural law, one widely held in the culture—or at least in those parts of it which our controllers choose to recognize, such as law schools, abortion facilities, and liberal seminaries. It was propounding a universal moral right not to recognize the universal moral laws on which all rights depend. Such liberty has infinite length but zero depth.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Hillsong just doesn’t cut it any more

I received an e-mail the other day from a longtime reader of my blog, a megachurch Protestant who quit going to his normal church when the congregation became defiantly committed to the idea that Covid is a hoax. He and his wife are both medically compromised, so they couldn’t take the risk of attending services there anymore. He wrote:

Based on your writings, I decided to give the Greek Orthodox Church a try.  I’ve been attending on and off for 8 months.  Now that we are vaccinated, I am also back at my old church, but after a service that opens a window to Heaven so the congregation can sing the Trisagion [“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”] with the angels, Hillsong pop music falls flat.  Having seen the members participate in the last supper with the Lord, passing around a tray of sliced up pie crust to "commemorate" the event doesn’t cut it.  Bottom line, I’m likely on my way to Orthodoxy.

This is what “come and see” means.

Rod Dreher

Rinsing one book off with another

I am re-reading Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence. After reading Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, I feel the need for something clean and wholesome.

Most of this book was about events during my lifetime. I caught the author in a few trivial factual mistakes and, as she warmed to the task of demolishing religious right leaders, unwarranted or even absurd interpretations and commentary.

But the arc of her account rings true, and she’s right far oftener than she’s wrong.

The big-name Religious Right leaders — Falwell, Robertson, Dobson particularly — loved the limelight (Robertson denied it) and eventually came to instantiate the folk-definition of a fanatic: one who, having forgotten his goal, redoubles his efforts. Such redoubling too often involved wild-ass hyperbole, apocalyptic predictions about Democrat rule, over-promising and, in general, neglect of the very religious precepts they were supposed to be defending.

In the end, their discreditable behavior discredited them, the GOP, the Conservative cause, and worst of all, the reputation of the Christian faith.

Fr. Maximos, a young but advanced Athonite monk ordered to go to a monastery on Cyprus, is nothing like that.

Food news

I’ve taste-tested it twice now and can confirm that the Strawberry Brie Burger at Bryant, just outside of West Lafayette, Indiana, is one of the best burgers on the face of the earth.

Get it medium-rare. Salty, sweet, creamy, unctuous and smoky. What more could you ask?


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Apophats and Cataphats

> In the 1830s, virtually all American theologians—Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians alike—assumed theology to be a science whose aim was to produce exact formulations based on evidence … Generally, the Bible was thought to be a storehouse of facts and propositions and the task of theologians was to systematize these facts and to ascertain the general principles to be found in them … [A]ll, including the Unitarians, assumed that every passage in the Bible had only one meaning, and that all readers through history could understand it.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle locations 1065-1070).

This formulation shocked me, but I readily recognized it as accurate even when describing the Evangelicalism of my youth, 130 years later. The conceit that we were getting warranted certainties in sermons and chapel talks was strong, and I suspect it’s still around, if less universal, today. Some of those certainties were toxic falsities, as probably are some of today’s.

Fast forward a few decades from the 1830s to this recognizably similar view from a scholarly sort of Protestantism:

> Scottish Realism with its optimistic, democratic view that anyone could discover the truth appealed to many Americans, and it had particular appeal to the Protestant clergy because it posited the spiritual nature of consciousness and it involved no skepticism about religious truth … As Marsden points out, Old School Presbyterians, raised on the Westminster catechisms, tended to view the truth as a stable entity that, when expressed in precisely stated propositions, would be understood by everyone at all times in exactly the same way … Further, if moral laws could be adduced in the same way as the laws of physics, then theology was a science, too … to systematize the facts of the Bible, and ascertain the principles or general truths which those facts involve … “The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science,” he wrote. “It is his store-house of facts.”

Id., Kindle locations 1305-1326.

Contrast this dissenting view from the 1830s:

> [Horace] Bushnell’s challenge to this whole way of thinking rested on the new science of philology and on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ideas about the indeterminacy of language … Dogma-based theologians, he argued, ignore the instability of the abstractions they use and work out Christian systems that are consistent but false simply because of their consistency … The authors of the Scriptures, the inspired witnesses to spiritual truths, could not convey these truths directly. Rather, like all good writers, they did their best by multiplying forms or figures, and by creating paradoxes and contradictions to give as many hints as they could to their inspiration … [I]t offended piety and intelligence to claim that the meaning of God’s self-expression in Christ could be captured in “a few dull propositions.”

Id., Kindle location 1077-1083.

I’m not endorsing Bushnell’s liberal Protestantism, let alone claiming that he was influenced by Orthodox Christianity, but I was surprised to see that on this occasion, the liberals are much more sympathetic to my Orthodox mind than was the mainstream. The uncertainty reflected in Orthodoxy’s apophatic theology seems to have something of the same look to it, though the lineages of the two are quite different.

Now, something more contemporary.

> Richard Dawkins argued against God’s existence, saying that omniscience and omnipotence are contradictory …

Garrison Keillor

Omniscience and omnipotence are familiar words to Christians, though perhaps only those of a Western sort. Having been a Western Christian, they’re familiar to me.

These are cataphatic, affirming two things about God: that He knows everything and can do everything. These are the kinds of "facts" (themselves abstractions) through which much or most Western Christianity purports to know God.

In contrast, here are a few things Eastern Christian apophatic theology says:

  • No one has seen or can see God (John 1:18).
  • He lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16).
  • His ways are unsearchable and unfathomable (Job 11:7-8; Romans 11:33-36).
  • The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility (The Life of Moses, Gregory of Nyssa).
  • God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility (On the Orthodox Faith, John of Damascus).

OrthodoxWiki (hyperlinks omitted). An Orthodox Christian with a truly Orthodox mindset, not unduly influenced by a Western milieu, will still affirm those, and will demur from terms like omniscient and omnipotent.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The end of the world as we know it …

THE EIGHT PRINCIPLES OF UNCIVILISATION

‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

The Eight Principles of Uncivilization (Dark Mountain Project)

I wonder whether Paul Kingsnorth, an author if this Manifesto some years ago, would still unequivocally endorse this from Priniciple 5 now that he is a Christian:

Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet …

It seems to me that it is defensible from one standpoint, but also incongruent with, for instance, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man” from the Nicene Creed, which he now confesses.


[T]ime has not been kind to the greens. Today’s environmentalists are more likely to be found at corporate conferences hymning the virtues of ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical consumption’ than doing anything as naive as questioning the intrinsic values of civilisation. Capitalism has absorbed the greens, as it absorbs so many challenges to its ascendancy. A radical challenge to the human machine has been transformed into yet another opportunity for shopping.

Dark Mountain Manifesto


“At a time when fewer Americans attend religious services, religious narratives about Christian nationhood may have their strongest political effects when, and perhaps because, they are detached from religious institutions.”

Please read that sentence again.

Richard Ostling, Did January 6 attack on Capitol highlight ‘D.I.Y. Christianity’ as decade’s next big thing?.


[T]here is no such thing as independent media; there are only different kinds of dependence. If your financial security is derived from the approval of others, you are not independent. You can be dependent on different people and that difference does matter. I have been remarkably successful here in a crowdfunding context but I probably would never have been able to get a staff writer job at any traditional publication. (Such a job would probably pay a third of what I’m making, but that’s for another time.) But my generous readers are themselves stakeholders whose interests I will inevitably weigh and value. A consequence of this dynamic is that “independent” media is subject to external pressures too, in ways both good and bad. If you don’t like something about what is typically branded as the independent media, you can yell about it, which increases engagement and helps who you want to hurt; you can hope that it will go away, which it almost certainly won’t; or you can try to use the power of incentives, that very universal dependence.

Freddie deBoer


[In t]he attempted suppression of the old Mass…, Francis is attempting to use centralized authority to complete the revolution of Vatican II, to consign definitively to the past a liturgy that’s often a locus of resistance to the council’s changes. (It’s many other things as well, but Francis is not wrong to see it playing that role.)

Ross Douthat, ‌The Ungovernable Catholic Church

I love that parenthetical, because I know it’s true from conversations I’ve had with the kinds of Catholics who support the Latin Mass. But at present, Pope Francis is keener on making the big catholic tent big enough for German progressives than for those who resist some or much of Vatican II.

As an Orthodox Christian, I tend to support the traditional Latin Mass simply because it is at least recognizably Christian Liturgy (unlike the Novus Ordo).

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. A Church nourished on the Novus Ordo apparently is friendly to gay marriage and women priests, hostile to 2000 years of tradition.


During the hundred days after George Floyd’s death, one heard frequently about unrest in the city of Portland, Oregon. Every day, the journalist Andy Ngo posted video on Twitter that seemed to show horrendous clashes between the police and black-clad rioters that Ngo identified as antifa … At the same time, the journalist Bret Weinstein on his DarkHorse podcast told tales of ongoing, bitter antifa provocation and violence. Not long ago, the writer Douglas Murray visited Portland and compared the city to third world war zones he had visited. “This is not normal,” he said again and again.

How did the Times respond to the situation in Portland? There had been criticism of the paper by conservative outlets for under-reporting the events in Portland and under-playing the violence when it did report. In July, a couple of months after Floyd’s death, when the troubles had been going on for some time, the Times sent the distinguished journalist Nicholas Kristof to investigate. He wrote a piece, much of it tongue in cheek, about how very hard it was to find a genuine anarchist in the whole city of Portland. The demonstrations, as he saw them, were overwhelmingly instances of peaceful civic engagement. “We see dueling narratives. One is Trump’s, and it portrays Portland and other cities with protests against police brutality as teetering on the abyss and requiring his Lincolnesque hand to hold America together. The other is—well, shall we call it reality? Yes, there’s violence and vandalism, as well as opportunistic looting, and it will be a challenge to manage it, but local officials are much better placed to do so than the White House.”

Now of course Trump reacted in predictable fashion, sending federal officers into the city. If in fact there was horrid violence in Portland, then Trump was right—and one began in time to sense that in this paper, Trump could almost never be right. So who was one to believe? Should I credit the Times’s distinguished representative? The paper newly committed to an agenda would surely prefer that there was nothing terribly dangerous going on in Portland. So Kristof had some reason to see some things and block out others. Or should I believe Andy Ngo, who has been fighting a one-man war against antifa for some time? He’s surely more sinned against than sinning in all this—antifa members put him in the hospital with a brain injury not long ago—but obviously he has his views and biases. Should I believe Bret Weinstein, an admirable one-time science professor who stood up against a mob at Evergreen State College? Weinstein now hosts a podcast for “curious minds and free thinkers” and his view of Portland is far more dire than that of the visitor from the Times.

Ten years ago, this question of belief would have been very easy to answer. I would believe the Times, of course. A decade ago I would never think to measure Ngo and Weinstein’s views of the truth against the truth dished up by a Times stalwart like Nick Kristof. But for many readers like myself, that kind of confusion will, I suspect, become more and more the order of the day as people begin to see that the Times has transformed itself.

Mark Edmundson, Changing Times (boldface added).

A very good point. The Times versus Donald Trump? No problem. The Times versus Andy Ngo and Bret Weinstein? Should be no problem, but it is.


The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today has been riveting thus far. But dare the flagship publication of a movement of mostly independent churches ultimately indict Mark Driscoll’s D.I.Y. independence itself as a major cause of the spiritual damage?

While waiting for the next installment of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, I listened to The Roys Report‘s recent two-parter on Trinity Church, Driscoll’s latest venture. It’s now clear to me that Driscoll has gone full personality cult, and that people should flee while they still can.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Biggest sinner on the block

Roosh V was a nasty piece of work, but it’s all cool now

Rod Dreher distills the story of Daryush Valizadeh, a/k/a Roosh V, a red-pill manosphere pickup artist and social media personality who in 2019 stopped all that crap cold turkey, returned to Christianity and eventually (May 2021) entered the Russian Orthodox Church. Valizadeh is full of zeal and has found other men who are full of zeal as well — almost a baptized religious version of the manosphere but without the misogyny.

I found the tale sorta interesting, but found one thing creepily evocative about it: “I was the biggest sinner on the block” testimonies were tiresomely common in Evangelicalism, and this brought back those memories. Those big-sinner-who-got-born-again types seemed to turn into creeps of various sort with suspicious regularity. Part of it was that Evangelicalism just could not help itself; as soon as some celebrity announced getting born again, they’d thrust them in front of their congregations (later their cameras) in contradiction of scriptural warnings.

His history is what it is, and I don’t know how much the foregrounding of his sleazy history is his doing and how much is just thrust upon him by others. I hope it’s the latter and I wish they’d stop.

For Dreher, the tale evoked his own triumphalist zeal for Roman Catholicism — which zeal and faith he lost calamitously 16+ years ago covering the clergy sex abuse scandals as a journalist. Those were not fun, liberating times for Rod, and he cautions Valizadeh to be careful of triumphalism lest he face a similar crisis of faith when first he encounters an Orthodox scandal.

I guess Rod and I share a common theme of concern for Roosh, still a relative novice in a 2000-year-deep faith, that he gets formed well and isn’t exploited for his celebrity.

After lamenting how his personal story dissuades him from aggressively proselytizing for Orthodoxy, or even for Christianity generally, Rod concludes:

Still, there is a particular reason I recommended Orthodox books to the visionary writer Paul Kingsnorth when he first began to inquire about Christianity — and there is a reason he embraced Orthodoxy quickly. There is a reason why Dr. Iain McGilchrist, the author of The Master And His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, told me that he is not a believer, but if he were, he would be Orthodox, because of all forms of Christianity, it is the one that has … maintained the best balance between logical and intuitive modes of knowing). There is a reason why, after sixteen years (next month) of worshiping and praying as an Orthodox Christian, faith in Christ is sedimented into my bones in a way it never was before.

Rod Dreher. I am not surprised at McGilchrist’s observation, having fairly recently finished ‌The Master And His Emissary.

I have no reason to think Rod reads my blog, and there’s no way to comment on his Substack offerings, but I’d like to point out to him that it is difficult to speak eloquently, truthfully and adequately about Orthodox Christianity precisely because of the extent to which it relies on intuitive modes of knowing. Speech is largely a left-hemisphere creation that relies on logic and analysis to make its persuasive points, and intuition translates poorly into the left-brain’s dialect.

Or as Dr. McGilchrist notes in the book:

one feels so hopeless relying on the written [or spoken – Tipsy] word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations.

and again

It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous.

That, I think, emphasizes why the invitation “Come and see” is as important for making Orthodox Christians today as it was for making disciples at the beginning.

“What we believe” pages

I’ve been off Facebook for several years now (I’ve lost track).

I’m not bragging. I got on for honorable reasons (to reconnect with high school friends, who since I went to boarding school, were more important to me by far than college friends) and got off it for honorable reasons as well (I didn’t like Facebook turning some of my family members into trolls, nor did I like lining Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets).

But while I was on, I hurt somebody a bit. A high school fried was deeply involved in an Evangelical megachurch in a major city. I visited its website, found a page on “what we believe,” and found a roll-your-own substitute for the historic creeds of the Church. The net effect imbalanced if not heretical. I critiqued it without naming the church or why I’d visited the site.

Unfortunately, my friend figured it out and was wounded by what seemed like a gratuitous insult — even trolling her — the reason for which utterly escaped her.

That incident came back to me recently, and though I regret hurting my friend, I don’t regret calling out the arrogance of churches that think themselves entitled to create bespoke religions for their respective clienteles and call them all “Christian.”

Okay, that was a bit harsh. But consider:

  • First Baptist Church of Dallas (friend of Trump, and of Sean Hannity, it created a choral anthem Make America Great Again) is so big that they have both a “What We Believe” and a “Articles of Faith.”
  • Willow Creek Community Church, imitation of which was a major fad 25 years or so ago (I don’t know if it continues) has a Beliefs and Values page and a lengthy Elder Statements pdf.
  • Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has, at least on paper, beliefs far less vacuous than what comes out of Osteen’s mouth every time he opens it.
  • The Wheaton Bible Church, where I was baptized about 55 years ago (and where my wife and I worshipped as newlyweds in the Chicago area), has become a full-blown megachurch, and it, too, has an “About” page.

I’m not going to stop to try to analyze and critique these. My point is they inherently confirm that there is no single “Evangelicalism.” Without a strong denominational identity, each local church must decide for itself, and publish, what it thinks the Bible clearly teaches.

The inability of denominations, let alone independent churches/fiefdoms, to agree on that clear (“perspicacious”) message is one of the things I saw one day, can never unsee, and made me forever non-Protestant.

Of course, my Church has a statement of faith, too, which we recite (oftener, sing) every Sunday Liturgy: The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, written not by us but by two Ecumenical Councils of the Church in the Fourth Century (when some heresies (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Macedonianism and Chiliasm) were riling the church and it was imperative to define the true faith in contrast with those heresies).

If you’d care to compare the Nicene Creed to these ersatz “What We Believe” statements, you’ll note that at least one thing in all the ersatz statements gets nary a mention by the historic Church. Can you spot it?

It’s sola scriptura (in today’s hyperbolic marketspeak, “we’re all about the Bible”) and its corollaries, the bedrock of Protestantism.

Interesting, huh? And yet somehow there remains one Orthodox Church and countless big and little churches, each marching to its own drum.

Anti-Promethean conservative

Americans have always had a thing for Prometheus — the Titan god in Greek mythology credited with (or blamed for) stealing fire and giving it to humanity … Today, those ambitions have moved to the private sector, with Promethean billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos working to make space travel far more commonplace … Is Promethean dynamism a good thing for human beings? … But which end is more compatible with happiness understood as human flourishing?

Damon Linker

One big dispositional difference between me and David French is that he applauds, enraptured, these Promethean stunts.

He needs to look more closely at what drives Jeff Bezos, and to re-read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Heck, finish the trilogy: read That Hideous Strength, too, David.

I may have just found the perfect label for my kind of conservatism: anti-Promethean.

[T]he fantasy that humans can somehow shift ‘offworld’ and recreate such systems on Mars or the Moon when we can’t or won’t live with Earth anymore, is just that: a fantasy, peddled as we saw in the last essay, by the likes of Jeff Bezos and his fellow techno-apostles.

Paul Kingsnorth.

Last acceptable bigotry is alive and well and living just about everywhere in the USA

Martin: Cries of anti-Catholicism are too frequent. Anti-Catholicism is nowhere near as prevalent as racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Not every critique of the Church is an offense against religious liberty. And The New York Times is not anti-Catholic. But from time to time, it’s important to remind people that anti-Catholicism is not a myth.

Green: I wonder if there are instances where this has become politically complicated for you. For example, when now–Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was in her hearing for the Circuit Court of Appeals, Democratic senators questioned her about how her Catholic faith would affect her rulings on issues like abortion. Senator Dianne Feinstein famously told her, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

A lot of people thought that was open anti-Catholic bigotry—a U.S. senator expressing fear that an accomplished legal scholar couldn’t be a fair judge because of her faith. Did you think they had a point?

Martin: Well, first of all, I thought that that phrase was inherently funny. The dogma lives loudly within you. It was just strange—almost nonsensical. But I think it was appropriate for Senator Feinstein to ask, “To what extent will your religious beliefs influence your legal decisions?” That’s not unreasonable.

Green: Do you think so? I mean, the Constitution says that no religious test should be required as a qualification for public office. It’s a founding principle of our country that Americans don’t consider religion when we vet people as public servants.

Martin: I think the difference is that Justice Barrett is well known as a devout Catholic. I didn’t think that was an offensive question. The way it was put was a little ham-handed.

Emma Green, Father Jim Martin on Anti-Catholic Prejudice (the springboard was an issue of the New York Times that “deferentially cover[ed] a language shift meant to show respect for Roma people but … also print[ed] a story that relished a film scene in which a holy Catholic object is defiled.”)

Not a fan of Fr. James Martin, so it’s tempting to add “In other words ….” But I’m going to resist the temptation. You can do your own critical reading (no paywall).

Standpoint

There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.

H. Richard Niebuhr via Lance Morrow

Which reminds me of “what you see depends on where you stand.”

Christian athletes

Soccer

[T]he future of Christianity is going to be black and brown — at least in the UK. The other day I was somewhere in this Central European region, can’t remember exactly where, and was talking to a group of fellow white Christians about migration to Europe. I asked them if they had to choose, would they prefer to live in a Europe that was predominantly black but faithfully Christian, or predominantly white, but atheist. Everyone agreed: black and Christian.

Black Christians, British Football – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher

Basketball

‌Giannis Antetokounmpo As An Orthodox Christian And Star Of The 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Who knew? Or rather, who knew the first part?


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Three from today

Schrodinger’s victims

For the moment, at least, Jews are Schrodinger’s victims; they may or may not be deserving of sympathy, depending on who’s doing the victimizing. When a group of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists chant “Jews will not replace us!,” the condemnation is swift. But replace the tiki torch with a Palestinian flag, and call the Jews “settler colonialists,” and the equivocations roll in: Maybe that guy who threw a firebomb at a group of innocent people on the street in New York was punching up, actually?

April Powers naively believed that American Jews should get the same full-throated defense as any other minority group in the wake of a vicious attack, without ambivalence, caveats and whataboutism. That belief cost her the security of a job.

… This is America, guys.

Kat Rosenfield, April Powers Condemned Jew-Hate. Then She Lost Her Job. (guest-written at Common Sense with Bari Weiss)

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

For decades and decades my view of the Episcopal Church in the United States has been “unfaithfully liberal.” And having started in the essentially fundamentalist wing of Evangelicalism, I was baffled at how a Real Christian®️ could stay in such a Church. (I felt much the same way about the unfaithfulness of some other denominations, but the Episcopal Church had the additional strike of descent from a bastard child of Henry VIII.)

Well, at least as to the Episcopal Church, I’ve figured out over the last five years or so why a believing orthodox Christian might decamp to, or stay in, that Church: worship. You know, the kind of stuff that’s addressed to God or to reposed saints rather than to oneself or one’s friends in the pew. I starved for such worship in Evangelical and Calvinist Churches, with sporadic respite (a great hymn accidentally replacing a praise song, for instance).

But a mid-sized Episcopal Church probably conducts its liturgies and other services more punctiliously than the Roman Catholic Churches in its city. And they are worshipful, or at least not a distraction from worship. The heterodoxy outside formal services was too big an ask for me, but it hasn’t been for others.

And now, The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near (Religion in Public). I will, somewhat, miss it.

“That’s not a thing”

The retiring Rep. Kevin Brady—the top Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee—pointed to some of these concerns in a tweet on Friday. “MORE TROUBLING SIGNS: June jobs report,” it reads. “Long-term unemployment worsened. Unemployment for ALL MINORITIES & LESS EDUCATED worsened. Construction jobs shrank. Labor-force rate: still poor.”

But Tony Fratto—a top Treasury Department and White House official in the George W. Bush administration—argued naysayers were straining a little too hard to criticize the report: “I know it’s fun to find the dark clouds behind every silver lining, but there’s no such thing as a bad jobs report that adds 850k jobs. That’s not a thing.”

The Morning Dispatch: A Strong June Jobs Report – by The Dispatch Staff – The Morning Dispatch


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.