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.

Sunday, 12/11/22

Big day today for the vocal chords. Church, then warmups, then a Chamber Singers concert.

Let my prayer arise …

Incense

Sermon on the Mount

Those Sermon on the Mount Virtues …

… just don’t work any more

Pastors have spoken to [Russell] Moore about getting blowback from their congregants for preaching biblical ideas about mercy, with people saying, “That doesn’t work anymore, in a culture as hostile as this.”

Michelle Goldberg.

So mercy (and other Sermon on the Mount virtues) are just some kind of jujitsu? A tactic rather than a principle?

Pathetic! Any pastor with integrity will recognize that it’s time to preach the whole Gospel until those who don’t like it repent or leave.

Worldview

Can a place be holy?

Rod Dreher is doing tons and tons of research and thinking for a forthcoming book on the re-enchantment of imagination (my version of his project, not his). Preparation includes visiting ancient Christian sites — presumably to try to recapture the context in which a more expansive view of reality than ours prevailed.

He’s been going back and forth with another American on the tour:

Pat and I got into another argument on the bus. I mentioned that the holiest place on earth for Christians is Jerusalem, especially inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which takes in the spot where Jesus died, and the place where he rose from the dead. “You can’t say that,” said Pat. “I’m a Christian, and I don’t necessarily agree with you.” And then we were off. Pat’s view — a thoroughly nominalist one — is that when you say a place is “holy,” you are offering an opinion about the emotions it evokes within you. To Pat, there is no intrinsic holiness to a place, or an object. If the Prayer Tower at Oral Roberts University makes you feel closer to God than the Holy Sepulchre, well, then it is holier for you. Nobody can say that one place is more sacred than another.

You can imagine how I reacted to that line of argument. But again, I think it was important for me to hear it — I mean, to encounter someone who believes these things, and who thinks this way. Remember, Pat is not a liberal; in fact, Pat complained at one point on the trip about how the cultural climate in the city requires non-progressive Christians like him to be closeted. I never could really figure Pat out, to be honest, but he seems to sincerely believe that true Christianity can only be disembodied. He deflected every challenge from me with some form of, “That’s your perspective.” My guess is that he has only lived and dwelled among fellow Pentecostals, and assumes that Pentecostalism is normative. He had no awareness how very, very modern his take on Christianity is. I said to him at one point that if the early church had thought and lived as he does, it would not have survived. I got the sense that he regards me as a nut who worships Tradition, not God.

Again: it’s really useful for me to know as I write this book. Pat — who is a nice guy, actually — and I are at two extremes of the Christian spectrum, but I suspect that most contemporary American Christians are a lot closer to Pat’s end than mine.

Rod Dreher

So at which end, or where along the spectrum, do you stand? My reasoning as an ecclesial Christian puts me with Rod; my culture — and I cannot deny being its creature to a substantial extent — sides with Pat.

So I wouldn’t argue against Rod’s project, but my visceral reactions might not be consistently welcoming.

An older system of values

David French had a very powerful Sunday column last week, Remembering What Repentance Looks Like.

He leads with the story of Johnny Hunt, a big-name Southern Baptist pastor (and former national President) who in May, after finding that his lies about sexually assaulting another pastor’s wife weren’t fooling anybody, was forced out of ministry.

Now a self-appointed committee of four lackies/pastors declare that he’s ready to be restored — less than seven months after removal, and despite a recent SBC resolution (toothless, like all SBC resolutions, because each local church is entirely autonomous) that “any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor.”

Lots of juicy stuff in that story, including a cameo appearance by Herschel Walker, whose “repentance” looks more like intransigence. But I want to note two un-juicy things:

  1. Southern Baptist scripture-twisting. Johnny Hunt never confessed his sin to his congregation, citing Psalm 51:4, which states, “against You and You only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” Further, one of the four lackeys justified his whitewashing of Hunt with the story of the Good Samaritan — which should have led him to run to the aid of the low-status victim pastor’s wife who’d been assaulted by Hunt, not to Hunt, the high-status perpetrator.
  2. The contrast with disgraced John Profumo, the backstory to which I personally recall: “the dignity, discretion, restraint, and repentance with which Profumo lived his life after his fall were the last gasp of an old system of values. His honorable conduct—continued for years, away from the blaze of publicity—would now be almost inconceivable among the political elite.”

We first of all need more men to keep their zippers up, but among those who fail, we need more John Profumos and fewer Johnny Hunts.

Freddie demolishes a straw man

For what it’s worth, I recognize almost nothing as authentically Christian in the straw man Freddie DeBoer attacked Monday.

I should say that Freddie almost certainly is not aware that he has set up a straw man. He’s a painfully honest man, who is describing the kind of Christianish stuff he’s seen on television or encounted beyond whatever church doors he has darkened.

The only thing he says about such Christianish stuff that belongs to authentic Christianity is his tacit acknowledgement that Christianity holds that Christ was more than a man and that his incarnation is salvific.

Curiously, on Friday, Freddie ranked the works of his favorite film director, Terrence Malick. Is there a more Christian director than Malick?

Modern syncretism

I’m very glad we live in a society that is more religiously tolerant. But this has also come at the cost of a greater indifference to the truths our various religions proclaim. Walking around these ancient once-pagan cities, thinking about how syncretic Greco-Roman polytheism was, it’s easy to grasp what a mortal threat monotheism combined with universalism was to the settled order. (The Jews were also monotheistic, but they did not proselytize, because their faith was not universalist.) How strange it is to think that Christianity in the contemporary West has become a lot like the syncretism of the ancient pagan world, in the sense that most Christians (myself included) don’t have a reflexive willingness to throw down to defend theological truths and police ecclesial borders. The Christians who lived in these Asia Minor cities were a threat to the settled social order precisely because they refused to worship the local gods. Had they just added Jesus into the mix, nobody would have bothered them. Had they kept their religion to themselves, as the Jews did, nobody would have bothered them.

In our time, the only Christians who get marked out for opprobrium are those who refuse to observe the dominant culture’s religious feasts (e.g., Pride Month), and who insist that all those who profess the faith they evangelize must also refuse. The Christians who assimilate easily to the idolatries of the day (“idolatry” is worshiping anything but the true God) have no problems. It’s helpful to think about if you were a Jesus believer in first-century Ephesus or Pergamum, if you would have been Christian enough to be persecuted.

Rod Dreher, pensive as he tours the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse in Asia Minor.

Disillusionment

Damon Linker, when he worked at First Things in 2003 and beyond, wrote an article on becoming a father, which produced many negative letters to the editor, most of them the equivalent of shit-posting comments on the web. Since First Things was a high-toned magazine, the contrast with its readers was revealing:

But reading all of those angry, sometimes vulgar, letters from First Things readers attacking me and the magazine, accusing us of abandoning the properly gendered outlook on the family, supposedly rooted in Scripture (but actually derived from pop-culture representations of 1950s middle-class white suburban family life), was significant, too. Doing so left me feeling deeply alienated from the place I worked. Not, again, in terms of the workplace. But in terms of the workplace’s telos—its end or goal. I was an editor for an opinion magazine. But who were its readers? What did its “base” believe about the world? How did I feel about devoting myself and my talents to serving this group of people and its prejudices, which I now began to wonder if I shared?

Damon Linker

What Linker writes there is part of what I felt when shifting from Evangelicalism, many long decades before Florida Man’s seduction of Evangelicalism, to the sober Calvinism of the Christian Reformed Church. Alienation. “These are not really my people.” That sort of thing, along with a more intellectual rationale that wasn’t entirely rationalization.

From what was I alienated?

  • Taboos that lacked even minimally plausible scriptural roots.
  • Altar calls in churches, irnoically without altars and without scriptural precedent.
  • Psychological manipulation in those altar calls: “I see that hand.” (There was no hand, but how was anyone to know with “every head bowed, every eye closed”? I guess I’ve outed myself.) “Is there another?”
  • Flagrant scripture-twisting.

There’s probably more.

Miscellany

Quality

I don’t know much about book-binding, but it appears to me that my small Psalter’s cover letting will wear off before the binding shows any wear.

There’s even a sort of hinge so I can hold it open without straining the spine:

Essentials

American Gnostics

Be careful what you aim for


[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 9/18/22

Liturgies

How Elizabeth experienced her coronation

Over here, people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the by the sacramental side of what we going on.

C.S. Lewis on the 1953 Coronation of Elizabeth II Regina, attributed to a personal letter.

In contrast to sacramentality, America developed …

Proto-Populism in the Pews

Simply put, the Antichrist now worked his evil machinations through elites of all kind, particularly the clergy.

Nathan Hatch, Thundering Legions in The Democratization of American Christianity

Or so Americans leaned to think. Bereft of sacrament, they invented tawdry substitutes, personal and collective:

C.S. Lewis on Christian patriotism

From Screwtape Letters:

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

I think things would be better if supposedly serious Christian people stopped talking like demons, don’t you?

Jake Meador

What happens to churches that forsake liturgy

What strikes me about certain low church communities is that they sometimes imagine themselves to have no liturgy at all. In some cases, they might even be overtly hostile to the very idea of a liturgy. This is interesting to me because, in practice, it is not that they have no liturgy at all as they imagine—they simply end up with an unacknowledged liturgy of a different sort. Their services also feature predictable patterns and rhythms, as well as common cadences and formulations, even if they are not formally expressed or delineated and although they differ from the patterns and rhythms of high church congregations. It’s not that you get no church calendar, for example, it’s that you end up trading the old ecclesial calendar of holy days and seasons, such as Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, for a more contemporary calendar of national and sentimental holidays, which is to say those that have been most thoroughly commercialized.

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society

What happens to politicians formed spiritually in such churches

When Vice President Mike Pence delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, it was like witnessing a Walker Percy satire. Pence remixed Hebrews 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:17, by replacing “Jesus” with “Old Glory,” the “saints” with “this land of heroes,” and even interjected his own biblical gloss—“that means freedom always wins.”

In Love in the Ruins, the Roman Catholic Church has split into three groups, one of which is the American Catholic Church, whose new “Rome” is Cicero, Illinois. The protagonist Tom More attends church there with his mother to celebrate Property Rights Sunday, a major feast day for the church.

Unlike its forebear, the American Catholic Church “emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass, and plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the elevation.”

In response to Pence’s speech, some Christian leaders denounced his idolatry, a great start to warding off Percy’s “Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world.” However, if we want to avert the American apocalypse, we need better readers and thinkers of the Word. As Americans, we should prioritize reading well, learning what words mean, why context matters, and how to be comfortable with mystery.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, Percy and Pence and the American Sense of Scripture

The Religion of American Greatness

Paul D. Miller, Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Georgetown University, recognizes that most of the existing works on Christian nationalism “are rather extreme and almost comical examples of beating up on straw men—or would be, if they weren’t also fear-mongering scurrilous libel masquerading as scholarship.” In The Religion of American Greatness, Miller, who identifies himself as a “Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer,” proposes to offer a “detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism.”

Mark David Hall, Christian Nationalism: An Existential Threat?

Deja Vu

I guess it’s time for somebody to mention, and even to elaborate upon, white Evangelicalism’s pathetic, unbiblical obsession with celebrities: Richard Ostling Is celebrity culture eroding American evangelicalism? This publishing insider says ‘yes’

Yes, I send “unbiblical.” Elevating novice Christian celebrities is pathetic and it’s dangerous to the celebrities themselves.

None of the periodic commentary on this weakness has changed a damned thing, of course.

Hidden life

Enough of my rough and critical thoughts on American religious life.

God Saved the Queen

In all of human history Queen Elizabeth II is the single person who has been most prayed for. From her birth in 1926 she was included in a petition myriads of people prayed day after day: It called upon the Almighty to bless and preserve “all the Royal Family.” From her accession to the throne in 1952, millions began to pray for her daily by name: “That it might please thee to keep and strengthen . . . thy Servant Elizabeth, our most gracious Queen and Governor.” A modern form introduced during her reign that is often used today pleads, “Guard and strengthen your servant Elizabeth our Queen.”

Prayers Answered: God Saved the Queen via Alan Jacobs. The author goes on with other notable things about the late Queen.

Learning to Let Things Be

We seem to be on the verge of choosing what and whether human life—and with it, all life—will continue to be on this planet. Whether science fiction or not there are a lot of brainy people with a lot of money behind them trying to turn us into something quite different than what we have been. I think they will fail. But I don’t really know, maybe they won’t. They will likely do tremendous of damage in the process regardless. Yet nobody is able to give a fully coherent explanation of what we are doing or why. Instead, we are drowning in partial, often unhelpful explanations. I have to wonder whether our situation even can be understood. Have we reached our cognitive and moral limits? Or are the cacophony of reasons we give merely an implicit way of admitting we don’t really know why we do what we do? Admitting our fundamental ignorance would at least be refreshing in its honesty. Instead, it is not unusual to find various deep, sincere, erudite, and eloquent views of our situation that are in nearly complete contradiction with one another. It actually is quite common. Many of them are done with the same air of certainty—where there likely is none.

I myself offer only the Arsenios Option, i.e., fleeing the world of distraction and ambition, being silent, and dwelling in stillness. I don’t offer it as way to understand our situation. It’s what you do when all explanations have failed and when talking turns to gibberish … It is the hope that we can go deeper than the problem itself. In silence, stillness not-knowing, we might possibly learn to stop trying to fix everything. Maybe thereby we can avoid the inevitable catastrophe our solutions themselves are causing. We can learn to accept that we don’t see things clearly and that we probably never will. We can accept that we don’t really know and that not-knowing is actually the better and more human way to live. We can live humbly with each other and upon the earth and with the Divine. We can finally learn to simply let things be.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

—The Cloud of Unknowing

Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden (footnotes omitted)


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into 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, 9/11/22

Yes, it’s the 21st anniversary of the Twin Towers (and related) attack.

Orthodoxy

Strangers in Strange Lands

In traditional Orthodox countries, the general culture supports, or at least is not hostile toward, Orthodox phronema. But in other countries, Orthodox Christians are usually a tiny minority in a sea of other religious traditions. Acquiring and maintaining our Orthodox phronema in a very pluralistic society is much more difficult and requires real effort and dedication.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox

Theodicy

God allowed suffering to enter the world. He did this not out of vengeance, but out of love for man, so that through suffering arising from self-love, sensual pleasure, and the resulting desire for created things, man might see through the illusion of his self sufficiency and return to his original designation: the state of pristine simplicity and communion with the Way.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

Repentance

Repentance is everything you do to get sin, those inborn passions, out of you. It’s reading, thinking, praying, weeding out disruptive influences in your life, sharing time with fellow Christians, following the guidance of the saints. Repentance is the renunciation of what harms us and the acquisition of what is beneficial to us, writes a holy counselor.

Dee Pennock, *God’s Path to Sanity

Five takes on Protestantism

I didn’t set out to collect critiques, but these all came to my attention (several through Readwise, which I enjoy and recommend), and they felt compelling.

I’ve been Protestant, remember — just one beggar suggesting to another that there’s no bread here.

Searching for Authenticity in All the Wrong Places

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. Imagination is not to be filled with [what are now thought of as] airy images.’ In their search for the one truth, both movements attempted to do away with the visual image, the vehicle par excellence of the right hemisphere, particularly in its mythical and metaphoric function, in favour of the word, the stronghold of the left hemisphere, in pursuit of unambiguous certainty. … 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.

Iaia McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Performance Art

America is a Protestant country and we skipped the foot-washing, love-thy-neighbor aspects of the faith, preferring preaching, a performance art that lets you despise your neighbor and thereby raise yourself up. Our politics today is tortured by its Protestantism. The Sisters of St. Mary who founded this hospital may have inherited some dreadful theology but they took a better path, they lay hands on the suffering, they soothed the fevered brow, they lifted the fallen.

Garrison Keillor, reflecting on his medical procedures at a Catholic hospital in the Mayo Clinic system.

Happy imposture

It is an imposture—this grotto stuff—but it is one that all men ought to thank the Catholics for. Wherever they ferret out a lost locality made holy by some Scriptural event, they straightway build a massive—almost imperishable—church there, and preserve the memory of that locality for the gratification of future generations. If it had been left to Protestants to do this most worthy work, we would not even know where Jerusalem is to-day, and the man who could go and put his finger on Nazareth would be too wise for this world. The world owes the Catholics its good will even for the happy rascality of hewing out these bogus grottoes in the rock; for it is infinitely more satisfactory to look at a grotto, where people have faithfully believed for centuries that the Virgin once lived, than to have to imagine a dwelling-place for her somewhere, any where, nowhere, loose and at large all over this town of Nazareth.

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (emphasis added)

Populism

What then is the driving force behind American Christianity if it is not the quality of its organization, the status of its clergy, or the power of its intellectual life? I have suggested that a central force has been its democratic or populist orientation.

Nathan Hatch, “Epilogue: The Recurring Populist Impulse in American Christianity” in The Democratization of American Christianity

Escapist Fiction

The pre-Tribulationist party eventually gained the upper hand for reasons that, according to Sandeen, had less to do with their superior skill at exegesis than with the attractiveness of their position that Christians would be raptured before the Tribulations.

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals

Healthcare-sharing ministries

California congressman demands more transparency from health care sharing ministries

This question was bound to arise and probably needs to. If people aren’t already disguising their sketchy health insurance plans as “ministries,” they soon enough will.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Wednesday, 8/24/22

Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the Government itself go to pieces …?

On January 6, 2021, from a parking garage under the Capitol Visitor Center, then–Vice President Mike Pence ordered the military to defend the Capitol against a violent insurrection. According to a taped deposition of General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pence “issued very explicit, very direct, unambiguous orders” to him and Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller: “Get the military down here. Get the Guard here. Put down this situation.”

In ordinary circumstances, Pence’s actions would be unconstitutional. Indeed, a vice president who usurped the president’s constitutional authority, and the Cabinet and military officers who followed his orders, could be committing an impeachable offense. …

Jefferson also insisted, the officer who exercises emergency power must justify his actions to “his fellow citizens generally.” For Jefferson, “the good officer” must throw “himself on the justice of his country and the rectitude of his motives.”

From his title (Mike Pence Owes the Country an Explanation) and the first paragraph, I easily figured out where George Thomas was headed and why: he wants Pence to say he perceived an emergency if only because Donald Trump was failing to put down the rump insurrection.

What I didn’t expect was that he would bring Jefferson and Lincoln into it and would persuade me of his case — and by inference to repent of my former judgment on Lincoln for his ultra vires acts.

Yup, the world is messy sometimes. This once was one of my favorite quotes, in part because it challenged my purity fetish:

Purity … is not the one thing needful; and it is better that a life should contract many a dirt-mark, than forfeit usefulness in its efforts to remain unspotted.

William James, Varieties of Religious Experience Lectures 14 and 15, via here.

Sorting out a jumble

[W]e have no ideal path forward. We’re damned if Attorney General Merrick Garland goes forward with a Trump prosecution and damned if Garland holds off. But the latter path should nonetheless be treated as a viable Plan B because it permits the Democrats to continue beating Trump in the political arena by the widest possible margin. That involves all kinds of risks as well, but it’s less risky than the legal option.

Damon Linker, summarizing the case against prosecution that he’s been trying to make.

More:

  • To use the full powers of federal law enforcement during a Democratic administration to indict, try, convict, and punish this man would drive large numbers of Republicans even further into Trump’s arms …
  • The goal should be his political defeat—turning him into a loser in the court of public opinion—not using an extra-political workaround to try and exile him from political competition. If you think making Hitler and Chamberlain analogies clarifies these issues, good for you. I think it’s pretty idiotic.
  • For the sake of argument, I’ve been happy to concede the point and assume Trump is guilty of … something. But is it true? [] After reading a highly illuminating exchange between widely respected legal scholar Jack Goldsmith and journalist Josh Marshall, I’m honestly not sure.
  • Could it be that all of the sound and fury I’ve seen online from the left about the imperative of punishing Trump’s self-evident criminality is based on nothing more than a feeling, a conviction, a moral certainty that he simply must be guilty of something? If so, that would be a further sign that loathing for the former president is a fundamentally political impulse, not a legal one.

Maybe I’ll take a position on “prosecute or nolle prosequi” when someone convincingly shows that Trump committed an actual crime, and that prosecution will be a slam-dunk. Considering the proportion of Trumpists in the land, I’m not sure you’ll ever impanel a jury without one or with one that will vote to convict.

Why colleges are failing

The present model of colleges and universities is failing, for in the first place they have forgotten or even turned against their original mission; in the second, they have picked up a whole lot of unrelated sidelines, none of which they do very well, such as universal job certification; and in the third, the public is beginning to catch on that they cost far too much, and that other institutions can usually do each of these sidelines better.  Barring root and branch reform – for which we must never give up hope — it’s entirely possible that in the not-so-distant future, serious humanities teaching will have to migrate to other settings than colleges and universities.

J Budziszewski

Detritus

In a nutshell

Democracy disconnected from liberalism will not protect diversity, because majorities will use their power to repress minorities.

Francis Fukuyama, Liberalism and Its Discontents

Be careful what you ask for …

History is a prankster. You order a Gray Champion, and cosmic room service sends up a casino developer and New York real estate mogul with a laughable hairdo…

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency

How low can we go?

Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump seemed like some kind of nadir, but the Florida panhandle is showing that we can go even lower: Matt Gaetz versus Rebekah Jones

Institutions trumping instinct

But it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human history. That individualism seems today like a solid core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have developed institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts.

Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order

One thing leads to another …

I was good at menial jobs like parking cars but went into radio because it was Minnesota and vacuum tubes give off heat. It was public radio where all the announcers sound like Methodist ministers except not as friendly and there is no Jesus, and I distinguished myself by telling jokes and stem-winding stories about a small town. People liked it; go figure.

Garrison Keillor

American exceptionalism plus

It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.

Zack Stanton, It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism – POLITICO

Maybe a bit harsh

I would rather have gonorrhea than a record of passionate and convinced #MAGA tweeting.

Graeme Wood, What to Do With Trumpists – The Atlantic.

Maybe a bit harsh, but then it’s dated 1/19/21, the day before Joe Biden officially became President despite Trump’s lawless efforts to retain the Presidency.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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.

Feast of Saints Peter & Paul, 2022

SCOTUS

What’s wrong with the gun-rights decision?

If you’ve read me for very long, you’ll know I’m pretty tepid about gun rights. But I’m going to weigh in on last week’s Bruen decision anyway: I don’t like it.

What I don’t like is the approach Justice Thomas took to reach his results. For ease, and because I’m not so hot on guns to go any deeper, I’ll quote my beloved Morning Dispatch:

Thomas’ majority opinion does rework how courts should assess the constitutionality of gun legislation. Courts must drop their previous efforts to balance the interest of the state in preventing gun violence against the Second Amendment rights of individuals, Thomas wrote, and instead consider only the Second Amendment’s text and the “history and tradition” of gun legislation when the Second and 14th Amendments passed.

“They’re not looking for whether there was the exact same gun regulation,” Stephen Gutowski, founder of gun policy outlet The Reload, told The Dispatch. “They’re looking at whether there was a similar gun regulation.”

Thomas writes that courts are more equipped to perform a historical legal analysis than the cost-benefit analysis they’ve been attempting, but Breyer’s esoteric weapons list highlights that it could still be a challenge to properly identify and apply relevant regulations. “I just think [Thomas is] a little overconfident in the ability of particularly lower courts, which don’t have endless resources and immense law libraries,” Seth Chandler, a University of Houston law professor who has taught Constitutional law, told The Dispatch. “Even Justice Thomas acknowledges that this process of analogous reasoning, it’s not straightforward and obvious.”

(Italics added)

It’s not just that history offers only analogies in many cases but that, reportedly, Justice Thomas discarded some historic restrictions as not relevant for one reason or another. How are the lower courts supposed to evaluate history when he was kind of cavalier about it.

So Bruen has not added consistency and clarity to Second Amendment Jurisprudence. It may have diminished it.

Joseph Kennedy, the football-prayin’ fool

On Monday, SCOTUS decided Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the praying football coach case.

On Monday, I began reading Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civiliztion, which I’m enjoying very much, but not at the moment because I’m typing about a case I was surprisingly ambivalent about.

So let’s see if we can make some brief sense of it and get me back to Huntington. I am hugely indebted to the Advisory Opinions podcast because when I saw all those printed words I said “No, siree! I’m not going to cut-and-paste from all that! I just don’t care that much!”

  • Majority version: Saintly Joseph Kennedy only wanted a moment of private, personal prayer at the 50 yard line immediately after the football games he’d just coached. Conscience-bound, he conscientiously violated oppressive directives from the school district, which suspended, then fired him. He wins on both religious speech and general free speech grounds, the gap between which we’re now narrowing. By the way, we hereby drive a stake through the heart of Lemon v. Kurtzman, one of several zombie precedents we’ve left haunting the countryside, while giving the side-eye to lower courts who don’t get the joke.
  • Dissent: WTF! You’re describing a completely different case! This is a case of a willful provocateur seeking to lead his players to Evangelical-Jesus, praying in a very public place, in front of most of the stadium, and by winks and nods inviting players to join him at mid-field and yelling “Neener! Neener! Neener!” at the School Board. If we allowed this sort of thing, it would lead to terrible places and he really should have lost.
Coach Pharisee  and his entirely "voluntary" congregation, with no perceived pressure that they must pray to play.
Coach Pharisee and his entirely voluntary flock. He has his reward.
  • Yes, the facts stated in the opinion and those stated in the dissent differed almost that wildly. My impression has been that the dissent’s version is closer to the whole truth, the majority’s version a bit — Ahem! — curated. (I also thought trials, not appeals, were supposed to determine the facts, but never mind.)
  • Net result: Kennedy wins and nobody should cite Lemon v. Kurtzman any more. Future courts are again told to consult “historical practices and understandings.” You may genuflect now and back out of the room slowly — and try to wipe that look of puzzled incredulity off your faces.

Hard cases make bad law, but this one seemingly made almost no law at all except that a zombie is now declared a corpse. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it unless I stumble across a more compelling version.

Do not forward; moved, left no forwarding address

The West Caldwell Police Department has responded to multiple calls at a residence formerly owned by Justice Samuel Alito. Erroneous information was circulating on the internet that indicated that Justice Alito still resides in West Caldwell, and individuals have been sending harassing packages to the current resident.

Justice Alito moved out of West Caldwell Just after being confirmed to the US Supreme Court, 15 years ago in 2007. The current homeowner has no affiliation with Justice Alito and deserves to live in peace in their home free from harassment, regardless of anyone’s political beliefs.

All incidents will be investigated and those responsible will be charged and prosecuted.

Please like and share this post to hopefully put an end to this activity.

Howard Bashman (How Appealing) via Eugene Volokh

I will never again complain about people who ignore my voicemail greeting and leave messages for an auto parts place with a number one digit off our home phone number.

Tallying the cost of Dobbs

It is done. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years in which abortion has been a constitutional right.  

Now Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders need to acknowledge the costs of their victory. The most visible is nearly a half-century of being in bed with the Republican Party, and most recently its leader Donald Trump, a man of low morals willing to lie, cheat and, to hear the Jan. 6 committee tell it, break the law in order to stay in office. 

It also meant becoming a single-issue constituency who sacrificed nearly every social justice issue to create a Supreme Court that would reverse Roe v. Wade.

Yes, the Republicans finally delivered on their promise to reverse Roe, but in every other way it is making the world less hospitable to life. To call this pro-life is absurd.

Thomas Reese, What has the demise of Roe v. Wade cost the Catholic Church?.

There’s not all that much more to the piece, but Reese lists areas of Catholic Social Teaching he thinks have been neglected.

Miscellany

The New Handmaiden’s Tale

I’m sure it’s just another form of sex work, and therefore liberating, but I find this exceedingly creepy.

H/T Rod Dreher

I would find just as creepy, I think, if it was an opposite-sex pair of yuppies staring into each others eyes, congratulating each other on outsourcing a job they just wouldn’t disrupt their careers for.

This instrumentalizes women and commodifies babies, so it’s in perfect keeping with the zeitgeist.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Journeys to Orthodoxy (and more)

A Peace Activist’s Journey to Orthodoxy

The recently-deceased peace activist Jim Forest tells how he, a “red diaper baby,” came to be an Orthodox Christian. These bits amused me and rang a faint bell:

Thanks mainly to [Thomas] Merton and Dorothy Day, I was more aware than many Western Christians of the Eastern Church, but I had no more thought about becoming Orthodox than a visitor to the zoo thinks about becoming a flamingo … I thought that Orthodoxy was like certain wines that are best drunk at the vineyard.

A Cistercian Monk’s journey to Orthodoxy

I liked Thomistic philosophy very much. I found in it an excellent antidote to the poisons of individualism, subjectivism, and idealism that have infected modern thought. But the manner in which Thomas Aquinas conceived the relations between nature and grace, and the use he made of reason—even if dependent on the Faith—to construct a theology answering to the Aristotelian definition of ‘science’ troubled me. It was profoundly different from the Fathers’ approach to theology. I had no trouble in admiring the coherence and harmony of Thomism’s theological synthesis, but for me it recalled the gothic architecture of Thomas’s era: quite brilliant, but where reason is too rigorous in forcing the materials to submit to its demands. By its nature, the Scholastic method seemed to me open to reducing the mysteries of God to what reason can grasp of them, hemming them in with its definitions, or enclosing them in syllogisms. The writings of the Fathers, on the other hand, breathed a sense of the sacred and of the mystery, evoked a reciprocal penetration of the human and divine, and found their corresponding school of plastic arts in the art of the Romanesque and of Byzantium.

During the years 1962-1965 … [i]t became obvious that I could not think and live in accordance with the principles that seemed to me to be true without creating tensions and pointless conflict in the very heart of the monastery. All the same, I was certain that the fullness of the truth belonged on the side of the Fathers and the Early Church, on the side of that Orthodoxy that I loved without yet realizing that it could be, purely and simply, the Church.

Archimandrite Placide Deseille, Holy Hesychia: Stages of a Pilgrimage.

Archimandrite Placide, who I just discovered, became a Trappist Cistercian monk at 16, but found the Early Church Fathers and the piety of Orthodox monasticism inescapable. He and his monastery finally united with the Orthodox faith, without, however, feeling that they had become “eastern” or “oriental”:

[G]iven the state of things, the practice of the Byzantine liturgy seemed to me to be the most suitable means for entering into the fullness of the patristic tradition in a way that would be neither scholarly nor intellectual, but living and concrete. The Byzantine liturgy has always appeared to me much less as an “eastern” liturgy than as the sole existing liturgical tradition concerning which one could say: “It has done nothing more nor less than closely incorporate into liturgical life all the great theology elaborated by the Fathers and Councils before the ninth century. In it the Church, triumphant over heresies, sings her thanks-giving, the great doxology of the Trinitarian and Christological theology of Saint Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, and Saint Maximus the Confessor. Through it shines the spirituality of the great monastic movements, from the Desert Fathers, from Evagrius, Cassian, and the monks of Sinai, to those of Studion and, later, of Mount Athos. … In it, in a word, the whole world, transfigured by the presence of divine glory, reveals itself in a truly eschatological dimension.”

[T]here is no doubt that many aspects of the Catholic Church changed very much in the years following the Council. And there can be no doubt that the most symptomatic change is that which has taken place in her liturgy. As Father Joseph Gelineau, one of the men deeply involved in these reforms, wrote after Vatican II: “It is a different liturgy from the Mass. In plain language: the Roman rite, as we knew it, no longer exists. It has been done away with.”

Step aside, Jesus. I’ll build this.

[E]vangelical leaders are the products of the institutions of that movement — colleges, seminaries, various parachurch organizations — and those institutions either have failed to provide serious intellectual equipment or, when they done their jobs well, their voices have been drowned out by the entrepreneurial/marketing noisemakers who insist that the building of churches is exactly like the building of businesses.

Alan Jacobs

Gnosticism in a nutshell

In Greek, Gnosis means “knowledge,” and to be a Gnostic is to claim to possess a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge that the world isn’t the reality it supposes to be.

So basically it’s religion for super-fans of The Matrix.

N.S. Lyons, ‌The Reality War


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, 2/13/22

The silver lining in the loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Logical and doxological

To ponder these things makes sense only when we are able without disregarding truth to lift them to the plane of adoration.

Romano Guardini, The Lord.

I don’t have many coinages to my name, but I call this kind of truth doxological (versus merely logical), and if others have used it before me, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen it.

(The insight was not an easy acquisition for a recovering Calvinist intellectualoid.)

Christian hope entropy

In short, highly devoted Christian teenagers operationalized Christian hope as a generalized trust that God has the future under control, without showing much familiarity with (or interest in) traditional teachings associated with Christian eschatology …

Social scientist Kendra Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church

Simulations and metaverses

Tuesday, I felt unusual kinship with Damon Linker:

There is no Big Idea for which I feel greater contempt than the suggestion that we’re all living in a simulation. The runner up is the claim that we should seek fun and fulfillment in a technologically simulated reality — the so-called metaverse or virtual reality.

Though I can’t prove our experiences of the world, ourselves, and those around us are in fact real, I can explain why we shouldn’t waste our time imagining it’s all fake; why our happiness is wrapped up with the presumption that the world around us is, in fact, reality; and how much we lose by spending ever more of our lives interacting with manifestly false, digitally constructed virtual worlds.

Moreover, Linker (who abandoned Catholicism, then Christianity) puts his finger on why I consider the metaverse stuff evil. It’s the latest manifestation of what seems to be the hardiest of perennial heresies, gnosticism.

Reno on German Catholic clerics

R. R. Reno (I know he goes by "Rusty," but I want to keep him at arms’ length as he edges into populism and postliberalism) is not happy with the direction of the European Roman Catholic Churches, especially Germany’s:

  • "The ‘future’ is a jealous god."
  • Apropos of his own past as an Episcopalian:
    "Doctrine changes, but the Episcopal Church’s social role remained constant: to be the chaplaincy for white upper-middle-class culture.
    Today, the German Catholic Church is doing something similar, serving as a chaplaincy for the Rainbow Reich—the empire of diversity, equity, and inclusion that flies the rainbow flag."

Is it just me?

It’s probably none of my business, but from where I sit "Innovation Church" is the worst Church name I think I’ve ever seen. It’s either brazen or misleading.

Orthodox Christianity detests little or nothing more than it detests religious "innovation," and I seem to have internalized that pretty completely.

Damning (if you’ll just use your noggin’)

It is not an exaggeration to claim that this nineteenth-century Protestant evangelicalism differed from the religion of the Protestant Reformation as much as the sixteenth-century Reformation Protestantism differed from the Roman Catholic theology from which it emerged.

Mark Noll, ‌America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, via Mars Hill Audio. Be it noted that today’s evangelicalism is subject to the same critique; it was born in the 19th century (not the first) and hasn’t changed fundamentally.

Pick your poison

[Satan] always sends errors into the world in pairs — pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worst. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors ….

C.S. Lewis, via Andrew Sullivan.

Got that?

That’s how I feel about America’s two major political parties.

Modern poets versus old epics

Modern minor poets are naturalists, and talk about the bush or the brook; but the singers of the old epics and fables were supernaturalists, and talked about the gods of brook and bush.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


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 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.