What’s wrong with this picture?

More dramatic than I imagined:

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.29 PM

(link) and

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 3.39.55 PM

(link).

Those are stunning contrasts. So why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?

A superficial answer would be that for a conservative, I rate shocking low on loyalty in Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. But I’m almost positive there’s something more important than that.

First, a distinction.

Dissatisfied with my superficial reading habits, I am currently reading Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book (revised and updated 1972). Chapter 8 is titled “Coming to Terms with an Author”:

[I]n the analytical reading of a book, coming to terms is the first step beyond the outline. Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.

A term is not a word–at least, not just a word without further qualifications … [A] word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.

Second, a story, which may be apocryphal, but I did not make it up.

A conservative returned to his alma mater for a commencement address and opened thusly:

By a strange coincidence, I am a graduate of a vastly different institution which occupied this very site 40 years ago and even bore the same name …

For some 23 years now, I’ve been an adherent of a religion called “Christianity,” based on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. It was once, under the necessity of distinguishing it from a particular heresy, partially summarized in a Creed. To distinguish it from other versions, it’s called “Orthodox,” with a capital-O.

Meanwhile, my country is breathing the last few whiffs of an empty bottle labeled, by a strange coincidence, “Christianity,” which apparently is based on the intuition that God wants us to be nice and happy or, in its robust “Evangelical” versions, that Jesus Christ was very special and died a horrible death so that God would get over his anger issues with us and we could get on with being nice and happy.

Its proper name is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Although we share a mostly-overlapping vocabulary of words, I cannot come to terms with it, except in relatively brief and exhausting bursts of attempted empathy.

I remember from some 55 years ago an even more rigorous version, to which I then and for several more decades adhered, but it lives on today mostly notionally, in the scribblings of über-fissiparous “discernment bloggers.” I stay as far from them (and it) as I can, because I’m recovering from a mild-to-moderate case of that mindset and I’ve seen the harm it can cause, including when someone brings that mindset into Orthodox Christianity.

There were and are some other versions of “Christianity,” with some of which I have more or less come to terms, but they are not all that easily pigeon-holed politically.

So back to the question:  “why do I not feel tribal loyalty to the GOP?”

First, because it forfeited any claim to my loyalty:

In 2000 and 2004, it was Dubya. He was, we were told, a good Evangelical Christian. He cited Jesus as his favorite philosopher. He talked about America walking humbly in the foreign policy world.

Then 9-11 came, and he turned into a fierce Commander In Chief …

And then came, too, the second inaugural, when he declared as U.S. policy the eradication of tyranny from the world and the planting of democracy. If you don’t understand how delusional that is, read it again: eradicating tyranny from the world. As national policy.

(Conscientious Objector to the Culture Wars | War Correspondence ن)

Second, I have no confidence that was a blip, a lapse. In fact, the ensuing years have confirmed that endless war truly is the position of the party insiders (even though party voters chose a putatively antiwar mad, toxic and incompetent man for President in 2016).

Third, the Churches these Republicans so assiduously attend engage in worship that’s pure glucose and teach religion(s) with which I cannot come to terms sufficiently to form any kind of alliance. That Republicans are so much likelier to attend Church weekly is not all that interesting considering the Churches they attend.

I knew that 10 years ago (if not earlier, but I drove a stake in the ground then — a blog that’s held up surprisingly well) and they drove a stake though whatever remained of “Republican” in my heart on November 8, 2016.

That’s why.

* * *

Perhaps some day I’ll post a more nuanced version of why it’s difficult for a former-Evangelical, former-Calvinist, now-Orthodox, to “come to terms” with typical versions of contemporary American “Christianity.” I acknowledge painting here with a broad brush, but if there’s no glimmer of recognition, then you may to inattentive, gentle reader.

* * * * *

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

Psalm 146:3

* * * * *

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.

“What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?”

Around 24 years ago, I had a series of related epiphanies (epiphanies have marked my whole religious life) that made me loosen my Calvinist grip and eventually to pitch Calvinism overboard, It seems to have survived alright without my nurture, and insofar as I’m not 100% Orthodox yet, the residue likely is Calvinist.

And that’s not entirely bad because they got some things quite right. The Westminster Larger Catechism‘s elaboration of the Ten Commandments, for instance, is very good, which brings me to today’s topic:

Q. 143. Which the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Ex. 20:16.

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own: appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; study and practising of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Zech. 8:16; 3 John 1:12; Prov. 31:8-9; Ps. 15:2; 2 Chr. 19:9; 1 Sam. 19:4-5; Josh. 7:19; 2 Sam. 14:18-20; Lev. 19:15; Prov. 14:5, 25; 2 Cor. 1:17-18; Eph. 4:25; Heb. 6:9; 1 Cor. 13:7; Rom. 1:8; 2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:4-5, 7; 2 Tim. 1:4-5; 1 Sam. 22:14; 1 Cor. 13:6-7; Ps. 15:3; Prov. 25:23; Prov. 26:24-25; Ps. 101:5; Prov. 22:1; John 8:49; Ps. 15:4; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:21; Prov. 17:9; 1 Pet. 4:8.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence; suborning false witnesses; wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause; out-facing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence; calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery; concealing the truth; undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumours, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defence; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavouring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt; fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report; and practicing or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

1 Sam. 17:28; 2 Sam. 16:3; 2 Sam. 1:9-10, 15-16; Lev. 19:15; Hab. 1:4; Prov. 19:5; Prov. 6:16, 19; Acts 6:13; Jer. 9:3, 5; Acts 24:2, 5; Ps. 12:3-4; Ps. 52:1-4; Prov. 17:15; 1 Kings 21:9-14; Isa. 5:23; Ps. 119:69; Luke 19:8; Luke 16:5-7; Lev. 5:1; Deut. 13:8; Acts 5:3, 8-9; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Kings 1:6; Lev. 19:17; Isa. 59:4; Prov. 29:11; 1 Sam. 22:9-10; Ps. 52:1-5; Ps. 56:5; John 2:19; Matt. 26:60-61; Gen. 3:5; Gen. 26:7, 9; Isa. 59:13; Lev. 19:11; Col. 3:9; Ps. 50:20; Ps. 15:3; Jas. 4:11; Jer. 38:4; Lev. 19:16; Rom. 1:29-30: Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29; 1 Cor. 6:10; Matt. 7:1; Acts 28:4; Gen. 38:24; Rom. 2:1; Neh. 6:6-8; Rom. 3:8; Ps. 69:10; 1 Sam. 1:13-15; 2 Sam. 10:3; Ps. 12:2-3; 2 Tim. 3:2; Luke 18:9, 11; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 4:6; Acts 12:22; Ex. 4: 10-14; Job 27:5-6; Job 4:6; Matt. 7:3-5; Prov. 28:13; Prov. 30:20; Gen. 3:12-13; Jer. 2:35; 2 Kings 5:25; Gen. 4:9; Gen. 9:22; Prov. 25:9-10; Ex. 23:1; Prov. 29:12; Acts 7:56-57; Job 31:13-14; 1 Cor. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:4; Num. 11:29; Matt. 21:15; Ezra 4:12-13; Jer. 48:27; Ps. 35:15-16, 21; Matt. 27:28-29; Jude 1:16; Acts 12:22; Rom. 1:31; 2 Tim. 3:3; 1 Sam. 2:24; 2 Sam. 13:12-13; Prov. 5:8-9; Prov. 6:33.

Does observance of the Ninth Commandment describe our politics and journalism today? Are we better or worse than we were ten or twenty years ago? How do, say, QAnon or the Comet Ping Pong conspiracy theories square with “unwillingness to admit of an evil report” or avoiding “doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions …”?

One of the great shames of many supporters of Donald Trump is that they act as if anything short of an outright lie about a political opponent is okay for a Christian — and I may be giving too much credit to think they draw even that line.

I acknowledge the availability of “whatabouts” to Trump’s supporters. But it is a great and grave shame when a putative Christian is willing to suspend the moral law in an effort to “win” politically, even if the other side is doing it.

H/T to David French for the reminder of what his denomination’s Catechism says about the ninth commandment.

* * * * *

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

* * * * *

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.

Un-learning

I recall from my late high school days a presentation by Moody Bible Institute about its school for missionary aviators in Tennessee. It has stuck with me for something like 55 years now that applicants who already had pilots licenses were not ahead of the game: “We have to un-teach them everything they’ve learned.”

Moody was quintessentially Evangelical, so it’s a bit ironic that Evangelicals must now unlearn what they’ve been taught in order to become better, more historically-rooted Christians.

Take conversion, for instance (a topic I began last night, not knowing I’d be continuing).

“Saints are made by good conversions.” In this challenging and provocative book, Gordon T. Smith contends that a chief cause of spiritual immaturity in the evangelical church is an inadequate theology of conversion. Conversion, he says, involves more than a release from the consequences of sin–the goal is spiritual transformation. But there is little transformation without a complete and authentic conversion. The key is beginning well. In this age of false starts and stunted growth, maturing Christians need help reflecting on and interpreting their own religious experience. Christian leaders need to rethink the way that conversions happen. Beginning Well is a catalyst toward this end. Surveying Scripture, spiritual autobiographies and a broad range of theologies of conversion (Protestant and Catholic, Reformed and Wesleyan), the author seeks to foster in the Christian community a dynamic language of conversion that leads to spiritual transformation and mature Christian living. In the process he moves us from a short-sighted “minimalist” view to one that recognizes seven elements necessary for good conversions. This book–a stirring call to rethink the relationship between conversion and transformation–is a must read for pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors, seminary professors and others who are concerned about the nurture and development of Christian converts, and the nature of authentic religious experience.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic Transformation.

Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on conversion. But what about life after conversion and beyond justification?
Desperately needed is a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with the means of formation and transformation. In Called to Be Saints, Gordon Smith draws on a distinguished lifetime of reflecting on these themes to offer us a theologically rich account of our participation in the life of Christ.
Both profound and practical, this book is a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and sanctification, both union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others and enjoy rightly ordered affections.
If holiness is the ongoing journey of becoming mature in Christ, then there is no better guide than Smith. Christians in every walk of life will find this a rich resource for learning what it means to “grow up in every way . . . into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, which was Evangelical enough to win a book award from Christianity Today.

This volume offers much-needed theological reflection on the phenomenon of conversion and transformation. Gordon Smith provides a robust evaluation that covers the broad range of thinking about conversion across Christian traditions and addresses global contexts. Smith contends that both in the church and in discussions about contemporary mission, the language of conversion inherited from revivalism is inadequate in helping to navigate the questions that shape how we do church, how we approach faith formation, how evangelism is integrated into congregational life, and how we witness to the faith in non-Christian environments. We must rethink the nature of the church in light of how people actually come to faith in Christ. After drawing on ancient and pre-revivalist wisdom on conversion, Smith delineates the contours of conversion and Christian initiation for today’s church. He concludes by discussing the art of spiritual autobiography and what it means to be a congregation.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation.

Next, they really need to unlearn the heresy of chiliasm/millenialism in all its forms, not just the novel and particularly virulent dispensational premillennialism.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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.
Continue reading “Un-learning”

Shattering a Shibboleth

I have increasingly come to respect the Evangelical Regent College (Eeeewwwww! I almost linked to Pat Robertson’s Regent “University”!) as a place of genuine learning (or that at least aspires to it). [Author’s note: there remains something called “Evangelicalism” that is a novel Christian sect rather than The Republican Party at Prayer. I was raised and educated in it.]

One of my favorite Protestants, Hans Boersma, was at Regent for a while until he left for the Anglican Nashota House. I stumbled across its podcast somehow a few months ago. Despite the giggliness of the hosts, many of the podcasts are quite good. But one that I just finished listening to made me exclaim “Glory to Jesus Christ!”

How do we understand a Christian conversion? Is it a static moment or is it a journey? Does our personal conversion experience match the experiences of our favourite Bible characters? In this episode, Gordon T. Smith, who by the way wrote 2 books and did a doctoral dissertation on this topic, challenges our concepts of conversion and tells us where all of our evangelical confusion around conversion started. You cannot miss this episode.

The notion of a “punctiliar” conversion (a new coinage, so far as I know, and not mine) — praying the Sinner’s Prayer, asking Jesus into your heart, etc. — was seemingly a sina qua non of evangelicalism as I grew up. If you couldn’t give the date when you so “got saved” you were highly suspect. The idea of just growing into the Christian faith was scorned.

But on this podcast, Gordon Smith challenges that head-on, tells its sorry history (which like most Evangelical errors is rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries — rarely even the late 18th century) and for my money demolishes it.

Smith’s understanding is not yet Orthodox, but freeing his mind, and those of his Regent College students, from a major Evangelical shibboleth* is huge.

May his tribe increase!

* I am aware that etymologically, a shibboleth is not something to be freed from or shattered, but I think it has evolved in usage to where both are apt.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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.

Perverse rejoicing

With a provenance like the Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” opinion series and a title like Thank God, American Churches Are Dying, you’d be justified in expecting a mix of self-conscious perversity and unhealthy, un-reflective antecedent bias.

You’d be right.

It’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012 …

Fresh churches replacing and created from old ones, armed with modern ideas to attract and tend to a new generation of believers …

… The leaders … generally focus on creating churches that cater to specific needs. There is a church exclusively for employees of Disney World. Spanish-language services are more popular than ever. “House churches,” composed of neighbors meeting for informal services—usually in living rooms—are on the rise as well. Popular Christian leaders like Francis Chan, a former megachurch pastor who now advocates house churches, offer free training for this model.

Those with denominational affinity will be sad to see a certain kind of church fall away. But the success of new models shows significant groups of people looking for ways to live faithfully, albeit in a less structured way. Could this really signify a religious awakening?

Ericka Andersen.

Wow:

  • “Nondenominational evangelical[s]” (but she repeat herself)
  • “armed with modern ideas” and
  • “cater[ing] to specific needs;”even
  • a church that excludes you based on who employs you.

Yet the cockles of my heart remain ice-cold. I must be some kind of monster. All I can think of is the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints without any license to pander, negotiate over it, or erect barriers around it.

I will not deny a certain je ne sais pas, a certain frisson, at the closure of some churches. And God works in mysterious ways, about which circuitousness I can be awfully dense.

But if this is truly God’s work, it surely is to use these curated, Disneyfied simulacra to prepare postmoderns for the real thing.*

I fear, though, that it’s not God’s work at all. There’s another who sometimes appears as an angel of light, and who does his best work these days with counterfeits more than with frank apostasy.

(* The article’s reference to “House Churches” doesn’t trigger quite so strong a gag reflex. Those might prove to be Benedict-Option necessity in coming darkness here, as they have elsewhere in the world.)

* * * * *

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

(Jude 3)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Michael Gerson’s malice

Michael Gerson badly misrepresents Andrew Walker’s explanation for why many Evangelicals support Trump:

Walker is making the following claim: If you think abortion is a matter of life or death, then you must support whoever opposes it most vigorously, even if he or she is an immoral lout.

That is a maliciously bad misreading. Walker’s claim — and I read him attentively but critically — is far more like

that Trump opponents need to understand that because most of his fellow-Evangelicals think abortion is a matter of life or death, many of them have ended up uneasily supporting Trump, who opposes it while Democrats increasingly and defiantly support it and ban opponents from their ranks.

Walker said nothing about Trump votes actually being a moral imperative, but his premise is that it can feel like one. His column wasn’t even an argument for voting for Trump. It was a description of why some do. Thatt’s even plain from his title: Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump, not Why Serious Abortion Opponents Must Vote for Trump.

Remarkably, though, the rest of Gerson’s column explains lucidly, in five points (only the first of which is totally vitiated by what Walker actually explained), why supporting Trump is not a moral imperative for those who oppose abortion.

I even join Gerson in this:

I think Walker significantly (and strategically) overestimates the amount of moral angst amongst evangelical Trump supporters.

But then, I may agree with that just because of how both the press and Trump have treated Evangelicals as ipso facto Trumpista.

Anyone who thinks there’s a moral imperative to vote for Trump on anti-abortion grounds should read Gerson.

* * * * *

How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

(Samuel Johnson)

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Cultural Liturgies

America does not have a liturgy of repentance. The days of fasting once enjoined upon us are a thing of the past. Even then, for all the prayers and fasting of Lincoln’s republic, no particular liturgy ever marked the end of slavery, much less sought to repent for its evils. To this day, many seek to justify its history.

When the Soviet Union fell, within a few short years, Russians began to create memorials and liturgies for the atrocities of the Soviet Union. In Moscow, at the killing fields of Butovo, a Church now stands as a memorial to its victims. Public liturgies are held there on a regular basis. It is one of many such memorials across the country.

Our public narrative is very thin. The Church historian, Martin Marty, once said that American Christianity was “2,000 miles wide and 2 inches deep.” When our Christian theology mimics the triumphant patriotism of our culture, nothing deeper ever begins. Depth comes with suffering. Suffering creates sorrow, and sorrow, of a godly sort, produces repentance.

We are bad at enough stuff and have a history sufficiently marked with sorrow to create fertile ground for repentance. It lacks the humility to greet it.

It is ever so much more than a game.

Fr, Stephen Freeman

I suspect that Fr. Stephen’s blog entry was spurred by Sunday’s SuperBowl LIV, with the only liturgical elements our nation knows: patriotism with a dash of remembrance. It might even have been influenced by Fr. Steven browsing the Eighth Day Books book table at the Eighth Day Symposium a bit over a week ago, on which table I’m pretty sure James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies trio was on display.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Job’s Comforters

I’ve never recoiled from Job’s Comforters. At least they were “there for him” after a fashion, right?

Maybe I’m on the Autism Spectrum, or haven’t shaken off the last of my “former delusion,” repudiated when I entered Orthodoxy.

But the promised blessings and cursings in Deuteronomy were not sui generis in the Old Testament henotheistic millieu. That gods reward their followers and punish deviants was hardly an outrageous or (if I may wax anachronistic) Pharisaical worldview before Christ.

Some of the Psalms presented a more equivocal view, and we’ve learned from the highest of authorities, through pericopes like the man born blind, that into each life some rain must fall.

But the lessons that grief is not the time for theodicy, and that “I’m so sorry” is generally the best thing we can say when we’re tempted to something more “pious,” are not learned and remembered easily.

I’ve even heard dubieties coming from the mouths of the putatively grieving, trying to comfort their comforters. I’m thinking especially of a Calvinist father whose young adult son wrapped his car around a tree while home on leave. “We prayed that God would keep him from apostasy, and this apparently was the answer.”

That seemed very pious at the time. Now it seems reptilian. Another of his children did apostatize, and wrote a kiss-and-tell book about growing up in that household. I couldn’t bear to read it, but it sounded all too plausible from the reviews.

I guess Job wouldn’t have been much of a story if three guys showed up and just kept saying “we’re so sorry, Job.”

And we can always be grateful for Bildad the Shuhite as the punchline for “Who’s the shorted man in the Bible?”

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Sometimes, serendipity!

I blogged just yesterday, on the occasion of his death, about the odd metanarratives of “religion” Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gratuitously spun in some of his religion clause opinions. I acknowledged (boasted?) that nobody else had noticed the falsity of his metanarrative.

And the response to yesterday’s blog seems to be that nobody noticed. Or they noticed and averted their eyes from my nakedness.

Today, in heat indices forecasted to reach 109° F and with a diagnosis of a torn ankle tendon requiring immobility, I decided to (among other things) catch up on some blogs I set aside because the author is always too substantive for a quick read.

And boy, was I ever rewarded! Sometimes, serendipity!

To appreciate why I was so delighted, you’ll need to go back to yesterday’s blog, painful though that may be, and see the parallels between what I wrote about what I called “integral Christianity” and what I found in The Struggle Against The Normal Life:

  • a better description of classical Christianity (I guess I was becoming a classical Christian long before I became one formally)
  • a contrast between it and modern Christianities (of the sort Justice Stevens had in mind),
  • acknowledgement that modern Christianities are ascendant, if facile and false, and
  • a call to the repentance and asceticism necessary to maintain classically Christian belief amid the hegemony of heterodoxy.

Excerpts (generous, but not exhaustive; this one needs to be read in full, then read again and again):

Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world with the proviso that there is also a God who, on occasion, intervenes within this closed order. The naturalist unbeliever says, “Prove it.”

The sacramental world of classical Christianity speaks a wholly different language. It presumes that the world as we see it is an expression of a greater reality that is unseen. It presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it. The meaning and purpose of things is found in that which is not seen, apart from which we can only reach false conclusions. The essential message of Christ, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” is a proclamation of the primacy of this unseen world and its coming reign in the restoration of all things (apokatastasis, cf. Acts 3:21).

The assumptions of these two worldviews could hardly be more contradictory. The naturalistic/secular model has the advantage of sharing a worldview with contemporary culture. As such, it forms part of what most people would perceive as “common sense” and “normal.” Indeed, the larger portion of Christian believers within that model have no idea that any other Christian worldview exists.

The classical/sacramental worldview was the only Christian worldview for most of the centuries prior to the Reformation. Even then, that worldview was only displaced through revolution and state sponsorship. Nonetheless, the sacramental understanding continues within the life of the Orthodox Church, as well as many segments of Catholicism. Its abiding presence in the Scriptures guarantees that at least a suspicion of “something else” will haunt some modern Christian minds.

The classical model is, in fact, the teaching found in the Scriptures. It utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required. It is impossible to encounter the truth and remain unchanged.

The classical model, particularly as found within Orthodoxy, demands repentance and asceticism as a normative part of the spiritual life. These actions do not earn a reward, but are an inherent part of the cleansing of the heart and the possibility of perceiving the truth.

The struggle between classical/sacramental Christianity and modernity (including its various Christianities) is not a battle over information. The heart of the struggle is for sacramental Christianity to simply remain faithful to what it is. That struggle is significant, simply for the fact that it takes place within a dominant culture that is largely its antithesis.

A complicating factor in this struggle is the fact that the dominant culture (naturalistic/secular) has taken up traditional Christian vocabulary and changed its meaning. This creates a situation in which classical Christianity is in constant need of defining and understanding its own language in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural mind. The most simple terms, “faith, belief, Baptism, Communion, icon, forgiveness, sin, repentance,” are among those things that have to be consistently re-defined. Every conversation outside a certain circle requires this effort, and, even within that circle, things are not always easy.

Such an effort might seem exhausting. The only position of relaxation within the culture is the effortless agreement with what the prevailing permutations tell us on any given day. Human instinct tends towards the effortless life – and the secular mentality constantly reassures us that only the effortless life is normal. Indeed, “normal, ordinary, common,” and such terms, are all words invented by modernity as a self-description. Such concepts are utterly absent from the world of Scripture. Oddly, no one lived a “normal” life until relatively recently.

That which is “normal” is nothing of the sort. It is the purblind self-assurance that all is well when nothing is well.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, emphasis added)

So, among other (much more important) things, I should not be surprised that “the sacramental world of classical Christianity” was unknown to Justice Stevens, just as it is “unknown to almost all.”

This does nothing to relieve my concerns about his false metanarrative making its way into Supreme Court precedents. I can only hope that it’s seen as the obiter dicta that it is.

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